The impact of social media on retail can’t be underestimated and this week it has been thrown into sharp focus. Instagram is rumoured to be poised to roll out a dedicated shopping app, linking all those brands with their customers via shoppable, social posts.
The move by IG’s owner, Facebook, is well timed. The past year as seen a rapid shift among shoppers – especially the younger ones – to linking social to shopping. According to research by Royal Mail, 22% have purchased an item after seeing something on social media. Younger shoppers (48%), women (29%) and those living in urban areas (38%) are significantly more likely to have purchased items after seeing posts on social media.
The move is an inevitable upshot of an ever-more mobile population. Social is now one of the main ways that Generation Z and Millennials discover things, according to research from visual commerce AI company ViSenze, and that ties in with social.
Influencers are Instagramming what they like, youngsters are seeing it and sharing it and, increasingly, using visual recognition therein to find it. Then they buy it…
And this is where it gets interesting. While a growing number of people want to buy on mobile – 60% of Gen Z according to ViSenze and 78% of the general population according to Royal Mail – there is also a large number of these ‘discoverers’ who want to see and feel and try on the things they find. They want to go to the store.
According to ViSenze, 60% of Gen Z and Millennials sampled shopped in store more than once a week – and this is what retailers need to hang on to. Shoppers like shops and they have an important role to play in how people shop in the omni-channel age. They complement the web and mobile.
The problem is that they don’t do it well right now. How people shop has changed – how could it not, awash as it is with mobile, marketplaces, social media, image recognition and so on? Stores simply haven’t kept up.
Research by retail technology firm jisp suggests that there are many shortfalls to the High Street – queues, lack of staff, lack of stock, lack of information and data and poor payments technologies to name but a few – there is still a need for stores. Almost a half (48%) of those polled said that the ability to touch and feel products was the biggest benefit to in-store shopping, while 15% of respondents value the fact that a high street shopping trip avoids the delivery charges and waiting times associated with online shopping. Similarly, 13% believe it is easier to see what is available in a traditional store compared to browsing online.
The message hasn’t be wasted on John Lewis & Partners – and Debenhams – to name but two retailers who this week have both announced wide-ranging plans to radically adapt their stores to deliver the kind of experience that shoppers want.
And getting this right closes the circle. Shoppers and influencers are pushing out stuff on social, shoppers are finding it there and looking at where to buy it. If Instagram has its way, that will be from its app. But many consumers want to see, feel, hear, touch, taste the goods and so go in-store. If they are then met with a delightful experience that offers them far more than they expect then they will not only buy, but will also – hopefully – take to social media to share the experience and the purchase.
This is the only way retailers are going to get the edge over Instagram et al. While social sites – and marketplaces and other new entrants and pure-plays – have an edge when it comes to ecommerce, stores with a physical presence and which delight in those locations can become the social media story.
This can drive sales through those social channels, but it could also drive shoppers back to these experiences. And this could be how to stop stores closing. John Lewis, Halfords, Game, Debenhams and more are all getting there – let’s hope it isn’t too late.