How social media can impact the 5 stages of the retail customer journey

Khoros Staff

Another day brings yet another headline of a retailer deciding to shutter some of their stores. Foot traffic to brick and mortar stores continues to drop despite research studies that show consumers still want to purchase in store. The United States is particularly saturated with retail space as compared to Europe or other parts of the world. As stores close, it increases the need for a greater focus on digital marketing, social media engagement, and mobile experiences.

We see five stages of the retail customer journey: Awareness, consideration, purchase, loyalty, and advocacy. Social media is one of the few mediums where you can authentically engage with consumers during each stage:

1. Drive consumer awareness through social media

There is an abundance of noise in the world around us. Awareness may begin with an ad, a friend’s social media post, or an offline interaction. Brands have less control than ever over creating a consumer’s first impression of their product or service. Consumers look to social media for word-of-mouth referrals, recommendations from influencers, or brand promotions.

Paid social media advertising is usually essential to drive awareness within product categories. And even if a retailer has name-brand recognition, consumers may not be aware of products offered as they move into the consideration phase. For example, a children’s clothing company may be known for back-to-school items, but parents may not realize that the retailer also sells bathing suits. An office supply store is a great place for picking up paper and pens, but consumers might not realize they can get their cracked phone screen repaired there, too.

2. Use social media to help influence consideration

Consideration means it’s time to decide where to purchase that car, dress, or bouquet of flowers. 81% of shoppers conduct online research before purchasing. They are reading other customer reviews, seeking out blogger opinions, searching via Google, and scouring their social media network for opinions.

A whopping 74% use social media to guide their purchase decisions. And 60% of those actually engage with the brand on their social channels prior to purchase. It’s essential during the consideration phase to have a robust content marketing program that entices consumers to choose your brand. If your social content is old or only jammed with e-commerce links, brands risk turning consumers off.

3. Use social media promotions to drive purchases

During the purchase phase, consumers are seeking rewards and promotions, browsing actively via their mobile phone, and are open to being driven from social media channels to in-store visits or e-commerce. (Some people will purchase online, but many more will visit a store.) Paid social media marketing (specifically retargeting based on web visits) as well as shoppable social media links effectively drive conversion.

Using social media promotions to drive in-store purchases saves on shipping costs as well as potentially increasing the total sale. Research shows that when people pick up merchandise in-store or visit to shop, they are more likely to add other items to their shopping cart.

4. Why social media can play a critical role during the loyalty stage

Loyalty is the key to profitability. According to Gartner Group, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60% to 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5% to 20%. And, 80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your existing customers. At this stage of the journey, marketing and care teams must be on the same page to ensure a consistent customer experience.

On social media, customers expect quick and accurate responses to queries. Usually, more people will contact your customer care team than follow your brand on social media. Ensuring an outstanding experience with your social media care team is just as critical as via phone, chat, email, or in person. Too many brands fail to invest enough time, attention, and resources into social media care. All of their carefully planned and executed marketing campaigns are for naught if they only sell to that consumer once.

It’s not just about care. Marketing also has an important role to play during the loyalty stage. Social media is one of the most critical ways to sustain brand affinity between purchases. It may be weeks, months, or years between purchases (depending on your category). Your hard work during the awareness phase is lost if you don’t keep up the communication during this mid-funnel marketing stage. We know that customers who engage on social media spend 20-40% more in the long term.

Creative marketers now incorporate social media into their loyalty programs in innovative ways. Foot Locker releases new products via social media; loyal sneakerheads subscribe to stay in the know and make plans for visiting stores. Alice + Olivia launched a private Instagram channel for top consumers. Social media may be a popular place for discounts and sales, but savvy brands know that loyalty is even more important to lifetime customer value.

5. How social media can create advocates

Advocacy is, of course, the ultimate goal for social media marketers. Cultivating non-paid advocates and micro-influencers to share your products, services, and messages reduces advertising costs and statistics show that word of mouth marketing is far more effective than advertising. Apple spends 1/3 of what Samsung spends to promote smart phones equating to a savings of almost $3 billion.

The bottom line: Retailers must bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds in order to stay profitable. And social media helps them do it seamlessly and effectively.

To learn more about how to build your brand on social media, download our free, comprehensive whitepaper on the topic.

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