Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen social media move from being an additional channel for forward-thinking retailers, to an intrinsic part of companies’ customer engagement strategies.

Recent statistics from Yesmail suggest that 90% of retail brands use at least two social media channels, which shows the widespread recognition of its value in strengthening shopper relationships. However, being present is only part of the challenge.

Where many retailers fall short is failing to use social networks as a listening tool, to connect with customers through conversation and learn from their experiences. On average, shoppers will post on networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram 15 times to every retailer’s 9 posts, and this volume of activity creates a wealth of social intelligence.

For example, retailers can use social media data to analyse trends in their customers’ wider conversations. Keyword searches may reveal they are talking about discounting, coupons or retail locations, which can then feed directly into marketing strategies.

There will also be opportunities for direct engagement through social media. Retailers can reach out to shoppers who’ve recently purchased an item to review their experience, creating positive content that can be shared online. This also adds to the reviewer’s sense of brand value.

Social media is an ideal platform for providing near-real-time customer service. In fact, it should form an intrinsic part of retailers’ omnichannel outreach strategy, including their bricks-and-mortar customer experience.

The window of opportunity to engage with store visitors using social media is small, but incredibly effective, and retailers’ store technology model plays an influential role in its success. This is because businesses that have already invested in digital store solutions such as mobile POShave a distinct advantage: their employees are equipped with a connected device.

In addition to providing a sales and checkout point, mobile store technology can be synchronised with data streams such as social media activity, to increase knowledge of each customer’s brand sentiment.

This means that if a customer shares their social media identity, it can be linked to their other account data and used to power a more personalised, rewarding experience. For example, a regular customer comes into a store and requests some assistance. The sales associate can see from their details that they uploaded a picture of their most recent purchase to Instagram, alongside a complimentary caption, and have a large number of Instagram followers. Given the positive sentiment and value of that shopper, the associate then has the opportunity to offer a flash promotion or exclusive loyalty benefit, to thank them for their support.

This approach is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it signifies that the retailer can view and reward customers holistically, underlining the consistency of its brand experience. Secondly, it shifts shopper loyalty from being purchased-based incentives only, to a scheme that recognises valuable customers in a variety of different ways.

The role of social media within the commercial environment continues to evolve, but the importance of such networks in strengthening customer value and loyalty is clear. Today’s shoppers want a personalised, consistent experience across all channels, in which they drive the agenda, and social media is an essential tool for getting their voice heard. Are you listening to them yet?

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