Shopping is a social activity. You would think that retailers would be running to figure out everything they can (and should) be doing online to improve their conversion rates by building community and connecting to consumers through online social networking.
That was the general message speaker after researcher after retailer after venture capitalist told the crowd in Amsterdam this week during the first-ever Global E-Commerce Summit presented by Shop.org (full disclosure: I was one of the keynote presenters).
The usual slew of, "people don't shop because they need things, they shop because it's an act of belonging to a community and provides them with a sense of connectedness" has some glaringly obvious and similar links to why platforms like Facebook and MySpace are working: it offers people a place to promote themselves, communicate, share and validate who they are and what they're about.
So, how do retailers stack up with their Digital Marketing?
According to an August 2008 study by Internet Retailer and Vovici that was recently discussed in eMarketer as part of the news item, Retailers Get Social with Facebook (October 29th, 2008), Facebook seems to be the clear leader:
"Nearly one-third of responding businesses said they had a Facebook page, compared with 27% that had a MySpace page and just over one-quarter that had a page on YouTube. A September 2008 study by Rosetta (formerly Brulant) that focused on the top 100 online retailers in the US found that 59 had a fan page on Facebook, up from 30 in May 2008. Among the 29 who added Facebook pages since that time were Best Buy, Toys “R” Us, Kohl’s and Wal-Mart."
The bigger question is: what are they doing in these online channels? Are they connecting, building real interactions and being overall good community citizens or are these online social networks just a cover-up to shill their wares through tightly controlled one-way communications?
“It’s important that retailers don’t just slap up a page because everyone is talking about Facebook. An effective presence requires that you carefully consider what your customers are looking for, what you would like to communicate, and what role a fan page should play in your overall online strategy,” said Adam Cohen, partner with Rosetta’s consumer goods and retail practice, in the eMarketer news item.
Cohen is speaking directly to the same philosophy Blogged about here: Instead of "What?" Ask "Why?". Retailers know how to build a community around their products and services better than anyone else. They're doing it day-to-day in their physical locations. One of the reasons they may be challenged in the online social circles is the time, dedication and patience it takes to build it up from scratch. Retailers can be a patient group. Moving forward with the economic challenges that they are already facing (Hitwise recently reported that online traffic to e-commerce sites is down for the eight consecutive week), they may be feeling like they should have spent more time building up their community when times were better. Now, could it be too little too late?
Are retailers making the most of Social Media and online social networks? Which ones are you liking?