The Time Is Now to Take Shopper Marketing Beyond the Store

Understand How Consumers Are Using Social Media and Mobile Apps to Shop

By Published on .

Jim Lucas
Jim Lucas
According to Deloitte's 2010 Back-to-School Survey, three out of 10 consumers plan to use their mobile phones to assist in their back-to-school shopping. No doubt, as shoppers look to social media for product information, reviews and sales, the ecology of shopping is changing rapidly. As it does, marketers are trying to address two challenges. The first is how to strike the right balance between verified traditional methods and the pursuit of new ways of communicating with shoppers. The second challenge for marketers is to garner shopper attention, then earn and cultivate a relationship with the shopper.

To be most successful, shopper marketing must be holistic. It must be aware of the tools today's shoppers are using. Studying how shoppers use social media not only provides an understanding of shoppers, but it also represents a vehicle for getting relevant information to shoppers when and where they need it.

Marketers must be aware, however, that consumers have not historically trusted corporate blogs and have looked to other, more transparent information sources. Marketers cannot just begin marketing in all social media because it simply won't be viewed as trustworthy, transparent, authentic or relevant.

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Nowadays, shoppers are increasingly turning to "social heuristics" as a part of their shopping toolbox. Heuristics are that method for problem-solving or decision-making that arrives at a solution through experimentation, trial and error, or evaluation. The "social" refers to both social media and the use of the wisdom of the crowd -- going beyond one's own knowledge to trusted and relevant sources.

According to Marketing Sherpa's Social Media Marketing and PR Benchmark Study, 2009, about 70% of consumers report using social networks and communities to obtain information about brands (higher than company websites, followed by online news and reviews). There is no market for messages, here, only relevant, useful and trusted information.

Social-shopping sites such as Kaboodle, Etsy, Crowdstorm, Woot, iliketotallyloveit, Zebo, MyItThings, ProductWiki, ShopStyle and have at their core sharing reviews with others. Other social-shopping sites promise to connect independent-minded shoppers with hard-to-find products. Others combine two favorite online activities: shopping and social networking. Facebook Connect, for example, allows users to ask their Facebook friends' opinions on purchases made directly on the social-shopping site.

Additionally, shoppers are making use of mobile shopping apps such as Google Shopper on Android, Peem Shop Mobile Search, Frugalytics, Piranha Pricecheck and Abidia Wireless. Similarly, mobile-shopping sites like Yahoo Shopping, Frucall and Amazon Anywhere are changing the ways shoppers think about shopping and actively shop.

Search engines are becoming better at understanding shoppers' individual search needs, but social media represent an alternative (and competition) to search engines. Shoppers use social bookmarking sites like Digg or Delicious, but they also search Facebook, Hi5 or Orkut about products and services they are interested in purchasing.

Shoppers also make use of social media via its daily updating. As they scan through updates, shoppers can look for entries most relevant to them, and/or query their social network, getting help where and when they need it.

At the same time, marketers have become acutely aware of the power of relevant, useful conversations with shoppers -- in other words, conversations worth the shopper's investment.

Individual tailoring of offers (for example, Sam's Club's eValues are tied to its Plus card) allow targeted offers to shoppers based on past purchase history. Where coupons might deliver 1% to 2% response rates, programs like eValues -- or Kroger's Dunnhumby direct program, Costco, CVS Extra Value -- typically see 20% to 30% of shoppers collect their discounts.

To drive website traffic, lead generation and both online and offline sales, many marketers are becoming fast fans of social media that work outside the store, which has proven not only effective and efficient during the recession, but, most important, represents a new way of establishing an ongoing conversation with shoppers.

One way retailers and manufacturers have been leveraging social media is by accommodating social shopping and reviews -- a practice advanced and facilitated by the recent introduction of Facebook social plug-ins. Companies such as Vans and have developed the social-shopping experience to improve the online shopping experience. More recently, Levi's "Friends Store" shopping site (using a Facebook "Like" plug-in) allows shoppers to see what friends and everyone else likes ("Like Minded Shopping Starts Here"), as well as share with the community. And it allows shoppers to access live advice of friends through Facebook.

Other retailers leveraging social media include Charlotte Russe, using Decision Step's Shop Together, which allows shoppers to shop together, from browsing to synchronized shopping. Zappos allows shoppers to seek live advice and/or link with affinity groups, for example, other shoppers interested in golf, running couture or the outdoors. (using Fluid's social-shopping app) makes customization a social activity, allowing friends to co-customize sneakers.

Wet Seal, an apparel and accessories retailer, launched its social-shopping program in late 2009, highlighted by several useful features. Its "Outfitter" program allows shoppers to see the possibilities, create and rate outfits. To date, 400,000 outfits and 2 million ratings have been created. In addition, three-fourths of Wet Seal customers are on Facebook, and Wet Seal allows its shoppers to link with friends via Facebook to provide feedback.

Walmart's Elevenmoms is based on 21 bloggers conversant in a wide range of topics from parenting, to easy recipes, to spreading the word on product giveaways. They represent a diversity of opinion, age, family situation, stay-at-home moms, working moms, etc. Participation is voluntary. Participants must disclose their relationship with Walmart, for example, compensation received, travel opportunities, expenses and products. Guest bloggers also appear periodically. Shoppers follow those moms with whom they have the greatest affinity, but any relevant conversation or view can be a useful source of information. Walmart has also made inroads with its Facebook page -- "Save Money, Live Better" -- as a kind of leaderboard for shoppers wanting to save money.

Best Buy's Twelpforce, introduced in July of 2009, allows consumers to ask tech questions of Best Buy employees via micro-blogging site Twitter. This beyond-the-store media operates on Best Buy's promise that consumers will know relevant information as fast as Best Buy knows it. This helps and allows consumers to make purchase decisions they are trying to make, weighing lots of opinions and Best Buy customer support in the process, with many other consumers learning from watching the conversations unfold.

Bottom line? Social media is one of the most promising marketing vehicles for retailers. From the shopper's view, its trustworthiness, relevance and accessibility make it an ideal aid to the shopping process. From the marketer's point of view, it is a way to reach tough-to-reach shopper segments -- like teens. Navigating social media may be challenging, no doubt, but it's well worth the effort.

Jim Lucas is exec VP-global retail insight and strategy, at Draftfcb. He is internationally recognized as an authority on the science of understanding how consumers interact with brands and how they behave in retail environments. He is a major contributor to the new book "Shopper Marketing: How to Increase Purchase Decisions at the Point of Sale" (Kogan Page, April 2010).
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