These days, social media is no longer optional — at least not for retailers looking to stay connected to their customer base. That becomes all the more important during the holidays when retailers are trying to stay top of mind for consumers in an increasingly chaotic and crowded industry.
Not only do retailers have season-specific promotions and coupons to deal out on social media, but many are also promoting brand messages in an effort to carry on a more long-term relationship with their customers.
Among the various tweets, hashtags and Facebook posts, a few retailers stand out. Here's what they've been doing right this holiday season and how they've approached the social media puzzle.
They push long-term relationships
While the holidays are a time for every retailer to make some extra cash, they can also be a good time to further an impactful brand message, so long as it makes sense with previous marketing efforts. Several retailers have turned to such efforts during the holiday season, and a big part of that is user-generated content, which can have a serious impact on customer purchase decisions.
A study by TurnTo Networks, which was emailed to Retail Dive, found that customers were much more likely to purchase an item if user-generated content was available. Of the respondents, 82% said product ratings made them more likely to purchase an item, 81% said the same of written reviews, 71% said product Q&A's influenced their purchase decision and 58% said product photos made them more likely to purchase something.
That being said, it's not just about product transparency. REI, for example, turned to user-generated content to drive more brand interaction this Black Friday, with the #OptOutside social search engine. The website, launched as part of the third year of the #OptOutside campaign, offered users the chance to search through photos with that hashtag attached and find their own trails, location and outdoors inspiration for the Black Friday holiday — a marketing technique that seems especially fitting for a retailer notorious for closing on Black Friday.
"I think REI is playing the long game here. I think you're going to be seeing a lot of that, where authenticity ends up being the currency that people want to trade in."
Assistant Vice President of SEO at Ansira
"For the people who have decided that it's not about the price, it's not about the selection, it's about brands whose values align with my values, I think REI is playing the long game here," Luigi Ferguson, assistant vice president of SEO at Ansira, told Retail Dive. "I think you're going to be seeing a lot of that, where authenticity ends up being the currency that people want to trade in."
Sure, REI's search engine wasn't aimed at convincing shoppers to buy REI products, but it was, essentially, an invitation for customers to interact with the company on social media and become part of a shared community — something Gen Z is especially interested in. In fact, Gen Zers are interested in doing even more heavy lifting for their favorite brands, with 44% saying they'd like to submit product designs to a brand and 36% saying they'd create digital content for a brand.
That's huge for retailers — and the appeal of brand interaction on mobile platforms will likely only grow as Gen Z does. In fact, that's part of the reason Sephora developed the Beauty Insider Community, a members-only social media platform that lets users talk to each other about beauty tips and products.
"Getting your shoppers to tell that story for you is going to go a lot further than anything a brand can tell in that highly-produced [fashion], even if Ewan McGregor is narrating it."
Director of Product Marketing at Bazaarvoice
"Our client base is increasingly mobile-first and because of that, so are we," Deborah Yeh, senior vice president of marketing and brand at Sephora, told Retail Dive earlier this year. "So there are significant efforts to optimize all of our digital content and experiences to be mobile-friendly so that they seamlessly fit into the client's life."
For retailers with a strong lifestyle message, like REI and Sephora, engaging customers on social could be a powerful way to not only drive a long-term connection, but also touch base at the holidays. With so many retailers clamoring for attention, it's a good time to push an overarching message and remind loyal customers why they want to save their Christmas shopping for your store.
At REI, that might be because they like what the brand stands for, and at Sephora, that might be because they like the advice they get. Either way, the long-term connection these retailers have formed is paying off.
They pick the right hashtag
Whether you love it or hate it, Instagram is the place where social commerce is happening. Not only are 70% of brands using Instagram influencers, but the platform also drives nearly 75% of its users to make a purchase. As a result, some of the most successful social media campaigns this season have been tuned into the platform.
That doesn't mean retailers are confined to one way of doing things, though. Holiday brand hashtags range from straightforward to abstract, seasonal to evergreen, and comical to thoughtful — it's really up to the retailer which way they want to take their marketing campaign.
Amelia Carry, director of product marketing at Bazaarvoice, takes Macy's and U.K. retailer Debenhams as two great examples of holiday-specific social campaigns that hit right on the mark. At Debenhams, the department store is capitalizing on the search for the perfect gift with a #YouShall hashtag (think: "you shall find that perfect gift"), a Ewan McGregor-narrated video and in-store backdrops and props for customers to take selfies with. For Macy's, the #Believe holiday campaign has been going strong for years — and it's even more important because of what a stalwart retailer they are, according to Carry.
