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Shop.org research partners dive into specifics of 2012 social, mobile commerce study

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Shop.org’s May is Marketing Month event is closing on a high note this week as we released a new consumer study in partnership with comScore and The Partnering Group. Building on the results of the 2011 study, the 2012 Social & Mobile Commerce Consumer Study explores a range of U.S. consumer shopping behaviors and experiences via social media and mobile devices – the results of which tell me that social and mobile will only become further entrenched in so many aspects of shopping going forward. I spoke with Shop.org’s research partners, Jennifer Vlahavas, Senior Director, comScore, Inc., and Peter Leech, Partner at The Partnering Group, to get some of their key takeaways from the 2012 study.

Facebook is still a behemoth among other social networks. What are some Facebook features that retailers are (or aren't) taking advantage of to engage with customers?Jenn Vlahavas: I think this is less about “Facebook features” and more about the wide array of ways in which retailers are using Facebook. By that I mean that the retailer has to own their social media customer experience and strategy, versus relying on Facebook to drive the strategy (although Facebook has the experience to guide the implementation of the strategy). A lot of retailers really need to step back a bit and determine what their goal is with Facebook and how they’re going to measure their performance against that goal. Is it to drive loyalty? Drive sales? Learn more about their best customers to better inform marketing, creative messages, etc.?

Peter Leech: The top features I would mention is the Facebook page analytics capability and the Facebook message targeting capability. There is a ton of refining work that can be done by retailers to get more of their messages actually seen by their fans and get them to click through to shop. But it's testing and trial work (just like with email) and takes time and focus.

I was fascinated to see YouTube emerging as a bona fide retail channel. Is there one example of a retailer who, in your mind, is really putting this social network to best in class use?PL: I like Sephora for bringing “how to” videos to their YouTube site. That answers a need for information that is a) best shared via video, b) allows a demo of products, and c) isn’t just fluff...this really helps the customer. Nordstrom brings rich content that begins to provide the value and engagement of a fashion show on TV. Home Depot is a monster YouTube engine with over 30 million video views. Guess what? Shoppers want access to videos that show "how". And, yes, this drives sales.

No discussion of social media this year would be complete without mention of Pinterest. What is Pinterest's explosive growth telling us about consumer engagement with brands and retailers?JV: I see this as further proof that customers will find a way to drive how they engage with retailers rather than allowing retailers to drive. Pinterest offers such a unique platform to see how others (even folks you don’t know) engage with brands – from ingredients in a recipe to apparel/accessories “finds” and really hits the “inspiration” button. Pinterest, similar to Facebook but perhaps to even greater extent, offers a way for consumers to market a brand via the viral nature of the social platform. It is a reminder to retailers that while they might have some control over how they communicate their brand and products, the consumers are in ultimate control of what gets shared and disseminated to a wider audience.

PL: Facebook is becoming the digital living room of America - not really where you meet new people, but where you share your life with people you know (or knew). Pinterest is the opposite. It's a place to show off your collection, your ideas - to fly your unique flag and find and connect with other folks with the same interests. It's a digital stage where users "create" for others, or simply watch and enjoy. This, to me, is a very different utility to Facebook. Brands can and are flying their own flag as well. Done well, this draws in like-minded shoppers.

As you noted in the study findings, "mo-cial" is going mainstream. As more consumers access social media via their mobile devices, what are some of the implications for retailers?JV: I see two key implications. 1) Retailers will have to refine their social media strategies to align with this phenomenon. Concise messages now are even more relevant because consumers are “on the move” when they’re receiving them. 2) And more importantly – there is a huge implication with regard to the “lo” in “solomo”. That is, making messages more relevant based on the location of the consumer – things like proximity to a physical store, partnerships with nearby organizations/events, coupons via social based on location.

Speaking of mobile, it's impressive that fully one-third of smartphone owners say they have shared their location with a retailer. What are some of the marketing, merchandising, customer service opportunities for a retailer once the customer has entrusted them with that information?JV: The possibilities are really endless – consumers are already creating shopping lists on their smartphones, often times using a retailer’s shopping cart as that list. Many of the big box retailers who sell groceries don’t carry even their non-perishable items on their website – so there’s a huge opportunity there to allow customers to create mobile shopping lists via an app or mobile website and bring that in-store to shop. From there, retailers can ask consumers to choose their preferred store, create maps of the store to check off the shopping list, offer “chatting” functionality for customer service or integrated technology in-store for in-person assistance, coupon offers based on what’s on that shopping list, upsell recommendations – and the list goes on.

PL: I couldn't agree more. One of the biggest items for me is that location sharing removes "form entry" from the mobile experience, directly answering questions such as “Where is your closest store?” and “Which store has my item in stock?” Form entry is still the biggest block for mobile marketing and m-commerce. Quite simply, location sharing removes barriers.

Clearly, consumers tell us that many of them use their mobile devices for almost every aspect of shopping now. What should retailers be doing or investing in to actively support customers using their mobile devices to shop, whether in-store, on the go, or shopping from home?JV: I don’t think there's a “one size fits all” answer. What works for one retailer might not work with another. It’s about understanding your customers and how they leverage their mobile devices to shop and then investing in the technology, programs, and functionality to support it. We always talk about “creating a channel agnostic experience” for customers – but how that is designed and executed depends on your customers and their specific shopping behaviors.

PL: Hate to say it, but Amazon's price check app is the most powerful execution I've seen. Simple, easy, aligned to their brand and powerful tool for the consumer. Retailers that create simple, helpful mobile-enabled sites or apps and promote them in their store may be able to retain ownership of their "digital layer" within the store. Columbia Sportswear is also a leader in simply adding more QR code videos to every product. This really provides a self-service benefit for the customer.

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