"Social media? No thanks!" – That's the reaction of many retailers. A lack of know-how about the various channels and the time invested in them scare many retailers off. It turns out, however, that social media are a boon for smaller, independent shops. Not just when it comes to building up and maintaining customer loyalty, but even to selling directly to customers. The young generation in particular uses Instagram and the like to get information about products and offers. But which social media channels are particularly suitable for retailers?
When you think of social media, you immediately think of Facebook first. Facebook is the largest social network: 1.47 billion users are active on Facebook every single day and 91% of them use Facebook on a mobile device. Facebook offers companies targeting options, which means that they can address their post specifically to people from their environment.
A stationer posts a back-to-school marketing campaign, offering a 15% discount every Tuesday in August on all pencil cases and writing pads. He pays $10 for this this post and selects "Store Visits" as his campaign objective. The retailer can now address people within a certain radius around his location with advertisements. This increases customers' attention and the retailer gets to know who likes the campaign, who pressed the 'Like' button, who made a comment or who shared the post. As a result, their friends are likewise made aware of the post and may eventually wend their way to the shop.
Instagram, which has likewise been owned by Facebook since 2012, is the second largest social media channel. It is a purely visual channel. Expressive photos, short videos and stories offer the best conditions for visual corporate storytelling and branded storytelling. The use of Instagram is based on mobile devices with a camera, although there is also a web solution, but use of this is negligible. Instagram's big advantage is its dedicated and emotional community.
Instagram Business Accounts have been available to users in Europe since August 2016. In contrast to a simple Instagram account, they offer analytics on impressions and reach as well as the chance to advertise in the feed or in the Instagram stories. With its Instagram Shopping option, the platform closed the big gap between "seeing" and "buying" in 2018. Business profile owners can use it to tag individual products on Instagram posts and give the user the chance to buy the products shown with just the touch of a finger. With featured photos containing tagged products, users just need to click on "Shop Now" to land in the corresponding online shop.
The owner of a small trendy gift shop operates an Instagram account, where she regularly displays her beautifully decorated shop counters along with products from her lovingly selected product range. The boundaries between her business and private sphere are fluid on her channel. She also shows, for example, a holiday snap every now and then or her dog lying in his basket with his favourite stuffed toy. The latest additions to her range are shared exclusively via Instagram stories. It is precisely this mix that generates a certain feeling of familiarity and closeness between retailer and customer. The many product photos posted on Instagram sometimes result in a reservation or order – and that's how you can sell goods online.
Selling through social media channels is a 'can do', but no hard and fast 'must do'. Boosting customer loyalty and brand awareness is much more important. Social networks can also be used to reinforce customer service. Persuading the user via Facebook and the like to buy something is the main goal. You have to draw customers into your shop, which means that you, as a retailer, have to create incentives for them to want to buy in your shop – and high-quality posts are a way forward here. In order to do so, it is essential that you are active in the account, writing posts and stories every day and that you actively participate in dialogues and write comments that all can see. It is important that you ask yourself the following questions in advance: On which platforms is my desired target group active? Do the contents suit the selected channel? Do I come across as authentic in my stories, posts and comments?
Corporate communication is now also possible on WhatsApp, which can be a practical service channel – especially for small businesses. WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business can be used in parallel on the same smartphone. Moreover, WhatsApp Business can also be conveniently used on a PC via WhatsApp Web to respond to customer queries.
Snapchat, too, is primarily a messenger service. It offers opportunities for users to communicate with a much younger target group than on the other channels. Snapchat requires creative communication to attract attention and appeal. The content remains visible for a mere 24 hours.
With social media, independent retailers can address customers directly – no matter where they are – and without any great extra financial outlay. Social media channels can create emotional proximity, strengthen existing customer relationships and attract new customers. What is more, retailers can use them to offer a fast and direct communication option and, of course, also advertise offers.