Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Jay Henderson, Strategy Director, IBM Smarter Commerce

By Jay Henderson

While mobile was the breakout star this holiday shopping season, social media also caused quite a stir. This commotion centered on Facebook and Twitter’s inability to refer shoppers that bought on retail sites–social networks generated only 0.34 percent of all online sales on Black Friday. In the aftermath, many surmised that social media was a non-factor this shopping season. That’s a mistake that takes the spotlight off the real value that these channels delivered this holiday.

The fact is that social media did have a significant impact on the 2012 holiday shopper but you need to look beyond the dollar signs and same session conversions to see it.

Social isn’t just another channel to have a personalized dialog with a consumer. It’s a place where marketers can extend the reach by encouraging customers to share their purchases, their experiences, and their “likes” – making a good customer not just one who transacts, but also one who shares. Moreover, brands can use social channels to listen to customers, identify social sentiment, and understand consumers both in aggregate and as individuals.

For retailers, marketers, and CMOs alike, analytics and natural language processing techniques can tap into this social media buzz and gain a better understanding of consumer preferences, market trends, and brand awareness – which is why measuring social media consumer sentiment is so crucial. Social sentiment allows retailers and marketers to engage in a more informed two-way conversation with the customer, allowing for real-time adjustments to the brand message based on direct consumer feedback. So when we judge the success or failure of social media, it’s not the final sales figures that are so important this holiday season. Rather, it’s the ability to engage with the customer, while at the same time, building loyalty based on sentiments being expressed.

If you strip sales out of the equation and zero-in on sentiment, what our Social Media Sentiment Index found during the Black Friday shopping weekend was that while few consumers were clicking through to a retailer’s site via a social network and making a “same-session sale,” consumer views and opinions (sentiment) shared on social networks provided retailers valuable insights, helping them cater to the preferences of their customers and ultimately deliver a valuable shopping experience. By looking at these social sentiment nuances – positive, negative, irony, snarky vs. sincerely – in real-time, brands were able to gauge the temperature of shoppers and if needed, adjust marketing messages midstream.

So, let’s take a look at the roles social media really played during the 2012 Thanksgiving holiday shopping weekend. 

  • Consumers expressed positive sentiment about retailer’s social media efforts, with positive outweighing the negative by more than three times. When analyzing social media topics, we found that consumers referenced, “super blog ideas” from retailers, as well as “cool gifts” posted to retailer Pinterest pages. Consumers also referenced positively the Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and blog presences of their favorite brands. In other words, while social media might not have driven a direct sale, consumers expressed positive sentiment around the social media techniques retailers were using, which may have played into a sale down the road.
  • Consumers didn’t just talk about retailer social media networks, they also took to social media to express their views and opinions on the shopping experience and the items they purchased. The sentiment for reviews of retailers and their products was nearly five times more positive than negative. This trend is supported by some of the key words customers used to review their shopping experiences, which include phrases such as, “Retail X is awesome,” or “the store is looking good,” and “I really like shopping at retailer X.”
  • And it seems as retailers continued to offer better deals and promotions this year, like free shipping, consumers took notice. Pricing and shipping were both met with significantly positive consumer sentiment. More than 62 percent of sentiment toward pricing was positive, nearly seven times the negative. Thanks to free shipping deals, sentiment toward shipping was also positive, more than two times the negative sentiment, with consumers using phrases like, “I really like ordering from retailer X because they ship free to the store,” or “no waiting for pickup or delivery,” and “shipping is so much easier.”  
  • The retailers, marketers, and CMOs who excelled this holiday were those who made the shopping experience easy for their customers, ensured a seamless experience between channels, and listened to consumer feedback. And according to the IBM Social Sentiment Index, convenience was key this season and overwhelmingly positive. Consumer sentiment toward convenience was 64 percent positive, more than six times that of the negative sentiment, with consumers using phrases like, “easy to find,” or “Retail X is super convenient,” and “easy to order physical goods.”

With the explosion of Big Data in all forms, including blogs, online forums, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels, today’s digital consumer has unprecedented reach and influence through the sharing of their thoughts on products, services, and brands.  So what does all this sentiment really mean for retailers, marketers, and CMOs? It means that while sales are important, listening to your customer and analyzing their feelings toward the buying experience and key buying trends like shipping, convenience, and pricing are just as important. 

The ability to analyze in real-time what customers are saying about a business, store, or marketing message is imperative in the fast-paced, digitally transformed world we live in today. Combine this consumer insight, with campaigns that encourage and incent customers to extend the reach of your brand by sharing their thoughts on your products, service, and brand.  These insights might not directly cause a conversion or a sale, but over the long term, these strategies are what will drive sales.

Additional coverage of the holiday shopping season:




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