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Retail in 2014: social commerce

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The latest in our New Year series of features assessing the shape of retail in 2014 looks at social commerce. It’s often been written off, but our experts say 2014 just could be the year that social stages a comeback.

‘2014: The year social commerce saves retail’

“As a nation we are totally obsessed with sales, which is why it comes as no surprise that London’s West End enjoyed 31.3% more footfall last Boxing Day compared to the previous year, while online takings grew by 17%.

“But let’s not kid ourselves here: people aren’t shopping because the recession’s over and they’re merrily splashing the cash. They’re stockpiling in preparation for the moment the sales end, making sure they have everything they need before that 80% off is actually off.

“At which point, everything’s likely to get rather bleak.

“Traditionally, the post-sales period between leading up to Easter has been retail’s time to experiment: click-and-collect, loyalty cards, even the world’s first ever online store (1992’s Book Stacks Unlimited) all came into being during Februaries past (as did the mobile internet and Facebook, incidentally). So now’s definitely the time to plan something fresh and innovative.

“The smart money is on social commerce: converting the social media audience you’ve been growing into valuable, real shoppers. And it’s not just us saying that: the industry bible Social Media Examiner declared our assertion that ecommerce and social media will grow together as their Number One prediction for the year ahead. Above content marketing, above Snapchat and Instagram Messaging, above everything.

“Everybody’s favourite Page on Facebook is Condescending Corporate Brand Page (CCBP). CCBP’s war against meaningless ‘engagement’ by brands too scared to admit they’re trying to sell stuff isn’t just funny, it’s gut-punchingly insightful. For far too long, social media managers have been chasing utterly meaningly metrics (engagement, likes, sharing) in a desperate race to the bottom. The tail isn’t just wagging the dog, it’s started bashing Fido violently against the nearest wall until he’s had to be put down for his own good.

“So, blam. Here’s the humane injection, the brutal truth: if you do the social media for a brand who sell things, your job is to sell things. There is only one metric you should care about: how many sales have your posts generated? Cute kitten pictures may get liked and shared like crazy, but they’ve never, ever sold a bottle of multivitamins. And, trust us, your CEO will be on the warpath in 2014, looking for cold, hard, provable ROI.

“So, yes. Our prediction for the year ahead: all this stops. No more ‘Like if you love biscuits, Share if you prefer cake’. No more ‘hilarious’ aphorism postcards nabbed from someecards.com. No more damn rats in hats. Just truly engaging content that actually helps sell things (which is why people should be liking your Page in the first place).

Robin Bresnark, head of social, BuyaPowa

Ordering via social

“Social media has been having an impact on the retail sector for some time. A key example is the ‘Kate effect’. When the Duchess of Cambridge wears an outfit, it is posted over social media networks and instantly sells out online. Retailers who effectively monitor their online channels can give themselves a big head start and maximise their sales.

“But the next development of this is likely to be retailers using social channels to take customer orders. Few larger retailers have capitalised on the opportunity of selling directly to their social channel audiences. Engagement has so far been driven by photos or discount vouchers rather than direct orders – something we are likely to see change this year as retailers become keener than ever to differentiate themselves from competitors. Those retailers that will succeed in this difficult market are those that see social media as another retail channel.”

Craig Sears-Black, UK managing director, Manhattan Associates

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