If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you possess a Facebook account. And there’s also a pretty good chance that you’ve seen your friends check-in at a restaurant via Foursquare, after which they “like” their favorite brands’ pages, or post a comment in order to possibly have a chance at winning that new gadget they’ve been clamoring over.
It goes without saying that social media plays a huge role in our lives, one that’s only going to continue to grow as the gap between our real lives and our virtual ones draws ever closer. As little as 10 years ago, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear of people being afraid of making purchases online for fear of having their financial information stolen. In contrast, the thought of that seems so laughably antiquated today that anyone making that statement would likely be deprecated for being behind the times.
How Social Networks Impact Marketing Efforts
So it’s no surprise that retailers have spent considerable effort advertising to both current and potential customers through social channels. Unlike in years past, and much to the benefit of retailers, the lines between advertising and our personal lives have been blurred considerably, so much that large segments of the two are now intertwined.
Each time you check-in to a place or “like” a page, you send a message out to all of your friends on your social networks with not just the name of the brand, but also what essentially amounts to a personal endorsement as well. For advertisers, this has the potential to mean considerably more than an advertisement that usually serves only to distract from the activity at hand, whether it’s a TV show or a song on the radio. Although the estimated value of each of these personal endorsements varies greatly, one thing retailers can all agree on is that they do indeed have value.
Thankfully, the growth of online sales has been mutually beneficial for retailers and consumers. Retailers, without the need to account for the costs of keeping up one or multiple physical locations, have largely passed that benefit down to the consumers in the form of lower prices. And with so many online stores around for shoppers to choose from, the increased competition has afforded them not only lower prices, but also a much larger selection to conveniently choose from than they would have had otherwise.
Who’s Been Using Online Social Communities?
Let’s take a look at a few retail-oriented sites to see what they’ve done.
1. Retail Online Forums
Savvier shoppers have gone a step further by creating online communities that best take advantage of these types of deals to help spread the word with others. For instance, a number of forums such as SlickDeals.net and FatWallet.com have sprung up in order for savings oriented people to share any bargain-priced items they come across.
2. Online Review Sites
Likewise, review-centric sites such as Yelp.com and Epinions.com have given many a way to let others know about their experiences with shopping or dining at certain places. Many retail blogs have also sprung up to share their reviews.
3. Social Daily Deals Sites
Although the traditional retail and consumer relationship is unlikely to fully disappear, several new sites have adopted business models that almost completely integrate the social and retail worlds together. Groupon, for instance, has helped pioneer this new business model. Groupon, of course, offers a handful of deals each day for activities or goods at a price that’s heavily discounted from what consumers would usually pay. The catch: for the deal to be good, a certain number of people must purchase it within a pre-specified amount of time — hence the social aspect. The business offering the deal benefits not necessarily by making sales, but by acquiring considerable word of mouth advertising that they would not have been able to attain otherwise — and hopefully, a good number of repeat customers as well.
Shopping In The Mobile Sphere
Further blurring the line between social and retail is the rise of smartphones and the huge increase in mobile applications that has occurred over the past several years. It’s become commonplace for the vast majority of us to carry around our mobile phones with us everywhere we go and, with smartphone penetration numbers reaching as high as 40%, that means many of us are always connected regardless of where we are. This means that opportunities for retailers to reach us through the mobile sphere have increased as well — and many brands have acted accordingly.
Although Foursquare gave a significant push toward this trend by giving consumers the ability to check-in at locations and compete for badges, retailers themselves have picked up where they’ve left off by offering their own mobile applications that more proactively seek to drive purchases. Major brick and mortar retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy, for example, use their apps to send notifications of daily deals and discounts to their users. Likewise, companies like Shopkick offer actual rewards in the form of spending money to use when checking in at stores, the idea being that the conversion rate is much higher when visiting a physical retail location (anywhere from 20-95%) than it is when shopping online (0.5 – 3%). Thus, harnessing the power that mobile methods provide is a huge and largely untapped market for retailers — and one that could potentially benefit consumers as well.
Despite the huge amount of growth that both social and mobile retail have experienced over the past few years, both markets still have quite a way to go. Luckily for us, as brands learn more about how to leverage the flexibility and strength that social advertising provides, we’ll also be better served by it in terms of convenience, better deals and lower prices.
Thanks to Kenny Kraisornkowit for his guest post contribution. Kenny provides product reviews, shopping tips, and ideas for saving money on tech gear and gadgets at Savoo.co.uk, the U.K. arm of the well-known deal site, Savings.com.
Created April 7, 2009. Updated September 22, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.