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Comment: Retailers must listen to customers, online and off

In today’s connected world, bricks and mortar retailers are facing a problem – how can they maintain revenues, market share and the customer numbers to rival online retailers? One of the most common challenges is the show-rooming trend, which is seen when in-store customers compare product prices in comparison to online deals, and then leave the shop floor without making any purchases. While this doesn’t always kill the deal for multichannel retailers, for brands lacking a branded eCommerce site of their own show-rooming always means lost revenue.

Modern retailers literally cannot afford to ignore the realities of the multichannel world in which we all live and shop. By disregarding the online conversations customers are having, retailers are missing out on potentially the most financially beneficial business opportunities.

Take the recently announced partnership between Primark and Asos, for example. Primark, which has arrived extremely late to the online retail party, has now begun offering selected clothing lines through the popular Asos eCommerce site. George Weston, CEO of Primark's parent company Associated British Foods, used to argue that good bricks and mortar locations were enough, but a company spokesperson more recently admitted that the new partnership would provide benefits by delivering insight into online retailing. And in today’s world, who wouldn’t agree?

Before the partnership, Asos already had 2.5 million fans on Facebook and over half a million Twitter followers. Primark on the other hand had just 500,000 Facebook fans, and no central company Twitter handle at all. Despite this inequality, the popularity and notoriety of the Primark brand generated more social media discussions than its online-only partner. Since the new year, Primark has garnered almost one million mentions on Facebook and Twitter, including over 100,000 in the last month alone, compared to Asos’s 699,865 mentions in the same timeframe. Surely Primark will now recognise the benefits these unsolicited conversations can bring to its business, and has begun to implement a strategy to reap this value?

There are hundreds of social media analytics tools on the market, but retailers shifting their gaze from offline to online must demand a tool that delivers actionable insights and supports real-world, real-time business decisions, not simply raw data and entry-level metrics. Social media is the single largest source of unsolicited consumer opinions the world has ever seen, and for retailers it’s time to listen to customers (especially those retailers that currently have their digital backs turned towards). Listening to what customers are thinking, saying and feeling online, including conversations about deals, in-store experiences, customer services, product quality and more, can provide crucial insight beyond the boundaries of physical stores. By doing so, companies such as Primark, can begin engaging with customers in ways they never have before, and gain new understanding of how their products and brand are perceived.

Every second of every day, customers are telling retailers like Primark precisely what they want, why they want it, and how they want to get it. This insight can be used very efficiently to set the tone for customer incentive programmes, lead product design decisions, more effective advertising campaigns, or even to determine the location of new bricks and mortar stores.

It’s time for retailers to listen.


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