In the world of retail, brands fall into one of two camps: those that embrace social media marketing as a critical component of their customer experience, and those that view it as a nice-to-have.

But social media usage is on the rise, with 76% of consumers reporting they used social media more in the last year and 63% purchased on it. Recent data like this from the Sprout Social Index 2021™, UK & Ireland report should serve as a wake-up call for retailers sceptical about what social media is worth.

Whether it’s a digital or in-person purchase, social followers signal potential business for brands of all shapes and sizes.

A statistical breakdown on social media buying by generation.

For retailers, social media is more than an accessory, it’s a through-line for the customer experience.

Maybe someone’s learning about your brand for the first time. Perhaps you’re looking to reach former or current customers. Either way, retailers need to create a social customer journey that encompasses all of the actions above versus only acquisition or attention.

Social media for retail: How to create a compelling customer journey

The beauty of social media for retail is that you can engage with people at just about any point of the customer lifecycle.

But therein lies the challenge of social media marketing for retailers, too.

To make the most of your campaigns, it’s crucial to understand the tactics and strategies that are proven to work among today’s top retailers. In this guide, we break down social media for retail and what brands need to do to map out that ever-so-important customer journey.

1. Adopt an omnichannel social presence to support discovery

Retailers can’t afford to stick to a single social platform.

While putting all of your efforts into one channel might keep you from spreading your resources thin, doing so also means leaving money on the table. Literally.

And yes, recent stats point to just how important Instagram is for retailers today in terms of social selling. That said, there’s more to social media for retail than the ‘gram. In fact, the Sprout Social Index 2021™ found titans like Facebook (55%), Instagram (54%) and YouTube (49%) rule British and Irish consumers’ social media habits. There’s also significant consumer activity on emerging platforms like TikTok (32%) and Snapchat (29%).

Use of social media platforms in 2021: UK and Ireland consumers vs businesses

Let’s take a quick dive into how retailers can spread their social presence across multiple platforms while taking advantage of each channel’s strengths and best practices.

Sweaty Betty has the ultimate recipe for drawing people in. Its fitness inspo vibe and engaging exercise tutorials capture Instagrammers’ attention and keep them coming back. This timeless brand also combines eye-catching aesthetics, and a polished influencer marketing strategy to turn their posts into traffic-generating machines.

Sweaty Betty reinforces its Instagram strategy with empowering and motivational content on channels like Pinterest to capture even more of its audience online. The result? Sweaty Betty turns their social media footfall into site visitors and then cold, hard, cash.

Sweaty Betty's Fitness Inspired Pinterest.

To ensure that you’re hitting up every segment of your potentially fragmented audience, it’s important that you have a strategy for promoting content between platforms. Sprout can help with that through social scheduling that not only lets you cross-promote content, but time your promotions based on optimal engagement.

sprout social publishing calendar

2. Supplement your existing marketing campaigns to convert prospects into customers

This might seem like a no-brainer, but so much of social media for retail means finding ways to mesh your social presence with existing paid campaigns. Especially, since business’ top three social media goals (brand awareness, upping community engagement, and increasing web traffic) match all the social media platforms’ makeup.

UK & Ireland marketers' business goals on social media

So, whether you’re running a promotion, launching a product or pushing time-sensitive offers, you can’t afford for your followers to be in the dark or assume they’re going to learn about your promos elsewhere.

Some brands might be wary of pushing products too hard on social media. That said, nearly two-thirds of consumers say social posts by brands influence their purchasing decisions.

Also, consistently publishing coupon codes, offers, and discounts is fair game for encouraging impulse buys. If nothing else, striking product photos are prime Instagram content that doesn’t come off as “salesy” if they’re presented with some creative flair.

Speaking of cross-promotion, consider that any given retailer’s email list is their bread and butter for encouraging repeat business. With an engaged and social following, brands have more opportunities to nurture customers and keep them in the loop about their latest promotions.

Even coffee brands are in on the action. Nespresso also uses a multi-pronged marketing approach. Its team implements email marketing while putting its Instagram feed at the forefront with customer-centric and inspirational content.

Nespresso's sleek and simple newsletter. 

