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SOCIAL MEDIA--THE CHANGING FACE OF RETAILING

Social Media is changing the way business is done because it alters the way customers and stores communicate. According to a recent poll by PEW, 87% of adult Americans are on-line. More movies are viewed on-line from sites such as Net Flix, Hulu and U-Tube than DVDs and Blu-Rays. More people own cell phones or smart phones than have landlines. 

Some still view social media web sites as a nuisance that has invaded society. However, social media users report that they feel more connected and socially secure because of the sharing of information, emotions and feelings on-line. 71% of on-line adults users now view Facebook at least weekly. Even those who have signed up “just to get pictures of __________ (a family event),” keep going back for the sharing—the short message, picture, or thought. They just see it as a way to keep involved with others since the family unit is no longer local but rather spread over the globe.

Many businesses new to social media seem to believe social media is about advertising, just another venue to broadcast their wares. Actually, social media is designed to build relationships. While nothing prohibits you from broadcasting to one and all, social media works best for those willing to build relationships with others. As with any relationship, people tend to go back to people they know and like. Social media offers an opportunity for others to get to know you and like you and like your store. It’s about finding common ground to connect or solve problems, just like building a relationship with a new friend. So what do you have to share, promote or inform about? 

What causes do you support outside your store? Little League? Fire Fighters?  Helping abused children, spouses or pets? Having a cause gives you a place to begin to build a relationship. Just consider what American Express did with their cause of helping small local businesses; they wrote the book on finding a cause and supporting it successfully. And, while it may help some small businesses, it didn’t hurt American Express at all.

If you own a clothing store, you probably have a better idea of what “looks good” on an individual than most. Share your knowledge of what looks good together, latest fashion trends and the highs and lows of those. When you get in new merchandise, let your friends know with a few pictures from your digital camera or smart phone. Generally, most Americans prefer images to text. So, when you open the boxes, take a couple of good pictures and invite your social contacts, a.k.a. friends, to come in to see for themselves how great this ________ will look on them. While they’re in the store, invite them to “pin” a picture on Pinterest. Guess what—that’s your advertising and you are not the one doing it.

Share stories your customers can relate too. Did you just get in a new supply of handkerchiefs? Have you ever explained to your customers that a gentleman carries two at all times—1 for personal use and 1 to give to a lady. The suburban sentinel has an excellent informational video concerning the use and care of a handkerchief, but you probably have several of your own stories to share. Post your images, stories and thoughts and allow your customers to comment. Then respond to their comments, or at least to a few. The idea is to share information and to build a relationship of trust.

If all else fails and you can think of nothing, how about the occasional post of how to care for whatever you sell. Cleaning silk ties, folding dress shirts for travel, or where the proper break in pants falls this season are all good topics. Encourage your customers to send in their stories of memorable holidays or special occasions that you can post. Ask for their stories to be sent to you to post in case something should be edited from the official store page.

There will be times when someone will post something negative about you or your store. How you respond to negative comments is important. Always be professional and courteous. Try to find some common ground where the issue can be resolved.  You can’t resolve every issue, but make an effort.  It shows you care. Do not verbally attack someone who posted a negative review. Ever! Your may not be aware of it, but the internet has several sites set up just as reviews of stores and shopping experiences. Don’t prove a chronic complainer right by the way you respond.

Sites such as Yelp!, Google+ Local, Yahoo! Local, Citysearch, Superpages and other review sites offer your customers a place to leave a review which you can respond to. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and the like are all social media sites that you may have a presence on and you can have some control over what is on your page. You cannot, however, control what someone may post about you on their page. We recommend that a couple of times a month, minimum, you do a search of your store from google, yahoo or another search engine. Respond to positive comments with a “Thank you” and try to resolve any negative comments. 

Again, if you become aware that someone has posted a negative review, respond to it calmly and professionally as you would if a dissatisfied customer came back into the store. Just as in the store, you can’t please everyone, but always make the effort to try. Statistically, people 45 and younger are looking for reviews before they buy and before they visit a store for the first time. Showing that you care goes a long way toward trying to have satisfied customers. As you know, there are customers who will not be appeased and you can pick them out quickly. Do not attempt to resolve an issue with these customers in a public forum or a review site or a social media site. Try to establish a phone contact or get them to return to the store. 

Do not let social media become a full-time job for you. Your time is too precious. Give this responsibility over to a trusted sales staff member or to each of the sales staff on a rotating basis.  Obviously, if they cannot properly address something, they can always bring the problem to you. As a retail store, post a picture of new merchandise to keep people interested and coming in to the store.

Finally, if you do not yet have positive reviews for your store, ask for it. If you have an ipad or a similar devise at the ready, ask a satisfied customer to take a moment at checkout to post a short review. Or offer a gift certificate or coupon to be used on their next visit to the store. The important thing is to use all the tools available to you to increase your market share and make your store more recognizable and desirable to your customers.


The Retail Management Advisors is a BBB Accredited Management Consultant in Allen, TX

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