Social Retail: A Tech-Savvy Form of Word-of-Mouth

Give your company a competitive edge. Use social retail to boost customer loyalty and turn your shoppers into lifelong fans and advocates.

The cover image for Antavo’s article on social retail.
The cover image for Antavo’s article on social retail.

The internet has created a unique opportunity for customers of any brand to purchase products—from groceries to clothing—without ever having to leave their homes. Especially since the start of the pandemic, customers have become more comfortable with the concept of exploring social media to fulfill their social and shopping desires all at once. As a result many companies have capitalized on new technologies and social platforms to grow their presence and boost brand loyalty via word-of-mouth. With several online tools available, companies can utilize social retail tactics to increase conversions and sales in their stores and online.

Social Retail – A Crossroads Between Social Media and Ecommerce

Social retail is the practice of using social media to engage with customers and sell across physical and digital channels. Social retail attempts to use technology to mimic the social interactions found in physical malls and stores. The goal of social retail is to further encourage customers to develop the habit of sharing products and experiences that they love. 

Innovative virtual platforms allow customers to connect with real people as they conveniently shop using their computer or mobile device. Using text, chat, and video, online stores can connect with customers and make shopping a collaborative experience. For example, a store might have a consultant that walks customers through the details of the products directly from the physical store through a one-on-one video. From providing sizing information to uncovering the ins and outs of every product, social shopping allows for a virtual shopping experience like no other.

Nike's Jordan brand released a fashion collection that lets Snapchat users dress their Bitmoji avatars in virtual sportswear.
Nike’s Jordan brand released a fashion collection that lets Snapchat users dress up their Bitmoji avatars with virtual sportswear and buy it online to wear in real life. By letting Snapchat and Bitmoji users style their avatars in Jordan clothing, the brand is giving people another way to express their personal style while extending the reach of the campaign for its latest clothing line.

How Social Retail Affects Loyalty Programs

Social retail helps brands connect with people at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Social media and loyalty programs are generally the two environments in which customers can be identified and personal communication can be carried out. Social media has emotionalized customer relationships and customer journeys today often begin (and end) on social media. 

Ensuring a strong relationship between you and your customers on your social media channels can lead to an active and engaged community, customer loyalty and also more revenue. By highlighting social media in the retail environment, you give shoppers an opportunity to see real customers with your products, not just models in photos on the wall.

 Personalization, authenticity, trustworthiness, unique experiences and community-driven features are all connected to emotional loyalty and can all be enhanced with a loyalty program. Using rewards and benefits, loyalty programs have the ability to encourage customers to build a habit of using social retail. In time, those customers will form a strong emotional connection to your brand. So, by using a loyalty program to encourage customers to rely on social retail, you can boost customer loyalty and turn customers into lifelong fans, advocates, and repeat shoppers.

Styling recommendations on Ted Baker’s website.
Tedbaker.com, provides styling recommendations.

6 Ways Social Media Can Be Integrated Into Retail

The rise of social retail is naturally tied to the intense growth of mobile devices. Customers today, especially younger generations, increasingly connect to people and information via mobile apps rather than through the traditional web browser — opting to read the news, talk with friends and shop on apps. According to a research, 74% of customers use social media networks to help them make purchasing decisions, driven primarily by the desire for speed and simplicity. Social retail is now extending beyond the online world and into the offline world of shopping. Social retailing is effective because it develops loyalty among customers who share and also promote the brand to their social network. It works because people buy from people they trust. 

1. Instagram – Simplifying Communication 

Customers long for a simple user experience and Instagram Checkout gives them exactly that. It allows users to quickly buy a product without ever leaving the app. Instagram Shopping Tags can simplify the communication process between businesses and customers. With this feature, you can tag products directly in the images and videos you share. The tags contain all the essential info about the product, including a description, features, price, and a purchase link to the seller’s site. Companies can start selling more on Instagram using Instagram Checkout. The customer journey is entirely seamless: users only need to enter their payment and delivery details the first time they use it. After that, they can make future purchases with one click.