My fairytale Christmas would be .... great food and my family having the best fun, laughter and happiness ever #YouShall xxx pic.twitter.com/bHr9INeqUo— Ruth Wollerton (@baberooo) November 30, 2017
A white Christmas! Would love for my children to see snow properly for the first time and for them to have a magical day! #YouShall— KC (@MrsCollier82) November 30, 2017
"For some of the bigger brands and retailers, those types of campaigns are really critical," Carry said. "They're pushing messaging on their shoppers all year round and this is just a great time of year for them to... take a break, pause, connect with their shoppers, [and] make sure that their shoppers know that they're not just here to have a transaction with them — that they want to engage with them and engage with the community."
For retailers unconvinced by the "make a connection with your consumer" argument, social marketing techniques can also seriously pay off. In a study by Open Influence that was emailed to Retail Dive, the majority (67.6%) of respondents said social media either somewhat or does influence their purchasing decisions, and almost half (49.4%) have discovered a brand or product based on the social media post of someone they "don't personally know."
Similar findings from Bazaarvoice highlight the importance of user-generated content in the process, with 66% of customers saying they were more likely to buy a product if the website had social media posts with pictures or videos from real customers and 65% saying they trust a brand more if they link to customers' social media posts. More importantly, though, Bazaarvoice's study found that active social media users were worth the investment online — they spend three times as much as everyone else, which comes out to $580 per month, as opposed to $189 for non-social users.
Thank you @Macys for getting my last minute gifts to Nome Alaska on time! #SantaProject #Believe pic.twitter.com/29yA7L0Lo4— Carlisleboy (@Carlisleboy) December 21, 2016
The magic is coming #Believe @Macys pic.twitter.com/Nc8aegXyBB— Michael Coyne (@MichaelCoyne) November 20, 2017
Retailers don’t have to commit to a holiday hashtag to reap the benefits, though. Plenty of retailers have found success this season by repurposing evergreen campaigns, like Lowe’s #LowesProject, which the retailer has put a holiday spin on for the season, and even REI’s #OptOutside, which comes front-and-center for Black Friday but underpins much of the brand’s other marketing efforts.
"You can never have a one-size-fits-all approach," Ferguson said, emphasizing how important it is to pay attention to time and place during the holiday season. "It’s more about one message to one user at one moment because who we are, it varies from day to day, and what we need — that varies just as much as anything else.
They pay attention to timing — and targeting
It’s not just the young and social media-savvy retailers who have been killing it online, though. Stalwarts like Target and Walmart have been soaking up their fair share of the social media love as well, according to Ferguson — something he credits to well-timed and well-targeted advertisements.
"[Target] ha[s] been surprisingly aggressive in social and I, for one, love it," Ferguson said, adding that it shows flexibility in Target’s marketing strategy, especially during Black Friday promotions. "Coming out and saying 'hey, for one day, we’re taking 15% off the entire store' — it was really hard for me to not see that."
Reaching out to customers about discounts and coupons might seem basic, but it’s one strategy that’s easy for traditional retailers to cash in on. Everyone knows about Walmart and Amazon, but placing ads with big discounts on social media before key shopping holidays like Black Friday helps them stay top-of-mind for eager consumers.
Age isn’t much of a restriction for those stalwarts either. While millennials and Gen Z are the go-to generations for social media advertising, Gen X and baby boomers shouldn’t be left out of the picture. A study by Strike Social found that users over 45 were actually more likely to watch ads on YouTube than younger demographics were, and retargeting efforts make it relatively easy to reach out to the right customers.
That’s something Rent-A-Center (an Ansira client) has also done well, Ferguson said, lauding their efforts to get in front of clients with time-sensitive holiday advertising that emphasizes family get-togethers and holiday party needs and, "making sure that, 'Hey, if you’re gonna have more people over, do you need that bigger dining room table? Do you need to make sure that you get that love seat and that sectional to go along with whatever else you have?'" Ferguson said.
Deals and coupons alone will not do enough to differentiate a given retailer, Carry said. While timing is important in holiday advertising, the retailers who are knocking it out of the park are interacting with shoppers and encouraging them to share their own experiences on social.
"Getting your shoppers to tell that story for you is going to go a lot further than anything a brand can tell in that highly-produced [fashion], even if Ewan McGregor is narrating it," Carry said.
This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2017 holiday shopping season. You can browse our holiday page and sign up for our holiday newsletter for more stories.