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Want To Push Social Media? Have You Considered Using Your Stores?

January 10th, 2012

But if you think about it from the customers’ perspective, they don’t understand or care about the different channels a retailer has. They want to interact with the brand across all of the channels in a convenient and consistent way.

With smartphones, consumers are becoming better educated and can easily research products while they browse the aisles. I have personally, as I am sure most people have, researched a product while looking at it in-store, only to go home and purchase that product online.

That is where relationship and engagement come in to play. The reason the Internet and mobile phones have “commoditized” a lot of retail segments isn’t simply because the consumer has easy access to cheaper alternatives online. It’s because many retailers haven’t figured out how to nurture/grow/enhance (capitalize) on their relationship with the consumers.

In the professional services world of today, most of the smaller firms (and even some of the larger firms) grow their revenue through a model I’ll call “paying it forward.” They engage with their potential customers both online and in real life with the goal being simply to help them.

It could be as simple as solving a nagging problem, providing a technical resource to assist with project work or helping them craft a strategy. There are no expectations coupled with this work, no “I’ll only do this if you buy from me” mentality. These providers are building relationships. When those people do have a need for that provider, they reach out on their own. No sales call necessary. Many times, the project does not even go out to bid, because people want to do business with someone they have a relationship with. You probably have some relationships like that yourself.

But when it comes to retailing, the relationship often stays within the four walls of the store. The digital marketing folks struggle to even start a conversation with their consumers online, lost in the noise that is the social Web. But the folks on the ground have a relationship, or at least consumers’ attention, but they fail to capitalize on that after the transaction. How crazy is it that both organizations work for the same company, each one able to help the other with a significant problem, and yet most retailers haven’t done it?

Here are a few ideas for you to test to bridge this gap:

  • Place LCD TVs in the store that are tied to the company Facebook page, with clear directions printed on the screen that show customers how to engage online (example: “Go to to join the conversation”). Get them to “Like” you, so they will get your future Facebook updates. Don’t “buy” the Likes with a bribe, just ask them to engage.
  • Have the sales clerk’s E-mail address printed on the receipt, with a note that says “E-mail me with any questions.” Don’t have E-mail addresses for everyone? Set up an E-mail address for the store and give customers instructions to ask for “Lucy” in the subject line. And yes, as a CIO, I know how much work that will be. I also know how much value it would create. (Admit it, you would do it in a heartbeat if you had just one location).
  • Place screens around the store that show Twitter activity about your brand. When someone tweets to or about you, follow that person. Engage with them on Twitter.
  • Sit down with your associates once a month and ask them what are the most common questions they get. Start a blog, and answer all of those questions (if customers had them in-store, they have them online). Choose different associates to provide each answer used on the blog.
  • Here’s a really crazy thought: Go to your existing Facebook Fans and Twitter followers and ask them how they would like to be engaged socially within your stores. Make sure it is free-form (not a multiple choice poll). Take the time to read and respond to all suggestions. Try some. Give credit to the person/people who made the suggestions. Say thank you to them.

I think what is important is to figure out how to shed the “old-way” thinking and how to break down the multi-channel barriers. It’s time to start a relationship with your customers, across all forms of connection, because the benefits are worth it.

What do you think? If you disagree (or even, heaven forbid, agree), please comment below or send me a private message. Or check out the Twitter discussion on @todd_michaud.


5 Comments | Read Want To Push Social Media? Have You Considered Using Your Stores?

  1. Walt Conway Says:

    Great column, Todd. I can see applying your recommendations to a company (or franchisee) store, and it made me wonder about two other situations.

    One situation is where the retailer is in a shared space (e.g., a food court in a mall or college campus) where there may be limited space and possibly limited flexibility (e.g., power, comms, lease restrictions). The other situation is in airports, where I see more and more retailers. Would your recommendations hold for those locations, too?

    By coincidence, I was at a conference this week and sat next to the person charged with building brand awareness for a national food chain on college campuses — and therefore with the student demographic — nationwide. After reading your piece, I was wondering, would your recommendations would hold for them?

    As for airports, I could see one school of thought that says customers don’t live there, so get them in and out. But I also could see where the particulars of this demographic could be sufficiently compelling to want to reach out.

    Any thoughts?

  2. ed Says:

    Social media should be seamlessly integrated instead of pushed out there for the sake of pushing. We seen the results of pushing URLs, pushing QR codes with awkward results such as “scan this code!” or “check out our web site!” in previous iternations of pushing interactive media.

    Here are my thoughts on the suggestions above:

    LCD screens are both an overkill and too passive for social media engagement. I prefer LCD screens to be used as either digital signange or a flat panel kiosks that can respond to gestures or even code on a mobile phone.

    Email is not used widespread anymore – people are using social media and mobile texting from their mobile phone, not email to interact. The receipt can display the social media address and invite them to join or stay updated with a community instead of one-to-one email. Who wants to manage an email inbox anyway?

    Displaying Twitter activity in-store will require active monitoring and filters. I really don’t see value here using Twitter in this manner and there are other alternatives to engaging customers.

    Here are some of my suggestions:

    Introduce gamification similiar to Dave and Busters to give customers points to redeem for loss leads hoping it lead to more sales. Instead of the silly ego employee-of-the-month plaque, use gamification to reward badges for showing up on time, making a sales quota and promote to virtual levels with points rewarded.

    Make signing up to Facebook and Twitter seamless. There are scripts and developer API that allow customers to connect to facebook with their phone immediately. There should be no need to passively ask them to join.

    Third and I did not see this in the list, geo-location services that does “check-in” are more critical than mingling social apps to take advantage of time/space. For example, augmented reality that can float coupons and offers on the street level for people with a mobile phone to see.

  3. Todd Michaud Says:

    Ed and Walt,
    Thanks for the feedback!

    Ed, I agree that there are even deeper levels of engagement that you absolutely could drive in the store (I love the idea of floating coupons by the way). I think what is most important is using the store to start a conversation that could be then continued online (rather than always trying to start a conversation online that culminates with a sale in the store).

    I also think that it is a great point about using developers to make the signup process more seamless and easier. Do you know of any examples of people doing that well? (I’d love to research more).

    I agree that there are some venues that will not be able to take advantage of some of these tactics, like at Airports, but I think you’ve hit one of the bigger issues with larger chains is that “if it doesn’t work for all locations, let’s not do it”).

    I think that if chains make a concerted effort to use their stores as a starting point of engagement, then their overall relationship with that customer will be much better than it was otherwise.

    Thanks again for the comments!

  4. ed Says:

    In tradegy of the commons retail locations such as airports and malls, the management company should be responsible for creating a unified social media interaction strategy.

    Todd, the current “clicks and bricks” practice for interacting with Facebook is having the QR code redirect to an URL that in trun run script from the Facebook API. This Facebook API will post to the customer Facebook wall a status update that can be shared among their friends. Or they can post to your Page Wall and the customer will share it among their friends.

    This is similiar to the Farmville updates on facebook and a retailer can include a coupon in the Facebook posting, creating a viral marketing campaign. Hope this helps.

  5. Holidayfor5 Says:

    I think the statement “Then there is the small fact that the retail operator doesn’t feed his family based upon how well his customers are engaged online” speaks loads.


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