Social media provides a wealth of opportunities for retailers to create memorable, highly personalized shopping experiences for customers, but most are not successfully executing their social media strategies, according to a report from retail management consulting firm Boston Retail Partners (BRP).
“There’s a lot of room for improvement in [retailers’] social media presence, social media campaigns, and how they use [social media] to support their overall businesses,” says Brian Brunk, principal at BRP.
Brunk says that many retailers still don’t have the right personnel, technology, processes, or priorities in place to adequately deal with the unique requirements of social media. “There’s an expectation for a quick response, but not all retailers are set up for that, and so they end up with frustrated customers,” he says.
Luckily, retailers are not simply burying their heads in the sand. They, too, see the need for improvement. In fact, in BRP’s research, 81 percent of retailers using social media to engage with customers admitted that they could use help with the channel. Sixty-nine percent see greater opportunities for using social media to improve customer journeys, and 59 percent plan within three years to use brand advocacy and social media endorsements as a way to identify their most valuable customers.
To further demonstrate where the opportunities exist, BRP’s research found that only 75 percent of retailers currently support customer interactions via social media, 59 percent use social media comments as a means of measuring customer satisfaction, and 60 percent capture customer feedback and insights from social media and online comments.
“They need better tools to monitor and then respond to customers on social,” Brunk says.
Retailers, he adds, could get a better handle on customer feedback, including reviews and positive mentions, not just comments directed right at them. They could also do a better job of using social media to build brand advocates and to develop a greater understanding of their customers.
“Social media provides retailers with unprecedented visibility into their customer base,” Brunk wrote in the report. “It can be an extremely powerful tool for collecting and using customer insights to improve planning decisions. Retailers can understand who the customer is, what she wants, when and where she wants it, and even why she wants it, based on social media postings and feedback.”
Retailers also have yet to develop a strategy for proactive outreach on social media. For most, customer contact is still largely reactive, Brunk mentions.
Nonetheless, for all that it is still lacking when it comes to social media, the retail industry as a whole is far more advanced than many others, according to Brunk. Most retailers, he adds, “have moved far beyond just experimentation, but that has come with a price. A lot of them rushed into it, and now they need to step back for a bit. They find themselves struggling with what’s next.”
That, Brunk contends, might not have been the best strategy. “With social, you need to have a comprehensive strategy right from the start. You need to know what kind of experience you want to create and then everything you do should feed into that,” he says.
Brunk also cautions against a half-hearted approach. “You can’t just stick your toes in the water. You need a more solid approach,” he says. “But you shouldn’t start until you’re ready to get it right. There’s a lot of risk in getting it wrong.”