Mike Shapaker, EMEA managing director at ChannelAdvisor, looks at how retailers are increasingly turning to social media as a way of engaging with consumers during the competitive Christmas period, and what can be learned from their efforts.
You know it’s nearly Christmas when UK retail heavyweight John Lewis unveils its annual TV advert. Over the years we’ve seen Monty the Penguin waddling across our screens and the lonely Man on the Moon, though this year the department store chain opted for a light-hearted TV spot, starring trampolining wonder dog Buster the Boxer. It also upped its social media game, bringing the big screen to our mobile screens with a branded Snapchat filter, enabling users to transform their faces into the ad’s canine star.
John Lewis perfectly timed its TV and social marketing efforts to take effect just before the mad rush of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and it’s not the only brand that has taken advantage of social media to build buzz and drive sales in the run up to Christmas. So how are other brands adopting social channels this Christmas, and what are the considerations for those who want to follow suit?
There’s no such thing as too early
We recently commissioned some research among UK retailers, looking at how they are shaping their marketing strategies to take advantage of Christmas and the flurry of discount days that precede 25 December. Interestingly– and perhaps surprisingly to some – 26 per cent of retailers said Black Friday is the most profitable day in their eCommerce calendar.
Last year, Black Friday generated £1.1bn in online sales in the UK, and Cyber Monday £968m. This year could very well prove to be more profitable. 2016 Thanksgiving sales alone generated $1.9bn (£1.5bn), according to Adobe. It is vital, then, that digital marketing plans are finalised long before the Christmas period, with eCommerce platforms and sales channels optimised for the huge numbers of visitors at peak times. After all, the early bird catches the worm – or, in this case, the revenue.
The social opportunity
Away from John Lewis’s foray into Snapchat, how does social media fit into the seasonal marketing mix? Social media offers a great chance to interact with potential and existing customers in a direct and immediate way, not just to broadcast deals and promotions, but to create dialogue and buzz around your brand. With today’s smartphone generation glued to their screens, tweeting their opinions and browsing brands when on the move, it’s perhaps no surprise that retailers are acknowledging the important role of social media within festive campaigns. Our research shows that one in 10 mobile sales takes place through social media at Christmas – a huge opportunity for social-savvy retailers.
Take discount grocer Lidl, for example, which claimed an industry first with its ‘Social Price Drop’ initiative this year. Customers tweeting about featured Lidl products could influence the price of items at the supermarket, with the price dropping as the number of Tweets increases. Footwear brand Ugg, on the other hand, took to Facebook for its ‘All I want is Ugg…’ campaign. Customers can create personalised video messages, which are shared with potential present-buyers to persuade them to purchase a new pair of shoes or boots. The video is created with a photo uploaded by the sender, and includes a link to the Ugg website.
The dynamic nature of Facebook
But it’s not just campaigns like Ugg’s personalised video initiative that can drive sales for retailers at Christmas time. 62 per cent of UK retailers see the majority of their social media-related Christmas sales conversion come through Facebook, indicating just how valuable the social network is as a marketing tool.
Dynamic product ads on Facebook and Instagram are an effective means of reaching vast numbers at a targeted, personalised level, and can be based around an individual user and their search and browsing history. This can also prove to be a cost-effective marketing tool, reducing unnecessary spend on ads which don’t hit the mark. The UK retailers we researched ranked sponsored posts for promotions/deals and dynamic ads on Facebook and Instagram among their top strategies for reaching and converting consumers via these platforms.
Social media is for life, not just for Christmas
Businesses are increasingly reliant on the seasonal period to drive sales and nowadays this incorporates a growing number of discount days. In this competitive market, retailers need to attract and retain consumers in ever-more inventive and engaging ways. Social media should play a key role in this, and any social strategy should be finalised not just in time for Christmas, but for profit-driving Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Social media advertising and gimmicks will help put a brand on the crowded virtual map this shopping season, but these platforms should be just one part of a wider marketing strategy which is actioned year-round.
Mike Shapaker is EMEA managing director at ChannelAdvisor