Is social media useful for retailers?

Does using Facebook and Twitter really translate into sales?
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Can using social media sites from Facebook to Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and beyond really translate into sales for retailers?

PCR asked its Retail Advisory Panel if their firms used said sites - whether for customer service, as PR, or to gather information and network in the channel.

The results suggest that, overall, social media may be best used to support your offering and listen to customers - but that expecting direct sales from a Tweet or a Google+ share might be wishful thinking.

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Rebecca Smith, John Lewis

Social media is definitely useful for businesses. John Lewis has a strong presence on both Twitter and Facebook, with over 53,000 Twitter followers and over 600,000 likes on Facebook. We also have our own YouTube, Pinterest and Google+ accounts. We use social media primarily to share information about the products we sell, news and updates, as well as branch activities and events. We also look to give specialist advice and expertise through interactive Q&A sessions with our buyers and other industry experts.

Naturally, we get a lot of questions from customers as well – ranging from when we are getting a new product in stock to whether we will be opening a shop in a particular area. Our social media teams work with the relevant Partners (staff) within our business to ensure we can go back to each of these queries and provide a good customer service experience.

We have also successfully launched several of our TV adverts on social media via our YouTube channel, giving our social fans the chance to see it first. Our ‘Snowman’s Journey’ Christmas advert last year has had over three million views.

Phil Browes, HMV

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Social media is absolutely critical for a business such as HMV. Our customers are content mad and love their music, film and games, and social media platforms provide us with a valuable tool to keep customers up-to-date with upcoming releases as well as generating debate and receiving feedback.

HMV has worked extremely hard over the past 18 months to engage with our customers via this medium and now have 74,000 Twitter followers and 195,000 Facebook likes, demonstrating the high levels of interest from our customers.

Our stores also have Twitter accounts and do a fantastic job in letting their local customers know when new products have hit the shelves. 

I think that this level of support may be hard for more traditional CE retailers to generate as we are lucky to deal with amazing products that everyone loves and has an opinion on; we have recognised this over the past year or two and have a fantastic social media manager who championed this medium within our business.

Jason Eccles, SimplyFixIT

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Like most businesses we have a Facebook page which we occasionally post onto. But we found very quickly that our target audience might go there, but that they’re not active users.

 We work with Twitter. It takes a lot of time and effort to really make it pay off. We started by thinking it would allow us to broadcast our message to a large number of people, but instead it gives us the ability to listen to what our customers are saying. We’ve got about 1,500 followers, with most local to stores.

For us, getting feedback is important. So if someone has a bad experience and tells people about it, what they are really doing is giving us an opportunity to make it right. A lot of people are willing to sing your praises too.

 Does it lead to actual sales? Occasionally. But it helps us with our overall brand awareness. Anything that makes it easy to listen to customers and respond is worth the effort.

Gavin Holder, GHI Computers

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I believe it provides a valuable interaction tool with consumers. Today it’s all about connecting with people. If you manage to reach out and engage, it will benefit the company in the long run. But I don’t believe a Tweet or status update is the cash cow that will land cash directly in to the tills. I see it more as letting the cyber world know what is happening, whether it is about your company or something else going on in the world.

On the flip side of the coin, I do however think social media can be an accident waiting to happen – a negative Tweet or post which goes viral can spell disaster. But the risks of not using it are even greater; negativity by those few individuals will happen regardless if your company never steps into the social media entity. Embrace it or get left behind, but apply forward thinking first.

Peter Stokes, Micro Plus Computers

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I don’t find that social media in its own right is useful as a sales tool. It’s very time consuming to do it well and that time doesn’t generally give the value required. However, as part of an overall strategy to get your name known more widely and build local profile then it has a place. We were very active recently using Facebook and Twitter to publicise a local event but generally we can do better by actually talking to our customers – old fashioned, I know.

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Craig Hume, Utopia Computers

Twenty years ago companies were asking themselves if they needed email. Could they really justify the costs and time involved in getting set up with this new form of communication? Go forward 20 years and you would probably find it hard to find a business that doesn’t have email. Even my local chimney sweep service has a website with email attached.

At Utopia, we have tried to embrace all forms of social media. While I feel that we’re still learning how to get the best out of social media, I simply couldn’t imagine not having a social presence, interacting with our customers on a daily basis, and steadily growing our community.

C Kohli, Yoyotech

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Social media is phenomenally useful for modern business. From a reseller’s point of view, it gives us a chance to interact directly with our customers in an open, honest, non-moderated forum. It means that all experiences – good or bad – are shared, which is something we relish.

 It’s great when a customer spends ages building their perfect system, with YOYOTech’s assistance, and then posts amazing photos of the completed PC… It really makes you smile!

 We love social media and will be developing it further in 2013/14 as a PR tool.

Iain Shaw, Brigantia

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The short answer is of course of little use: it depends upon the line of business that you are in.

To be more specific, if a business’s clients or potential clients are both users of social media and likely to be responsive in a social media setting then yes, social media will be useful for business. A band communicating with its fan base, for example.

For most businesses in the channel, the effect is over-rated. However, marketing companies see social media as another means to take money from their clients. If ever there was a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes then this has to be it: The decision makers do not really understand it, but as most other businesses seem to have a social media presence and the retained marketing company seems to think that it is a good idea then surely the correct thing to do would be to use social media and to not say anything that might give away the fact that the concept is not really understood.

Not that I am cynical about this you understand…

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