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New Research: A social evolution

The relationship between social media and retail is changing, our latest RetailX research suggests.
We’ve taken a look at how social commerce has developed over the last two years, as seen through RetailX metrics that analyse which merchandising tools retailers use. We’ve found that fewer IRUK Top500 retailers are now using social integration to link their ecommerce websites with social media networks. It seems the way retailers use social to talk to their customers is changing.

Evidence of a changing relationship

Each year, RetailX research maps the way that Top500 retailers use a broad range of merchandising tools, from images and product videos through to social media integration and whether they show ratings and reviews on their mobile apps. For this analysis, we’ve compared the use of merchandising tools among the subset of retailers that appeared in the IRUK Top500 in both 2017 and 2018. That’s just shy of 500 retailers. For our 2018 figure, we’ve taken a new mid-year snapshot of these features to make sure that we’re right up-to-date.

At the beginning of 2017, 28% of Top500 retailers enabled social validation. This meant that shoppers could see what their friends and family thought of a product by reading the comments and Likes they’d added on social media. But by mid-2018, only 18% retailers used that feature. That’s a fairly striking fall of 35%.

At the same time, the number of retailers enabling shoppers to Facebook Like their products with a button on the retailer’s product page has fallen, from 27% in 2017 to 19%. But use of the share-with-friends option has remained fairly constant, falling by two percentage points from 55% last year to 53% this year.

Why the change?

Our research tells us only what is changing, rather than why. But it does seem likely that retailers are following consumer preferences. Social media integration, where use has fallen most, depends on permissions given by the consumer. Perhaps that fall in popularity has come because shoppers have shied away from giving social networks permission to follow their buying behaviour on other websites. That may have come in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as people took stock of what information they were sharing.

Instead, they may be opting to make an active choice by following the retailers they value most on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and more. Certainly, millions of people now follow brands on a wide range of channels.

All this suggests that the power of social media in retail hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way that retailers use it.

We also saw…

While the most striking changes that we found were in the use of social media tools, we’ve also detected some other interesting developments since last year.
Fewer IRUK Top500 retailers now require shoppers to register before they buy. In 2017, 44% of retailers did so but that’s now fallen to 36%. The change is likely to have come as traders make it simpler for customers to complete their transaction, rather than abandoning their basket.
There’s been a fast uptake of the use of wish lists: fewer than half (49%) used these on the desktop websites in 2017 but now they’re offered by almost two-thirds (64%). That popularity extends to mobile apps: 56% of those with iOS apps now have them in their apps, up from 48% previously.

Search suggestions that drop down as shoppers type their search term have grown in uptake, from 61% last year to 74% this year. This is a step that retailers take in order to make it easier for shoppers to find exactly what they need as they search their range, especially from the mobile devices on which more and more shopping is now taking place.

Product reviews, used by 57% of retailers in 2018, and ratings (58% in 2018) each gained a few percentage points during the period.

InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Poq says that 46% of Top500 retailers with an iOS app now offer daily deals through them. That’s up by 17 percentage points from 29% in 2017.
It seems that Top500 retailers are steadily making it easier and more attractive for shoppers to buy from them across their sales channels.

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