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Monday, June 13, 2011

Be Social In-Store and Online

Be Social In-Store and Online by Christine B. Whittemore
This article titled "Be social in-store and online" appeared in the August 23/30, 2010 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

Being Social In-Store and Online

By Christine B. Whittemore

Would you agree that retail, by its very nature, is a social business?

After all it is about people – customers or buyers – coming into contact with other people – sellers – to acquire something. The two groups interact, asking questions, expressing interest, learning from one another and exchanging value. The interaction is what leads to a purchase decision -- when done correctly. It also determines whether the transaction warrants future retail interactions. Social interaction leads to building trust and a profitable retail relationship.

What goes into making a social interaction successful in-store and online?

There’s the store itself and how neat, appealing, up-to-date, organized and thoughtful an impression it communicates to a visitor. The physical environment creates a backdrop or frame of reference for customer-focused social interaction. It sets expectations and tells a story. Ideally, it even introduces employees – as LuluLemon Athletica does via a wall of employee pictures which includes each’s 5 and 10 year life goals.

The first social contact with your visitor further sets expectations not only about how welcoming you are, but also your knowledge, how much you care about your business and how willing you are to interact with customers. Being social means acting more like a consultant and customer advocate than a salesperson or order taker. It requires being truly hospitable and customer-focused. Imagine being a visitor to your store. How well do store representatives welcome you, show respect, listen, and methodically capture and absorb information? Do they follow-up and take care of the details associated with customer interactions? What about the ultimate social tool – the telephone – how do they use it?

All of these social courtesies set the stage for a relationship of multiple transactions with customers. They build trust and remove barriers associated with potential problems.

That’s in-store.

Managing an online presence is no different. There, too, you set expectations, express common social courtesies and generally anticipate the needs of customers. You do so through relevant and engaging content. Content is what communicates personality, uniqueness, competence... It takes multiple forms: words on a website, video, podcasts, interaction on social networks, slide presentations, photos… Just as your store and the people within, your online content demonstrates to visitors and potential customers that you are knowledgeable, real, accessible, welcoming and trustworthy.

Consider your website from your visitor’s perspective. How up-to-date is your content? How genuinely welcoming is your home page? Do you include information about you, your associates and company history as well as pictures of you and your people? Can visitors easily find your contact information, store hours and directions? Have you set expectations so site visitors know how quickly you will return an email or phone call? Do you detail how you handle issues? What about fresh ideas and inspiration for visitors? Look at what Carpetright in the UK has done with its web-based design tips and trend boards.

What about social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? What do they communicate about your business? Is that content consistent with your in-store message? Are you social there, too? Do you interact and respond promptly, consistently and enthusiastically?

Whether in-store on online, consider the following social guidelines:

• Be welcoming & hospitable in-store and online

• Be fresh, new and interesting: update samples, windows, website, status…

• Be interested and interact: actively listen, ask questions, acknowledge, say thanks

• Be easy to contact: ask how best to stay in contact with visitors

• Be thoughtful: it’s about your customers and visitors, not you. Focus on how you can help them in-store and online.

• Be reliable and follow up on details: i.e., be trustworthy and dependable

• Be authentic & true to yourself: you are in business for the long haul, right?

• Be passionate about what you do: stand for something and be excited about it

• Be consistent: show up regularly and participate in the social interactions

• Be transparent: don’t lie, cheat, obfuscate or make things like price needlessly fuzzy; rid yourself of insider gobbledygook terms

Go, be social!

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