Zara – A Convenient Shopping Experience

Zara in collaboration with a handful of fashion-loving influencers created an Instagram account to showcase the very best Zara buys in one place. It not only shows customers what they can buy from the brand, but how to wear it as well. It’s all about daily inspirations and new-arrival wishlists. Moreover it’s great for seeing the clothes on real people at the same time. Customers can also add the seasons’ biggest trends to their baskets as they scroll, thanks to Instagram’s shopping feature. Then, they can show off their recent purchases by following the account and tagging the items they wear in their own content.

The fewer steps Zara customers have to take to complete a purchase, the more likely they will be to complete the process.
The fewer steps Zara customers have to take to complete a purchase, the more likely they will be to complete the process.

Best Practices for Your Loyalty Program: Create Social Media Raffles  

Companies can, for example, run a loyalty program raffle or offer a free spin on a gamified feature like the Prize Wheel for customers who share and tag images of items they’ve purchased. Participants then can receive rewards and benefits within the loyalty program. Or, for an even simpler solution, companies can give members extra points for uploading their picture and tagging their brand.

Spin the wheel and get a reward
Provide participants a chance to spin the Prize Wheel. Experience-driven customers will surely love it.

2. Livestream shopping – Watch and Shop at the Same Time 

The aim of livestream shopping is to provide customers with an immersive and interactive experience, allowing them to ask questions and buy products during the livestream. McKinsey’s analysis indicates that live commerce initiated sales could account for as much as 10 to 20% of all eCommerce by 2026. This type of social buying allows retailers to create a more personal connection with the customers and identify a more precise target, customizing the experience of each user making it more dynamic. Segmentation is a very useful tool for directly targeting customers who, thanks to the internet, are increasingly informed and have become more difficult to attract through traditional media. 

Lagardere – An Innovative Solution 

Found in airports, railway stations, and major transport hubs across the world, Lagardère Travel Retail is a Chinese travel retail brand that sells a wide range of products to globetrotters. The company was severely impacted by the global pandemic in 2020, so they came up with an ingenious solution. Chinese customers are digitally savvy and spend a lot of time on their phones. So when Lagardère created a loyalty program they wanted to focus on social retail by using live streaming on WeChat. The company has designed a loyalty experience in which users can experience social shopping while also earning loyalty rewards.

A mobile phone showing one of Lagardère’s shopping streams.
Live commerce combines instant purchase of featured products and audience participation through a chat function or reaction buttons.

Best Practices for Loyalty Programs: Make it Membership-Only

In order to gain access to live streaming, customers should be loyalty program members. From the customers’ side, the process requires only a few steps, but this allows companies to obtain additional information about them. This data then can then be used to reach out to them with more personalized messaging.

Customers can join BrewDog’s loyalty program by creating an account with their email address.
Companies can use customers’ data to create the best possible experience for their most valuable customers, right from the very beginning.

3. Social Retail Stores – Places of Discovery

Social retail stores take interactions from social media and bring them into a physical retail environment. Features like QR codes, augmented reality and uploading content to social media are components that brands should consider as ways to motivate visitors to interact online and in store. Brands can encourage customers to take photos in store and upload them to social media with an unusual background or something that is really interesting or a space where customers can actually perform or do something that they want to do, then the company can reward them for doing so.

Burberry – Pushing the Boundaries of What’s Possible

Burberry opened its first social retail store in China, blending the physical and social worlds in a digitally immersive retail experience. The store is a space of exploration, designed to inspire and entertain luxury customers, in person and on social media. Burberry has developed a custom WeChat Mini Program, in which customers can unlock exclusive content and personalized experiences and share them with their communities. Through the app, customers can learn about products and access features such as store tours, dedicated client services, in-store appointment bookings, and more.  

