Drive Customer Engagement through Social Experience

by Meaghan Brophy

Customer EngagementIn a world with attention spans that are becoming increasingly shorter, retailers must work harder and smarter to engage audiences. Recent studies by Microsoft show that the average human attention span is eight seconds, falling from twelve seconds in 2010. Not only are attention spans shorter, consumers are choosing to focus their attention on experiences instead of material goods.  Carol Lapidus, Partner and Managing Director of Retail and Consumer Goods at RSM, says, “Consumers, particularly Millennials, are ditching traditional stores to spend their expendable income on experiences. Look at the Instagram of any average 25 year old. It’s food and trips, not purchases. Buying is still something they do, but it’s not as exciting.”

Marketing to a Lifestyle

Consumers are less inclined to purchase physical goods because of the oversaturation of the market and the lingering memory of tougher financial times. So, the question is: Why are consumers making purchases? How can retailers appeal to this shifted cultural mindset?

According to an article published by Fast Company, people make purchases for three reasons: what they can do with the item, what they can share with others about the item, and what having the item says about them to others. In other words, today’s consumers care not about the object itself, but what that object can do for them, how it connects them with their peers, and what the item represents symbolically.

Marketing the experience your products create will have more of an impact than marketing its features or deals. For example, if you are selling cell phone accessories, office supplies, or anything with utilitarian attributes, make sure to draw a clear connection to how your products can make consumers’ lives simpler or provide peace of mind.

Connecting your products with a specific mission, cause, or non-profit is a great example purchases making a statement about the purchaser, and connecting the buyer to something larger than themselves. On a national level, Tom’s® footwear and Livestrong® have both been very successful, not just because of the quality of their products, but because consumers feel good about their purchases and being part of a bigger charitable community. “If you’re an independent store, it’s developing a relationship with your community. If there’s a certain event that occurs locally, make sure you are a sponsor, that you are involved,” says Lapidus. Donating a percentage of sales of a particular item to a local cause or fundraiser will help connect your business to the surrounding community and encourage shoppers to purchase more of that item. Being involved in local events and fundraisers can have the same effect. “Corporate social responsibility plays a big role in customer allegiance,” concludes Lapidus.

Creating Experience Beyond the Store

Customer EngagementShoppers are drawn to stores that meet their cultural needs of connecting to larger communities and providing products that make their lives easier. Part of creating this experience is engaging your customers outside of the physical store.

The best strategy for your store will vary based on your products and demographic. “The key point is for retailers to understand who their consumer is and what they want,” says Lapidus. “Once they start engaging in a strategy, in order for it to be successful they need to make sure it’s something their consumers will respond to.” For example, if you are an apparel retailer for Millennials, Instagram is a powerful tool. “Millennials especially are attracted to brands with strong social media strategies. They want to have an impact on the products. They want a two-way communication,” continues Lapidus. “For example, ‘We love this, would love a different color, bigger size,’ etc. This communication helps the retailers make sure that they are stocking what customers want.”

In addition to sharing photos and having dialogues with customers about products, depending on your logistics independent retailers can even sell products directly through Instagram. Shoppers can comment on photos of products with a size and color, and retailers can set it aside for them to pick up in-store. This helps create a sense of urgency and excitement with buyers, who see other customers interested in items, and may be more inclined to purchase when they see other shoppers doing so.

Selling products through comments on Instagram would be impossible for a chain or box retailer with multiple locations and millions of followers. However, for an independent location it shows other followers and potential customers the popularity of specific items and trends. On top of the online community this type of engagement creates, when customers come to your store to pick up their reserved item, they are more likely to make additional purchases. “We’ve found that for over 70% of people who pick up in-store spend at lest 25% more in-store,” says Lapidus. “Smaller companies don’t have to spend a lot of money. Setting up a company Instagram account is just as easy as you and me doing it.” The best option for retailers to engage in an experience-driven society is not to try and emulate what larger retailers are doing, but to creatively utilize available resources and do what makes sense for your business.