image via the LIFE photo archive
by Briana Campbell (@MsMatchGirl)
In a former life, for many years, I was a retail sales girl.
It’s a career that relies heavily on relationships. Relationships with clients. Relationships with vendors. Relationships with the other members of the sales team. It’s about product knowledge and trust. It’s about knowing who your customer is and relating to them in a personal way.
And it’s a different game now that it ever was before.
In this age of social media, retailers are being pushed to find new ways to not only appeal to but to reach out to their audience. The “social” in social media cannot be overlooked. As much as things seem to be changing in the client/sales relationship, one thing continues to remain the same. It’s all about connecting with people. It’s all about the relationship.
A recent article on Mashable cited the UPS commissioned 2010 Business Monitor United States report on social media in small businesses, which found that only 24% of those surveyed said that they had received any sales growth from the use of social media tools.
As someone who spent so many years working on the sales floor of small boutiques and large chains, this seems ridiculous to me. Social media is the best tool I could possibly think of for expanding your business, large or small, at a time when people want to do everything online – and the new generation of shoppers not only wants to buy online, they don’t remember a time when that wasn’t a possibility.
It used to be that you kept a client book, filled with names and numbers and notes – sometimes a credit card – all sorts of personal information about your best clients. And you’d phone them when certain items came in, hold things they’d be likely to buy, or give their husbands a call around their birthday or holidays – just in case he needed a little help in sussing out the perfect gift. Some boutiques/sales people still rely on these (tried and true) methods
But some are thinking outside the box – off of the paper – and creating a digital presence that embraces this new way of forming social relationships. While some of the big boys are doing this well – you don’t have to be a Starbucks or a Sears to utilize social media. One of my favorite examples is the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett*. While you can purchase their bags, shoes, clothes and accessories at boutiques across the country and via their website, this Brooklyn, New York based retailer/design shop makes great use of social media platforms to increase their profile and build their sales. From hosting “secret” sales, accessible only to Twitter followers and Facebook fans, to utilizing sites like Polyvore to hold contests they have truly created a genuine rapport with their customer via these social media platforms. *Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of the products and the people behind them.
Social media tools are also a great way to take control of problems or bad reviews. Consider the website Yelp.com. Yelp is a really useful tool for consumers, to find restaurants and nightlife, stores and even doctors in their town or in one they are just visiting – you create a profile, log on and review your favorite or (very often) least favorite places. Great if you’re looking for something new, to see real life reviews from a variety of people. Better if you’re the shop/restaurant/whatever who received a bad review. Because here is your chance to nip it in the bud. In a public forum. You can respond directly, and publicly, on the site – asking questions or offering apologies and discounts to smooth ruffled feathers. And, if you think the bad feelings are unfounded, you can respond in like.
The new wave of social media provides a platform that the retailer didn’t have before. A chance to nurture those relationships that are good – to reward followers, fans and loyal clientele – and to attend to those issues that could turn into problems or loss of sales if left unaddressed. It’s a way to connect to people – worldwide- as never before.
And most certainly a tool that every business should utilize.