Zeeshan Idris, Principal in the UK Marketing, Sales and Service Practice looks at the growing presence of social commerce in the retail sector.

My colleagues have blogged on a number of occasions about the importance of integrating social media into your customer strategy – most recently in March 2011. Last week, Capgemini were represented at a Marketing Week forum on how how social media and other digital channels can help brands personalise their communication strategies.  It was a great discussion, which you can read here.

The discussion prompted me to share my thoughts on how mainstream retailers are leveraging social media to drive social commerce.

Now some of the biggest names are taking social commerce much further from simple customer reviews. They are selling a curated assortment via Facebook (Asos, Ted Baker, Wal-Mart), providing customer service via Twitter (Best Buy, Asda, Debenhams) and engaging customers via YouTube (Carphone Warehouse, French Connection). They are using social media portals to attract customer attention and earn their loyalties by offering product news, discounts and interactive features.

Statistics are encouraging to say the least. According to recent research by Burson-Marsteller, 77% of Fortune Global 100 companies have an active presence on Twitter. Facebook fares equally well with a Global 100 presence of 61%. In addition, research by the Aberdeen Group reveals that as high as 85% of retailers are investing time and money in social media.

Proof that social commerce is going mainstream is evident through Walmart’s purchase of Kosmix followed by Tesco snapping up BzzAgent. These acquisitions will help Walmart and Tesco better understand their consumers’ buying habits and product sentiments both online and in-store.

It is apparent that social media can increase brand awareness and is increasingly demonstrating its ability to boost sales. 

Here are my top five recommendations on how to use social media and digital to promote and sell your products:

  • 1. Social Media Optimisation (SMO): SMO is critical to your social commerce strategy. You can implement SMO by interlinking your social media profiles with your official ecommerce portal. Company profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms can be integrated with your product catalogue so as to provide customers with direct access.
  • 2. Reviews, Ratings & Likes: Social media works on the principle of public opinion. Comments and Facebook likes dictate the popularity or lack thereof of a particular brand or product. Reviews also play a key role where potential customers base their decision after looking at the experience of other users.  Walmart, Best Buy, and other retailers are warming up to this trend where they seek candid customer opinion on their products. This dialogue can help across the business by informing product development, instigating more proactive customer service or even simply promoting to a customer’s social network.
  • 3. Social Shopping: Social shopping should be the ultimate goal of your social commerce endeavours. Under this concept, you can deploy online shopping vehicles to your social media profiles allowing customers to purchase online and share with their friends what they are buying, or even book tickets together. Malaysia Air are doing this and allowing you to book seats next to your friends via their facebook site.  1-800-Flowers.com is also doing this on its Facebook page where visitors can shop on the spot without being directed to the company website, reducing clicks and allowing the customer to seamlessly make a transaction in a site in which they are already interacting.
  • 4. Referral Rewards: Referral rewards on your social commerce portals create interest among visitors but also help to increase your customer base. Dozens of companies are following this strategy including Walmart, Dell and Home Depot with the latter using Twitter to dish out rebates, offer special promotions and address complaints and queries.
  • 5. In-store Check-ins: Perhaps the most important thing in social commerce is the opportunity to increase in-store traffic and lift comparable store sales. Tools such as Foursquare and Shopkick provide verified users with exclusive rewards when they walk inside a store or check into the location. In May 2011, Best Buy expanded its use of location based Shopkick app from 250 stores to a national rollout.

These types of innovative applications are fast becoming the norm – what’s next?

With all of the above when embarking on your strategy it is important to take baby steps and learn from your experiences.

A social commerce strategy can leverage one or many of these levers to begin a more personal customer relationship as a foundation for growing their sales through the social channels.  Watch out for next week’s post where Jo Lewis provides her updated view on a social commerce strategy for success.