When the Internet entered the mainstream, life became a lot more challenging for traditional retailers.
The web introduced a bevy of new competition to brick-and-mortar stores and changed the way in which consumers shopped. People who may have once bought a washing machine from Sears (and Sears only) out of tradition or habit (or maybe even pure laziness) could now, with the click of a search button, check Sears' price against prices from dozens of other retailers. Why shop where America shops when you can get a washing machine for $100 less a couple of miles away or buy it online and have it shipped to your house (sometimes even for free)? The web also threw open the curtain that once veiled customers brickbats and bouquets: reviews and message boards, among other devices, gave very public voice to customers opinions.
The advent of social media has ushered in a business-to-consumer change of similar magnitude for organizations of all kinds, but perhaps especially retailers. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have provided platforms for direct communication and engagement with the customer--and the potential for building the kind of loyalty not seen since, well, before the dawn of the Internet age.
Social networking tools and sites are still new, and retailers are just beginning to get their arms around the technology. But smart companies realize that having a robust social media presence will be (if it isnt already) as important as having a traditional website.
Some have gone further than others. Zengage examined three major retailers Facebook pages to gauge its social skills when it comes to interacting with and supporting customers. Weve also put together a list of best practices that retailers would do well to follow.
Lands' End has long been known for quality merchandise and customer care, and its presence on Facebook continues that tradition. Lands' End offers fans of its Facebook page early information about sales and special campaigns, as well as quick and easy access to customer care. Questions posted on the Lands' End Wall are answered in a very timely manner (although many are taken care of offline). Customers can shop for Lands' End merchandise via the Facebook page, and can then post pics of themselves (or more often their children) in all of their Lands' End glory. Lands' End also makes use of Facebook's discussion capabilities, allowing customers to connect with each other, and provides easy gateways to external sites such as Landsend.com and Lands' End's Twitter page.
Target understands the social part of social networking. On its Facebook page, Target spends as much time engaging customers as it does promoting its merchandise and upcoming sales. Queries from Target about topics ranging from how you bundle up on a cold day to what you wore for Halloween routinely get hundreds of replies and "likes." Target's Facebook presence also includes apps for finding the best fit in Target apparel and making sure college students have everything they need before they head off for school. Target allows its fans to upload photos and videos, and the retailer invites interaction among fans via Facebook's discussion capabilities. This provides some peer promotion for Target, with customers showing off great buys and discussing their favorite Target finds, as well as an opportunity for Target to show off its sense of humor. (Case in point: Target posted a pic showing a rug knit from Target bags by a fan/employee.) However, a Sunday evening perusal of the discussion boards found obscenities more than several hours old, and several "Boycott Target" photos and videos have been uploaded to the site. Assuming that Target, like most businesses, does not have an "anything-goes" policy for content on its online presences, the retailer needs to pay closer attention or risk offending customers.
On Facebook, Home Depot provides the kind of information and engagement you'd expect of a home improvement store, although not as much of it as you might like. Home Depot is proactive with status updates and responsive to customer questions and comments. For example, on a recent Sunday evening, Home Depot responded within an hour to a customers post about a successful dual-flush-toilet installation. The page also offers customers a forum for sharing their own stories, questions and advice about home-improvement projects. Home Depot offers in-store workshops, and its Facebook page provides similar DIY info via useful videos. However, the number of DIY videos currently on the site is low. In addition, some of the info on the site is outdated. Clicking on the Seasonal tab, for example, brings up info on gardening at a time of year when youd expect promos for holiday lights and inflatable lawn ornaments.
All three of these retailers set a good social media example, although each has room for improvement. Check out this list of social media best practices. Which retailers are getting it right, and which are living in the social media dark ages? Let us know.