‘Tis the Season: Holiday Shoppers Flock to Social Media

Last year, during the height of the recession panic, retailers took to the Web to compete for the dollars of cash-strapped consumers. Online coupons and special offers of up to 90% off tempted shoppers to part with their money.

There doesn’t seem to be as much recession-related fear this year, but online is still the place to be for retailers — only now the battleground is social media. Retailers plan to leverage social networks to get their brands in front of consumers in hopes of wining a bigger piece of their limited shopping budgets.

And with good reason: According to an eMarketer analysis of a report from Deloitte, 27% of online shoppers will look to social networks for clues about what family and friends want. And almost one-half (45%) will use social media to research products and to search for and compare offers.

In total, 17% of consumers plan to tap social media this holiday shopping season, and just over one-half of them are in the coveted 18 to 29 age group. Here’s how that group will be utilizing social networking sites:


Companies like Target, Starbucks, and J.C. Penney have acknowledged how much social media is helping them to engage directly with consumers and to get their feedback on everything from advertising campaigns to new product introductions. Now they’re investing more resources in social media and integrating it with their holiday marketing plans in a bid to convert friends, followers, and fans into shoppers.

As hordes of us rush to join Facebook and Twitter, the marketers are following.

Lest anyone think that social media campaigns lack the effectiveness of traditional marketing, consider the sheer volume of active accounts on Facebook and Twitter. The growth in new accounts every month is incredible (Facebook now has 300 million users, while Twitter has 19.2 million), and if only a small fraction of these users become active participants (use their social networking platforms more than two to three times a week), the potential to reach a wider audience is enormous. If just a small number of those convert into buyers, the numbers still make any investment in social media worthwhile. A Shop.org survey of online retailers found 47% plan to increase their use of social media this holiday season because it’s more cost effective than traditional media:


“Retailers know that times are tough so they have created promotions and incentives to help Americans save money this holiday season,” said Scott Silverman, Executive Director of Shop.org. “From free shipping to Facebook, online retailers are combining new initiatives with tried-and-true tactics to make their companies stand out.”

Although Twitter and Facebook were around last year, and some companies were able to leverage them successfully, the mania about social media wasn’t nearly as great as it is today. Remember Starbucks’ Facebook fundraising effort for World AIDS Day? The company  said it would donate 5 cents for each drink sold on December 1st, 2008 to the Global Fund for World AIDS Day. To encourage consumers to go to Starbucks on that day, they hosted a Facebook event and asked fans to invite their friends to participate — almost 1 million people accepted the invitation. Starbucks is also interacting with customers on Twitter and YouTube.

Companies get a direct, personal connection to their audiences via social media, and they’re using that connection to determine what their customers want, like, and don’t like, and they’re also hearing their complaints. This summer, Target asked its Facebook fans how they felt about its men’s clothing selection — the company learned that they wanted more designer clothes and a wider range of sizes. Target is tweaking its product mix based on the feedback.

Twelpforce is being promoted by Best Buy — it’s the company Twitter account where its employees give advice and answer customer questions. This year, it will use Twelpforce to help customers decide which gifts to buy.

Many companies are still trying to figure out how to use social media to support sales beyond a one-time lift. At the same time, they don’t want to become too marketing-oriented. J.C. Penney promoted its back-to-school merchandise on Facebook and they noticed that their fans were engaging in ways they hadn’t anticipated — they were trading deals with each other, for example. The challenge for companies like J.C. Penney is to turn those conversations into revenue-generating traffic. If you take a look at their page now, you’ll see that it’s all about holiday advertising.

Consumers are turning to social media in droves for their holiday shopping. Retailers should try to capitalize on this and turn browsers into buyers. Giving users easy access to coupons, promotions, and decision-making tools is a good way to start.

Companies need to be where their customers are this holiday season — on social networks.

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