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Social Media Shopping – buy one, get more customers FREE!

High Street retailers already feeling the pinch thanks to the both social and economic unrest were dealt a further body blow this week with the launch of the Virtual Changing Room, set to demolish the last advantage bricks and mortar retailers had over their virtual rivals – the ability to try on clothes.

The technology, uses webcams to show customers what clothes will look on them in real time with controls similar to those found on a gaming platform. While customers can see what the clothes will look like on them, they cannot see how they will fit – however, the ability to do so won’t be far behind.

There’s no doubt that the internet has influenced how we shop. It’s not only choice and cheap prices which have fueled this growth. People have less time – therefore they may find it more convenient to return to a familiar site or do a quick search on the internet for what they want rather than trawl the High Street during precious leisure time. Rising fuel costs now make a drive to the mall a costly exercise – and that’s even before you’ve made a purchase. Which brings us to the question: what can traditional retailers do to fight back?

First of all – let’s talk about brand experience. While money has to be allocated from your marketing budget to create and maintain brand, brand experience is something money can’t buy. When we take a look at the High Street retailers who are reporting growth despite the credit crunch – they all offer a peerless brand experience in addition to either specialist or branded products or else a wide range of goods at exceptional quality and price. It can be summed up as simply as this: people like shopping there. And while these retailers have undoubtedly spent a great deal of money on staff training and education, stock, store layout, display design and brand identity they have also combined these to create a brand experience that resonates with their market segment. Money can’t buy it but investment and strategic branding creates it. These retailers continue to post robust growth figures for their terrestrial stores despite the economic downturn and the continued internet shopping boom.

Savvy retailers and hospitality providers – restaurants, pubs, clubs and cafes have by now realised that Smartphone users can ‘check-in’ to their location and inform their Facebook friends where they are – therefore garnering some free marketing across these users networks. We can only assume that the business version of Google+ will feature something similar. If you are a retailer or a hospitality provider and you have yet to get a Facebook presence, this is a compelling reason for having one. But as of this week, the social networking site is offering additional benefits from checking in – cheaper stuff – which they hope will combat what has become known as “check in fatigue”.

The geo-location facility of smartphones allows retailers to also lure consumers back into stores and restaurants with targeted deals based on where they are (yes, Big Brother is also watching you shop and buy your Starbucks!).  But what is happening now is that apps are being launched which allow small local businesses to sell deals to users they know to be in the area.

The trend has been developing in the United States for quite some time and more and more location-based services are offering their expertise to agencies and their clients. ‘At present the take-up has mainly been from larger brands with large Facebook fan bases. But as awareness grows and the threshold price of technology comes down then we are going to see small to medium businesses taking advantage of it,’ predicts Brownstone’s Dave Jabbie. ‘Geo-location-aware deals will be one of the next big innovations and businesses need to consider it as part of an evolving digital strategy.’

How does it work? When users ‘check in’ to a participating store, a coupon comes up on their mobile screen which they can then redeem. ‘It’s not just for retail, food and hospitality outlets,’ Jabbie explains. ‘Banks and financial institutions can also benefit. One bank in Australia has offered a years’ worth of free movie vouchers to users who open up a new account. You could offer something similar – say an IKEA voucher to anyone taking out a mortgage. A hairdresser could offer an extra treatment in addition to a cut – the ability to up-sell and create a better brand experience for your customers using these tools is endless and also gives retailers the ability to bridge the gap between on-line shopping and stores with a kind of personalised immediacy the web just can’t compete with.’

There are various types of deals businesses can look at when using this kind of marketing tool: individual (e.g. 20 per cent off or free gift with purchase), friend (deals to groups who check in together), loyalty (rewards for 2-20 check ins at the same place) and social responsibility/charity (business can donate to a charity each time a user checks in).

‘With Facebook check-in deals you’re essentially bridging on-line social media activity with ‘real world’ purchasing decisions,’ Jabbie says. ‘If done correctly, these activities can entice your customers away from buying on-line – however, businesses need to ensure all their floor staff are adequately briefed on these activities before they are rolled out.’

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