Retail is a social activity so it is no surprise that the industry and consumers alike have embraced social media as part of the experience.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, 85% of consumer and retail companies are using social technologies for marketing compared to 66% of companies in other industries.

Social media tools give retailers the opportunity to personalise the consumer-seller experience, a recent Hootsuite study found.

This is a vital point yet to be accepted by many retailers who view social media as just another form of marketing to their customers.

As consumers, we are increasingly seeking more personalised, relevant engagement with retail brands.

More than ever, we are asked to divulge personal data about ourselves – remember the last time you wanted to use free wifi in-store? – and in return we expect that retail brands will engage with us in a relevant, meaningful and timely manner.

However, in order to do so, retailers must have a single view of each and every one of their customers. Sadly, in most cases, this is still a little way off but it represents an enormous opportunity.

Which means that today, we are merely scratching the surface of the power of social media in retail.

Customer emphasis

Most retailers simply use social media as a means to market and capture feedback, and this is unlikely to change.

“In order to harness the power of social media, retailers must put the customer at the very centre of their organisation”

Andrew Busby, Zensar Technologies

Some, however, appreciate that in order to harness the power of social media, instead of mere platitudes, they must actually put the customer at the very centre of their organisation.

Witness the pioneering restructure at House of Fraser which has created a unified customer insight team bringing together the retailer’s brand, CRM, product and multichannel functions for the first time.

And social media will play an increasingly vital role in this, going beyond simply listening as it moves towards putting the customer at the heart of a retail business.

Consumers are more likely to shop with a retailer they know and trust, but the path to purchase experience has to be positive and engaging at the same time.

Social media plays a large part in this relationship with the consumer but is under-utilised by many retailers owing to a fear of misuse or negative publicity.

Social impact

The proliferation of smartphones gives rise to another reason why social interaction is key to the success of a retail brand; consumers are able to access information, peer reviews, research products and brands, check prices all while on the go.

Before even entering a store, 62% of millennial shoppers already know what they want to buy through prior online research, according to Bazaarvoice. And 84% of them say consumer-written content on brand sites influences what they buy.

In the next few years, largely driven by consumer demands and expectations, social and retail will become one, such that social will be the primary source for engaging with customers, driving sales and increasing brand awareness – to the point where social influence will play a leading role in the deals, bargains and discounts we each receive from retailers.

Have you checked your Klout score recently? It may be time to start paying attention to it if you want to grab all the best bargains.

  • Andrew Busby is retail business head at Zensar Technologies