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For today's retailers, the question is no longer whether to use Facebook, but whether Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr are being used as effectively as possible.
Smart stores realize social media can be a tool to drive shoppers to in-store locations. But merely having a Facebook page does not necessarily mean shoppers will stream into stores.
Kantar Retail's Anne Zybowski, vice-president of retail insights, says there are a large percentage of retailers that are experimenting — and a much smaller percentage that are doing it well.
"I think there's lot of experimentation and stores that are saying they're using social media by having a Twitter feed or doing something on Facebook. But I think only a handful are doing it well, have a strategy across multiple channels, and are trying to drive traffic to their stores."
More than 8 out of 10 consumers (85%) browse the Internet for apparel, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. Consumers then shop for clothes in stores about twice per month, and online about once per month. On average, they spend about 100 minutes shopping in each venue each month.
While any kind of sale is welcome in a challenging economy, the latest dilemma is persuading folks to put down the phone, tablet, or laptop, and actually make a trip to the brick-and-mortar stores in which retailers have invested heavily to staff and maintain.
So stores are turning to everything from social games and coupons, to creating "conversations" that express the brand's story — and inspire shoppers to drop into a nearby location to be part of the lifestyle.
Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide's Molly Garris, director of digital strategy, says the lifestyle social strategy is more about pulling customers in, rather than pushing them emails or flooding their Twitter and Facebook feeds.
"The kind of email fatigue flash sale sites experienced is something that could happen here, too," Garris says. "Push strategy is like sending catalogs all the time. It becomes expensive and overwhelming.
"So now stores are doing pull strategy, where they can have something like a beautiful Tumblr site that shows five looks and the hand bag you'd have to go with each. It's like curation and story telling. It's not necessarily, 'Go the store,' but it sparks inspiration and makes you feel like you could fit into the story. And it does drive people to the store — because of finesse, as well as pops of excitement."
More than half (53%) of consumers say they "love or enjoy" clothes shopping, the Monitor shows. That figure jumps to 64% among females and 61% among those under 35 years old. Creative retailers are looking to capitalize on the pleasure shoppers get from their retail pastimes, while recognizing social media is here to stay.
Currently, nearly 8 of 10 consumers (79%) "always, usually, or sometimes" compare prices of apparel online before making the purchase in store. They also go online to look-up coupons (73%), browse apparel styles (71%) and read customer reviews (57%), according to the Monitor.
Shopkick's Cyriac Roeding, CEO, says, "In essence, social should only be a means to make shopping a better experience."
Shopkick encourages shoppers to circle back to retail locations — and tell their friends about it. Shopkick awards points (or kicks) to those who have downloaded the app to their mobile phones. Whenever consumers walk through the 6,500 doors of Shopkick's dozen retail partners — including Macy’s, Old Navy, American Eagle Outfitters (including Aerie stores) and Target — or scan a promoted product, they earn points. Accumulated points can be redeemed for rewards like gift cards at any of the partner stores. Users can also get points for inviting friends, and then sharing what they have "won" or where they have shopped through their friend network.
"(Putting) social at the core of the shopping experience doesn’t make sense," Roeding says. "Shopping needs to be at the core, with social wrapped around it. We have seen how that works very well in the online world with eBay. Shopkick does that in the real world."
The best combination of social media and shopping recognizes most shoppers (70%) plan their purchases, rather than buy on impulse (30%), according to the Monitor. This means that just because a sale notification pops up on Facebook, readers will not necessarily run out to that store — and too many notices could have the opposite effect.
Kantar's Zybowski says social retailing must move beyond sale alerts or the number of likes on the store's Facebook page. "It's got to evolve and be part of an integrative campaign and conversation with shoppers. We're in the early stages, and many aren't thinking strategically about how to leverage Facebook, Twitter and all the different channels."
Zybowski likes a program Express has where customers earn points not only for how much they spend, but for posting a review of something they have tried on or bought — or even Tweeting about their purchase.
"Express is thinking about loyalty in a holistic way that's more than just the dollars shoppers spend in the store."
This article is one in a series that appears weekly on WWD.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.