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Social one of the 'most powerful' tools at brand’s disposal, says retail experts

Using social media to connect with customers is one of the most “powerful” tools retailers have at their disposal, said a panel of experts at the Salesforce World Tour

Social media is one of the “most powerful” tools at a retailer’s disposal in an omni-channel world, said a panel of retail experts.

Speaking at Salesforce World Tour, a panel of retailers discussed how social media can help to enhance customer experience in an increasingly omni-channel environment.

“Social is probably one of the most powerful things we’ve got at our disposal at the moment,” said Sam Sibbert, head of digital product international for Marks & Spencer.

Widespread technology adoption means consumers are more omni-channel in nature, and he said social media can be used across several different platforms and at all stages of a customer journey.

Some retailers have begun to develop content alongside their product offering to better engage with their customers, and Sibbert said “you could even consider ratings and reviews” as social content for a retailer.

A majority of consumers have claimed that the availability of a brand through social media channels can impact their loyalty to it.

Sibbert said not only is social media a “fantastic way to continually engage with loyal customers”, but also to gain more traction with customers internationally who might not be aware of the brand.

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For a brand heavily focussed on physical aspects such as touch, feel or smell, social can be part of drawing online channels into the experience, said Martijn Van der Zee, director of digital for Rituals.

“Sampling and trying things on physically is very important, and it’s difficult to bring that experience online,” he said.

As well as use visual tools, such as video and pictures, to try and get the brand across through digital channels, Rituals uses social media to raise awareness and gain engagement with both its existing customers and potential customers.

Consumers tend to be very loyal to a particular cosmetics brand, which can be a challenge when trying to draw new customers in, and Van der Zee said the Rituals brand is “extremely active” on social.

Social media is almost becoming a channel on its own, with a majority of younger people saying they want to buy products directly through social channels and claiming what they see on social media impacts what they buy.

Rituals also has a team of designers in-house who try to work on helping customers to experience the brand’s products in the same way through digital channels as they would in store. “That first moment, deciding whether you like the brand or not, is our challenge – particularly online,” he said.

A tool for customer service

In many cases for retailers, as well as using social media to connect the in-store and online dots, it is being used as a tool for customer service.

David Liversidge, director of CRM for Barclays, said the bank uses social media as a type of marketing channel, but also for responding to customer concerns before they become more of a problem or official complaint.

This is becoming increasingly important as consumers expect their experience with a retail to be more joined up across channels or personalised to them, and Liversidge explained Barclays ensures customers can access its services through any channel and are given a “choice of what channel they wish to start in”.

But he also said it is important that emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are used to notice things humans can’t and predict what customers might want or ask about next – making the customer feel more like a brand knows them.

Marks & Spencer’s Sibbert said ensuring a good customer experience and meeting customer expectations this way is becoming increasingly difficult to do, not only because retailers like Amazon have given consumers the “now” mentality, but also because as these expectations are met, consumer expectation then increases.

“I think there’s actually an expectation from customers that they get the royal treatment all of the time,” he said. “We’re almost our own worst enemy at trying to retain that mantle, it’s really difficult. Customer expectations are changing all the time.”

Many retailers are using technologies such as AI and automation to predict consumer behaviour and properly target customers as individuals, but not all retailers are in the same boat when trying to figure out how to adopt these technologies. “Take incremental steps, do stuff, see if it works and move on,” said Sibbert.

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