Becoming a Social Retailer

One of the biggest issues with the label “social” is that it often gets misconstrued as the use of social media. So when I hear about an ecommerce site using social, I can almost always bet they’ve done things like putting a ‘pin-it’ button on their product pages and are using Facebook connect on some level to enable their customers to share their purchases. There is no problem with this behavior, of course. It’s par for the course of today’s web. But it is NOT being social.

The general definition of social is the gathering of people for mutual pleasure and benefit, which also translates to how it manifests online. Therefore, marketing activities that push the interests of a company doesn’t fall under the definition of social. There has to be mutual benefit. While the company benefits by selling a product, the customer should benefit as well.

A simple way to think of becoming a social retailer is to ask the following question as part of your overall strategy:

“What is that thing we can do to help make our customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?”

By incorporating this into the core of your strategy, the mutual benefit manifests and the interaction is now social.

However, many companies engage in what I deem is incredibly anti-social strategy, some examples being:

  1. A recent email from a retailer I’m deeply engaged with on a buying and loving level that requested I go to their Facebook page and ‘like’ them.
  2. Asking me to spam my friends and followers for the promise of something free.

I receive and enjoy many emails from my favorite retailers. If done right, they get me to open the email, then click through to their website quite frequently. New products, sales, tutorials and interesting content in general are just some of the things that entice me. But when I received an email from one of my favorite retailers asking me to click on a link to ‘like’ them on Facebook when I’m already a card-carrying, email clicking frequent shopper, I had to unsubscribe.

In my view, this retailer was wasting a perfectly good open of an email to request a pointless behavior. They already have my email address, my purchase history and many other points of information (I have accumulated so many points on my loyalty card at this retailer that I raise eyebrows when I cash out). Why drive me to a Facebook page?

The second example is highly anti-social because it actually works…until it doesn’t. When a retailer asks people to promote an item on a social network in order to win something, many people tend to participate, which ruins everyone else’s experience of that social network. The more it works, the more case studies are shared and the more social network marketing pollution we experience.

Just check out the search results on Pinterest for ‘brown leather tote’:

I like this tote. I may have even pinned it naturally at some point, but now a perfectly cute tote is forever etched in my mind as spam. And the people who are filling up their friends’ feeds with this tote? They are irritating their friends, too, which is not good for their own reputation. This is the ultimate in anti-social. Not only is this retailer using a social tool to get someone else to do their marketing, but they are also creating distrust between their fans and their followers. Can I trust someone’s recommendations going forward if I know they ‘pin to win’?

This practice is a great example of a Tragedy of the Commons: a scenario in which individuals acting out of self interest deplete the value of a shared interest. In this case, the search results are less helpful because there are pages of the same bag to scroll through.

These are only two of the many examples of how retailers act anti-social through the use of social media tools in order to satisfy their own interests, but not necessarily their customers. But then, how can a retailer move from anti-social to social? What is the difference between an anti-social and a social retailer?

The core lies in whether or not you are acting in your self-interest and depleting the value of a network (i.e. spamming a feed) or are you acting in a way to:

…help make your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?

Being a social retailer doesn’t mean you leverage the social networking tools to your maximum ROI outcome. It means you provide value for your customers.

We have a funny saying in the startup world that goes something like, “A successful startup will help others get made, laid or paid (or all of the above).” Though a bit crass, it outlines ways in which we help our customers achieve their dreams and, in return, they help us achieve ours.

Retail and especially fashion is incredibly aspirational at its finest. If people only bought out of necessity, there would be no retail industry. Dressing well leaves a good impression with a potential employer. A sports car can impress a potential mate. A new laptop can unlock better income potential. A pair of Tom’s Shoes or Warby Parker glasses can be a conversation piece just about anywhere. Shopping and style are inherently social. No tweets, pins or likes necessary. But tweets, pins and likes come from people owning, loving and aspiring to own all of this.

Zappos and ASOS were both social companies before they even touched social media. They understood what made their customers’ lives more efficient: free fast shipping both ways and great customer service. Warby Parker and Tom’s Shoes don’t need social media managers in order to be social. They understand what made their customers lives more meaningful: buying products that look good AND give back. Apple has been said to not ‘get’ social. Really? Between the genius bar, Apple Care and a razor focus on creating seamless user experience, they made my life simpler when it came to technology. Even though C Wonder isn’t tweeting or facebooking too much, I think of them as a social retailer. Their iPad roaming checkout process made my life way more efficient as I didn’t have to stand in a long line to buy a belt for a girlfriend. I’ll tell the world about that experience.

Social media tools may come and go, but your budgets should always remain focused on the bottom line:

“What is that thing we can do to help make our customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?”

It really is that simple. And that’s how you become a social retailer…by being social.

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Categories: community, eMarketing, featured

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.

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3 Comments on “Becoming a Social Retailer”

  1. July 15, 2012 at 01:59 #

    Hi Tara,

    One of the best posts I have read about doing social media the right way. Thanks for the wise insight.

    • July 17, 2012 at 18:49 #

      Thanks Arturo!

  2. July 17, 2012 at 21:48 #

    “What is that thing we can do to help make our customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better?”

    *So, so good.

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