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Retailers adapt social media for real-world, in-store sales impact

Big retailers such as Nordstrom, Victoria’s Secret and Lowe’s are increasingly bringing physical manifestations of social media into their stores to excite mobile-savvy shoppers and drive sales.

With more shoppers using their phones in-store, often to connect with social media, and throughout the path-to-purchase, it makes sense for retailers to carry over the interest in social media to their window displays and other store marketing efforts. The strategy is an example of the blurring of the lines between marketing, content and advertising as omnichannel marketing matures.

“It makes a lot of sense for retailers to give their social media marketing an in-store, real-world angle,” said Gary Lee, CEO of InReality. “With examples such as Nordstrom using a 3D Instagram installation on a store roof and Lowe’s recreating its FIX in Six Vines in store windows, we see retailers bridging social media and online experiences with their physical stores, something we call ‘Omnipresence,’ to ensure their brand and brand messages are in front of shoppers when and where they need them.

“These in-store examples serve to either reinforce online campaigns shoppers may already be familiar with, or draw them into new campaigns in a fun, creative way,” he said.

Getting real about social
Some of the most mobile-savvy retailers are stepping up their efforts to not simply engage smartphone-equipped shoppers with applications but to infuse the imagery, actions and feel of social media throughout their store marketing.

For example, Nordstrom recently reminded consumers to check out its summer sale with giant, 3D installation on its roof showing a Leith leopard-print body-con dress as part of a large-scale Instagram post (see story).

In another example, Lowe’s has reimagined its Fix In Six Vine six-second home-improvement tutorials to create an animated window display in one of its first Manhattan locations.

“Consumers don’t differentiate or think in traditional marketing channels like marketers do – they are constantly connected and the lines between digital, traditional and in-store and continuing to be blurred,” said Tara Yavorsky, director of social at Resource/Ammirati. “What better time for retailers to capitalize on their social media investments and social content then when their consumer is in-store and more likely to purchase from them?”

Taking full advantage
Victoria’s Secret is also getting in on the trend with a new effort asking shoppers to take a selfie in front of a display and show it to sales personnel for a free gift (see story).

Engaging the store associate in the program is a great way to really drive home the online-to-offline integration these campaigns are going for.

“Creating an incentive to take a selfie is pretty easy; you really just need in-store signage and hashtag monitoring to manage a campaign,” said Chris Bowler, group vice president of social media at Razorfish. “But this doesn’t require sales associates to be involved, which is a huge barrier to more engaging social shopping experiences.

“Visual social media channels, like Instagram and Pinterest, lend themselves well to showcasing products,” he said. “This, combined with the fact that mobile behaviors are already ingrained in shopping and social sharing, makes for the perfect storm to use these properties and behaviors to full advantage.”


Lowe’s has adapted its Vines for some window displays

Standing out
The recent surge in such physical in-store manifestations of social media marketing points to the how marketing is evolving to be more omnichannel and to how social media is becoming a more competitive environment for brands.

“Social is changing – gone are the days of ‘free’ reach on Facebook,” Ms. Yavorsky said. “Brands that built up (and paid for) massive amounts of fans in that channel no longer have free access to them and can’t get those brand messages in front of their eyes without paying for it.

“Brands have to explore new ways to bring social and more importantly socially-led experiences to their campaigns and marketing messages in order to make an impact in their consumers lives and to stand-out in the clutter.”

One must for ensuring the success of strategies to bring social media marketing in-store is maintaining brand consistency across the online experience and the physical realm, which is evident in both the Nordstrom and Lowe’s campaigns.

Retailers should also set goals and measure results. Not every online campaign will make sense in the store environment.

It is also necessary to keep integrations simple.

“If you have to ask the in-store user to download an app, scan a complicate code, or enter a long URL, the pain may outweigh the reward,” InReality’s Mr. Lee said.

Driving value
Not every in-store social campaign needs to be a big as the examples above. Retailers can also consider including in-store signage for active social channels and brand-preferred hashtags. Another possibility would be a signs for select items that are popular on sites such as Pinterest.

“I think the biggest thing for retailers to consider is how does bring socially-driven experiences or messaging into the store drive value for the consumer – like the Victoria’s Secrete example – give them a reason to care so it’s not a one-sided communication,” Ms. Yavorsky said.

As marketing continues to evolve, retailers are likely to go even deeper on the social-store integration, leveraging what they learn about their customers on the former to enhance the shopping experience.

“Social intelligence that is used to assist and add value to the customer – versus a “stunt” – provides a future-facing opportunity for retailers to connect the personal networks of their customers with the physical retail environment,” Razorfish’s Mr. Bowler said. “There is a real opportunity to link data about what the customer likes to that of what their friends like in aggregate and then bring this into the retail environment.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York