Social media is becoming the new face of retail

Our Retail Advisory Board acknowledges the growing importance of Facebook and Twitter presence, but insists that physical stores still lead the way when it comes to selling toys.
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One click shopping and social media is fast becoming the new face of retail, but in-store purchasing will always secure higher sales, according to this month’s Retail Advisory Board.

Last month, the social media platform Twitter launched a trial ‘Buy Now’ button with The Home Depot, allowing its US users to purchase products directly from a Tweet.

Indicative of the growing trend in social media shopping, some of the largest retailers across the UK are now anticipating the arrival of the initiative on home shores.

“The Twitter ‘Buy Now’ button will be a great success, especially in the UK where Twitter penetration is high,” explained Karla Mitchell, senior buyer at XBite. “Social media is a great way for us to engage with our customers and it’s something we are very active in.”

Across the board, retailers agree that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are quickly becoming integral to a firm’s sales operation, arming them with a means of direct communication with a consumer base.

“Social media is an important part of our overall marketing strategy as it gives you the ability to instantly talk to a very wide audience,” said The Entertainer’s Stuart Grant.

“It is absolutely going to become more and more important.”

However, Grant also notes that while Facebook is a good tool for driving online sales, its greatest benefit is as a means of encouraging customers in to The Entertainer’s High Street stores.

“When a customer is in-store, it’s less about the price of the products, but more about the experience, service, environment and range,” he explained. “And that is where we can compete with the likes of Amazon.

“We will never win the war with online retailers, so we actively try to drive people to the stores through social media. That’s where we can smash our competitors for knowledge, for location and range, and that transfers to higher sales.”

And Grant is not alone in his sentiments. While Brian Simpson, buying manager at SMF Toytown does see the benefit in social media and online shopping, he is an avid supporter of in-store interaction at heart.

“Social media is an effective way of increasing sales both online and in-store,” said Simpson. “In fact, every time we put something up on Facebook, we see a 20 per cent jump in website views, and that usually converts into sales.

“However, we are a core toy retailer and we like human interaction. Our preferred type of custom is one that is carried out face to face.”

Certain traders counter that online retail doesn’t have to be faceless, and thanks to the growing use of social media such as Facebook, they can still deliver personable customer service.

“It’s important that you don’t use social media purely as a sales tool as you’ll turn your fans off and be less engaging,” continued XBite’s Mitchell.

“We make sure that we answer each and every tweet and Facebook message in a positive manner, even if the customer has a complaint.”

And the reason for this, Mitchell explains, is that Facebook is quickly becoming the first port of call for consumers when checking out the reputation of traders, making online the new go to face of retailers in the digital age.

“Customers are very demanding and expect replies to their tweets in minutes, rather than hours, so we have to make sure that we’re showing ourselves in the best possible light. But we will continue to grow as customers demand more flexibility and convenience from online retailers,” Mitchell concluded.

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