The more the customer engages with Burberry, the richer their experience becomes. Within the Mini Program, customers can earn rewards through the Burberry social currency feature, unlocking exclusive content and personalized experiences. Each customer is given a playful animal character that evolves as they engage in stores and on social, with new characters and outfits to discover. Rewards range from exclusive café menu items to Mini Program content.

Burberry’s social retail store is a place of discovery, rewarding customers as they explore online and in Burberry store locations.
All of Burberry’s are labelled with QR codes that connect to digital screens, further enhancing the in-store experience. Scanning the QR code unlocks additional content and product storytelling within the Mini Program and helps customers build social currency.

Best Practices for Loyalty Programs: Implement an Online Treasure Hunt 

Create an online treasure hunt for loyalty program members. Give customers hints about the specific item they have to find and let them explore the virtual store while searching for the item. Combine multiple objectives to maximize the effectiveness of the treasure hunt.

In-store treasure hunts encourage customers to discover every area of your store.
Companies can simultaneously encourage members to explore their online catalog more and build a stronger customer profile.

4. UGC – Visual and Interactive Over Traditional

Social media presence is essential for brand recognition as it has become an integral part of the modern person’s life. As per the latest social media statistics, 68% of customers prefer to engage with images. User-generated content can give online shoppers the visual social proof they want. To achieve virality and UGC, companies can engage customers with friend referrals, harnessing the power of word-of-mouth. Companies can reward customers who invite their friends and acquaintances, and encourage influencers’ activities by offering various incentives. Drive user-generated content by setting up a hashtag contest on Instagram, or offer a prize to members who leave the best comment on your Instagram posts. Rewarding customers for referrals makes them feel appreciated. These customers will be more likely to refer your brand and stay loyal in the long run.

Levi’s –  Revolutionizing the Online Shopping Experience

With the addition of Facebook “like” plug-ins, Levi’s has revolutionized the online shopping experience. Customers can view products based on the number of likes they have, and even see which of their friends have liked the same products they did. Levi’s even went so far as to incorporate what they called a “friend store” – a specific section of their site where you only see what your friends liked or purchased via Facebook. The beauty of this strategy is that customers are actually doing the marketing for Levi’s.

Levi’s “Friend Store” provides a real opportunity for users to share their purchases with friends.
Levi’s “Friend Store” provides a real opportunity for users to share their purchases with friends and act as influencers for each other. It attempts to combine the experience of online shopping with a trip to the mall.

Best Practices for Loyalty Programs: Engage Customers Outside of the Buying Cycle

Encourage customers to create product reviews and refer friends with a loyalty program. This not only builds trust and authenticity, but also provides marketers extra collateral to work with. Incentivize loyalty program members to share pictures and videos on social media, and give them extra points for doing so. UGC is a great strategy for building word-of-mouth and a great form of non-transactional engagement.

Influencer/ referral loyalty program example - Influencer loyalty program.
UGC boosts credibility. People are more likely to purchase a product when it is recommended by close friends, family members, or authentic influencers.

5. Augmented Reality- A Fully Immersive Shopping Experience

Customers consider augmented and virtual reality among the top technologies they seek to assist them in their daily lives. For instance, many social networks, such as Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and Facebook, have AR filters. They help brands showcase products and let people test them out in real time. Using filters gives you a competitive edge on social media. They increase audience engagement and, when using them, social users will tag you in their content.

The Home Depot – Fostering Brand Loyalty

AR applications have been on the rise with virtual “try-before-you-buy” experiences. Once a nice-to-have feature, AR has quickly become an essential technology for retailers. In the case of The Home Depot, loyalty program members can take advantage of the benefits the company’s mobile app has. The app was ranked No.1 in a study by Forrester due to its functionality and strong user experience. It helps customers locate products with superb in-store visual item mapping, check inventory, or receive guidance at checkout. Customers can use true-to-life 3D visuals to see how it will look, feel and align with their expectations.

The Home Depot’s mobile app provides customers with a strong user experience.
The Home Depot’s mobile application helps customers find what they need fast with the help of image and voice search. Members can use the barcode reader to scan an item and read what other customers had to say about it.

