For retailers that jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2009, the impact on Black Friday was significant. Before heading to stores and malls this Thanksgiving weekend, many consumers scoured Facebook, Twitter, and other Web sites that track Black Friday sales to decide where they wanted to shop.
Social media has become another avenue for shoppers to compare deals and find bargains. This is especially valuable in the current tough economic environment, where making a dollar go further makes a huge difference. The rapid growth in these tools, especially this year, has made them a practical alternative for bargain hunters ahead of the holidays.
Many retailers reached out to their Black Media customers via social media this year. With plenty of consumers already using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, companies felt they needed to go where their customers are and engage them:
Best Buy advertised its $500 laptop deal on Twitter and Facebook.
Sears held a Facebook sweepstakes to win the chance to shop its Black Friday deals before Thanksgiving and a $500 gift card.
J.C. Penney tweeted about its 4 a.m. store openings.
Office Depot tweeted its Black Friday deals, including a Vivitar digital camera bundle for $49.99.
Staples sent its Facebook Page fans and Twitter followers a sneak peek of its Black Friday sale.
Toys”R”Us gave its Facebook fans the first look at its Black Friday deals.
Target, Kohl’s, and many other retailers experimented with these tools as well. Twitter feeds were nonstop leading up to the hottest shopping day of the year, as companies maneuvered for top-of-mind position with the estimated 134 million Black Friday shoppers. Many of the consumers who crowded stores on Friday came armed with facts and advice they obtained via social media outlets and were prepared to take action the minute they walked through the doors.
There are many shoppers who aren’t interested in social media, and plenty of them still turn to the newspaper. A Deloitte study conducted by before Thanksgiving found that 40% of consumers planned to get their deal information in this manner — a considerable number of the shopping public. Some even clipped coupons, a tried-and-true recession tactic for stretching cash. Deloitte also found that 27% planned to check Web sites specializing in Black Friday deals, and 29% were going to look at flyers and mailers. Only 24% were turning to retailers’ Web sites for specials.
But for consumers who want advice from others before making purchase decisions for their limited dollars, social media is fast becoming a fundamental part of their shopping experience. Once deals are posted on Twitter or Facebook, shoppers often share them with friends and repost them. Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide, said, “It’s almost crowdsourcing for opinions. We increasingly need affirmation from our peers and our loved ones and the people that create our lifestyle to feel good about where we are buying things.”
Salzman said that social media still needs to prove itself as a meaningful driver of retail sales. While companies may beckon shoppers by offering special deals — as when Starbucks let its Facebook fans print out an invitation to get a free pastry when they purchased a drink — customer loyalty isn’t always the result. “Success lies in a repeat customer,” she said.
The focus of reports on social media has been on the benefits to the consumer, but there’s a lot of upside for retailers that use these tools to engage their customers — upside that extends far beyond the ability to get in front of prospective customers in a new channel. Kasey Lobaugh, a principal at Deloitte Retail, noted social media’s market intelligence and tracking capabilities, saying many retailers like it because it enables them to track how many shoppers they’re reaching: “If you send out a URL via Twitter you know how many people clicked on that URL,” he said. Other forms of advertising, including print, can be virtually impossible to track unless there are additional mechanisms in place, like coupons or special offer codes “When you put a newspaper tab out, you have no idea of the traffic in your stores, how much was influenced by seeing an ad in the newspaper that day,” Lobaugh said.
Social media may still be an immature marketing tool, but retailers have recognized its capacity for generating sales and they are starting to take action. This year’s social media engagement was a learning experience. Next year, it won’t be optional.
Pam Dyer is a Seattle-area marketing professional who is very interested in social marketing. The advent of social networks and the ability to engage customers in all sorts of new ways for branding, advertising, PR, and CRM can be a boon to companies that are willing to embrace it. Her blog, Pamorama, covers all of these topics and more.