Holiday Shopping 2015: Why It Takes A (Social) Village To Find The Perfect Gift [INFOGRAPHIC]

Carolyn Beal

There’s always one defining tradition that gets people in the holiday spirit. For some, it’s decking the rooftop with Christmas lights in true Griswold fashion. Others wait until the first whiff of gingerbread baking in the oven or when the first candle is lit on the menorah, kinara, or Advent wreath. For many, it’s after the last slice of pumpkin pie is served on Thanksgiving Day. You may recall memories of your family studying pages of newspaper ads, looking for the best Black Friday deals, advising on brands, and devising a shopping plan that would make a military operative jealous.

Fast-forward 20 years, many consumers are taking this tradition to a global, digital community. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers research, about one-quarter (27%) rely on their friends’ opinions about products and brands while 23% share their own experiences. Meanwhile, 46% of shoppers will spend this holiday season browsing and buying online, the National Retail Federation reports.

Consumers are no longer willing to waste time going to a store and leaving without the product they want. More important, they cannot afford to purchase an item that does not deliver on its promises, especially when choosing the perfect gift. Instead, shoppers are seeking trust and authenticity from brands – not noise from slick commercials and deep discounts.

Reliance on social communities is changing the retail game

Consumers are now engaging with like-minded buyers and purveyors in their social communities for advice and recommendations. By 2017, the combination of online and Web-influenced retail sales will reach $1.8 trillion – a 27% jump over 2013. In fact, Forrester Research reported approximately 73% are willing to visit a local store that provides product availability information online.

According to Mike Fauscette, general vice president at IDC Research, this new behavior will only continue to grow and impact how businesses cater to consumers. “Companies need a way to connect with prospects and customers in a trusted environment. Adding frictionless purchase options inside the community adds value for buyers and sellers,” he stated. “In our 2016 Social Business Futurescape, we predict that by 2020, 30% of all purchases will be made through an online community.”

As the digital line between in-store and online shopping continues to blur, every consumer’s unique buying journey needs to be respected, recently noted Sameer Patel, senior vice president of product management and go-to-market for SAP. No matter how complex the purchase or whether the offering in mind is a physical asset or intangible service, shoppers must have access to the right experience every time. If it’s a new smartphone they’re seeking, offer quick validation, such as user ratings from their social community, and one-click purchasing. If the purchase is more complex, such as an appliance, quickness and user ratings are not the keys to success – it’s getting thorough answers to questions and concerns with ease. And for the intangible, such as learning about a disease and which services can help, a community centered on experiential sharing and open discussion without a time limit can help consumers make intelligent decisions that meet their unique needs.

In the end, the unifying force in every customer experience is engagement with a social community. 

Retailers, are you ready for your consumer’s village?

Unfortunately, Forrester Research found that not every retailer is jumping on the bandwagon – yet. Only 55% of retailers are making investments driven by customers who already expect mature omnichannel capabilities and in response to competitors that are digitally disrupting the industry. Even though the remaining 45% understand that their customers want digital, seamless, omnichannel experiences, they are lacking a clear strategy and chasing all the wrong things.

Whether you’re a luxury brand, mom-and-pop shop, small retailer, or worldwide brand, “the customer is in control of the conversation” as CRM pundit Paul Greenberg once asserted. It’s not enough to grow a large followership; brands must procure a strong, passionate fan base that is willing to share information through social media or word of mouth. And that’s the kind of advertising no amount of money can buy.

Simply put, today’s connected consumers expect brands to put the relationship back into customer relationship management. They want meaningful conversations in real time. They want to be reassured that your brand will not let them down – even if their network is sharing negative experiences. They want personalized products and services. They want you to know them well enough that they never have to be frustrated by customer service representatives who are unaware of their needs.

It’s not good enough to set up a Facebook page, create a Twitter account, or post a couple pictures on Instagram. If retailers are not actively engaging with consumers in the social watercooler, they are missing out on some significant advantages:

  • Revenue. The Internet Retailer’s Social Media 500 revealed that the top 500 retailers earned $3.3 billion from social shopping in 2014. This is an increase of 26% from 2013 and well ahead of the 16% growth rate for the overall e-commerce market in the United States.
  • Impulse buying. By connecting social shoppers to the virtual register line, retailers can power the ultimate impulse buy. While browsing posts, boards, and recommendations by their friends, a visitor can stumble across a new product or brand at any time. With the emergence of the “buy button” on many social channels, consumers can connect and order that product nearly instantaneously. Without leaving a brand’s social page, they can pay for products with buying information stored on the site. But first, retailers must engage with these potential shoppers to get them interested enough to follow through with a purchase.
  • Increase e-commerce traffic. Social is driving much bigger increases in retail traffic than any other online channel. Business Insider reported that social media increased its share of e-commerce referrals nearly 200% between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015.

Does your brand have the social network footprint to seize these opportunities for differentiation, reach, and revenue growth? Find out how your business can leverage social communities to drive commerce in the infographic below. You can’t afford not to.

Today, when bad news travels at the speed of a tweet, brand positioning is a matter of survival. For more insights, see The Future of Marketing: 5 Keys to a Successful Transformation.

Carolyn Beal

About Carolyn Beal

Carolyn Beal is senior director of Solution Marketing for Social Software at SAP. Her specialties include product marketing, marketing communications, CRM, and demand generation.