Best Practices for Loyalty Programs: Use Badges 

Badges are easy-to-visualize achievements that are awarded to customers who reach predetermined milestones. They, too, foster repeated behaviors and generate brand loyalty. Give badges to loyalty program members when they use an AR feature a given number of times. In addition they can earn points or other memorable rewards.

Challenges and badges are strategies that utilize behavioral science to promote recurring activities.
Challenges and badges are strategies that utilize behavioral science to promote recurring activities.

6. TikTok – A Suite of Solutions, Features, and Tools

The TikTok shopping feature enables creators to add a shop tab on their profile which shows all product catalogs synced with the featured store’s website. This allows TikTok users to instantly browse through your products without leaving the app and provides a one-click button directly to your online store for checkout. TikTok shopping features also extend to TikTok live, allowing merchants to integrate products from their TikTok Shopping experience into a LIVE session. The platform is heavily loaded with visual and dynamic features, making it easier for brands to engage and create a community around their products.

Chipotle – Love a Good Challenge? 

Chipotle ran a series of TikTok challenges. They recognized that about half their customer base are Generation Z and Millenials, so they decided to adapt their marketing to reflect that demographic. The first challenge revolved around people uploading videos with the hashtag #ChipotleLidFlip. The first video in the challenge showed an employee close a burrito bowl with an acrobatic flip of its lid. In the second challenge, the company created the hashtag #GuacDance. The challenge was for people to upload videos of themselves dancing to an internet-famous song. The company observed that the campaigns promoted significant growth in their digital sales—up 99% over the previous year. Now digital sales represent about 18% of the company’s overall sales.

@daviddobrik #ChipotleLidFlip @chipotle #ad ♬ Flip – Future

Because of their customer base, social media is a fact of life for Chipotle. The company wanted to have “conversations” with their customers, be a part of their culture, and stay relevant. So, naturally, the brand needs to be in the places where customers already are.

Best Practices for Loyalty Programs: Organize a Hashtag Contest

Create a hashtag contest on social media for loyalty program members. The winner of the contest could, for example, gain access to a VIP tier or special interest club with special privileges, or receive other valuable rewards.

Setting up a hashtag contest on Instagram.
A hashtag contest is also a great way to drive user-generated content.

It’s Showtime

Social retail is simply about ensuring that a brand’s physical presence is seamlessly integrated with its social channels so that customers can easily interact with all of the brand’s channels – be it e-commerce, social media or brick-and-mortar. The shift toward live shopping and social retail will only continue to intensify, as social media has become such an integral part of our society. Brands that are quick to pivot and adapt to new features and platforms will be the ones to succeed in performance marketing and, in turn, help shape this new trend. Retailers that invite customers to browse products via social media can build better relationships with them, boost retention, and reach a bigger audience. 

With the help of loyalty programs, brands can encourage customers to create a habit of using social retail. As customers are enrolled in the loyalty program and encouraged to use social retail elements, companies are able to obtain useful customer data. Down the road they can use this data to better personalize brand and marketing messaging. This, in turn, makes members feel special, inspires an emotional bond with the brand, and encourages customers to return to the brand repeatedly and use social retail as a convenient way to shop.

If you’re interested in discussing how our technology can bring your loyalty program concept to life, our experts are more than happy to help. Just book a demo or include us in your RFP.  

And don’t forget to download Antavo’s Customer Loyalty Report 2022, an in-depth report that showcases dozens of statistics, as well as future industry trends, to help you navigate the world of next-gen loyalty programs.

A banner recommending to download Antavo’s Global Customer Loyalty Report 2022.

Headshot of Barbara Kekes-Szabo Loyalty Program Specialist at Antavo

Barbara Kekes-Szabo

Barbara is a Loyalty Program Specialist at Antavo and a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional - CLMP. She is also a writing expert with several years of experience in marketing and also in the information technology industry. In her free time she likes traveling the world, reading crime stories, and doing crossword puzzles.

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