Beyond ‘the customer is always right’: understanding the social shopper

Mike Saunders  By November 05, 2014




The consumer has always been right, but now they are so informed by their peers that they are savvier than ever when it comes to choosing between products, services, and brands. A few years ago, ‘social’ meant Facebook pages and Twitter profiles; today, it’s about involving others in the shopping experience – whether they be friends, family, part of an extended social community, or complete strangers.

With the rise in online shopping, the social aspects of in- store interaction become limited, leaving shoppers without the reassurance or assistance of sales staff, friends, or family members. The move towards social retailing fills this gap, extending the in-store behaviours of consumers to online communities.

From sharing potential purchases, to asking for advice, to providing recommendations, to giving reviews, to posting complaints – thanks to always-advancing mobile technologies, consumers are tapped into networks of fellow social shoppers that extend beyond the confines of online communities, and can have a very real impact on offline retail.

While social can act as a direct sales channel, its strength lies in the ability to influence retailer sales through brand awareness and engaging consumers in the creation and sharing of content. Retailers who realise that social media is actually used more as a research tool will come to see the value in paying closer attention to what is being said about their brand, products, and service online.

Customers have always complained, but now their voice is louder, and their reach is multiplied when shared across communities – with negative experiences having the potential to significantly impact any brand. Social retailing is about the consumer’s reliance on the wisdom of the crowd. Amazon, for example, invites buyers to review their purchases to help other shoppers make buying decisions.

The opinions of others can be very persuasive, and are often trusted over paid-for marketing or advertising. Review and Check-In sites and applications like Foursquare, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, for example, encourage users to share their dining or travel experiences and rate the venues to help other users determine if a restaurant or hotel is worth visiting.

It’s important that modern retailers recognise these online conversations as opportunities to find ways to improve products and service within their businesses. It can be taken a step further by retailers actually investing in listening to, and actively using consumer feedback to guide product development decisions and impact marketing campaigns.

Review platforms such as Yelp and HelloPeter were born out of the consumer’s desire to provide feedback and demand action in “public”, as well as for the retailer to be given an opportunity to provide their feedback and act on complaints or compliments. Retailers who are open to their customers’ feedback and actively encourage their engagement will reap the rewards of catering to the social shopper.

For the social shopper, ecommerce creates the link between the brick-and-mortar store and the multitude of social networks where consumers connect with each other and other brands. This is also where visual collection and product discovery sites have taken off, helping consumers ‘window shop’ online.

Pinterest has been invaluable to retailers in the social retailing space – in September 2013, Business Insider reported that, “21% of Pinterest users had bought an item in a store after pinning, repining or liking the item on the site”. With the addition of Rich Pins, users are now notified of real-time pricing and availability for Product Pins, as well as price reductions.

Whereas before, Pinterest was furthering brand awareness and influencing product interest; with Rich Pins, Pinterest is now actively influencing purchase decisions in real-time.
Thanks to wish list sites, and features like favourites, likes, shares, bookmarks, reviews, and more – across multiple sites and apps – consumers have infinite opportunity to share their likes and dislikes, and retailers have just as much opportunity to tailor their product selection, displays, and discounts to take advantage.

For example, Brazilian fashion retailer, C&A, has hangers in- store which display the Facebook likes of an item in order to encourage purchases, and Lidl, a German discount supermarket chain, changed the way it determined which products to place on promotion by encouraging customers to “Like” Lidl products on their Facebook page and those items with the most “Likes” were then reduced in price and promoted in-store.