Nespresso's enticing Instagram feed

3. Gather feedback from your social customers

Of course, social media for retail isn’t just as simple as blasting offers and deals. Although customers are more than happy to follow retailers in pursuit of a sale, your long game should be to sell your brand beyond your products.

This means figuring out your brand identity and making connections with customers. Perhaps one of the easiest and most effective ways to do so is through asking questions.

What sort of products do people want? What sort of content do they want to see? Whether through Instagram Stories or question-based posts, picking people’s brains is easier than ever. Additionally, question-based content encourages replies and interactions which are like candy to modern social algorithms.

The feedback gathered from customers can not only inform your content and product strategies but also serve as a break from purely promotional content. Retailers like Wilko do an awesome job of asking playful questions while subtly featuring their products at the same time.

4. Boost retention by dedicating time to social customer service

Food for thought: in a day and age of online shopping and fast-paced transactions, there’s one thing that can set your brand apart from the rest—unbeatable customer service.

Customer support has become so crucial to social media success that the Sprout Social Index 2021™, UK & Ireland report found that being known for putting customers first is the number one trait consumers say makes brands the best on social.

Effective social media for retail means listening and responding to customer concerns with care. This means both personalising your replies while also responding in a timely manner (another top customer expectation). These factors make a huge difference in customer satisfaction.

As noted in our guide to Twitter customer service, 60% of people expect a response within an hour. 

What matters to UK & Ireland followers on social

Don’t think of responding to such concerns as customers being needy, though. The ability to respond with grace spells good news for your brand as you strive to keep customers around for the long haul. Check out how John Lewis manages to address a reasonable concern while still scoring a “Like” and a potential sale on Facebook.

John Lewis & Partners responding to a customer question on Facebook

In fact, John Lewis’ stellar customer service on social media is an extension of its consumer-focused reputation. Social customer service isn’t just about addressing questions and complaints. 

Customer care also means giving customers shout-outs to highlight their positive experiences. As noted by our data, that’s the top reason why customers reach out: capitalise on those moments and let them serve as social proof for your brand.

The more you’re able to highlight your satisfied customers, the better. Why? Because poor customer service was cited as one of the top reasons consumers unfollow businesses on social.

The takeaway here is that customer service can’t be an afterthought for retailers. Through consistent monitoring and social listening, you can make sure those precious mentions don’t fall by the wayside.

5. Listen for trends to influence your product and content strategies

Speaking of listening, social media retail trends are constantly changing.

Brands are constantly experimenting with new ways to engage with followers. At the same time, competitors and new products are constantly flooding any given retail space which speaks to the need for brands to have a strong pulse on their industries.

Sprout’s social listening suite includes a query builderwhere brands can easily monitor mentions, hashtags, and industry-related keywords to better track what customers are buzzing about.

Sprout listening query builder

More advanced listening features in Sprout can also help retailers monitor their brand sentiment and mentions to ensure healthy, positive growth in engagement over time.

Sprout Social's Listening engagement report view

goldmine of business intelligence on social media. It’s all a matter of making sure you’re listening, though.

6. Curate user-generated content to promote your brand advocates

Easily one of the biggest needs when it comes to social media for retail, brands need to be on the hunt for user-generated content (UGC).

Even big retailers like H&M use UGC to show off their products and create a strong community around them. Customer photos are noted to increase conversions and engagement among social followers. Your customers want to talk about their latest purchases, granted you give them a chance to do so.

Meanwhile, Monsoon and Lush Cosmetics use a branded hashtag to entice customers to post their photos.

Monsoon's branded hashtag
Lush's user generated content

Whether it’s for an influencer marketing campaign or simply encouraging UGC, retailers these days are expected to create their own hashtag to encourage organic promotion on behalf of their followers. Doing so provides yet another avenue for customers to engage with your brand and vice-versa.

7. Make social shopping as seamless as possible

Encouraging purchases directly from social media is more than possible. However, it’s not as simple as dropping product links and walking away.

If you want to increase your social media conversion rate<, you’re going to need to make shopping a seamless experience

For example, let’s look at how easy In the Style makes shopping their Instagram feed. When you click “View Shop” you’re greeted with a sleek catalogue. Each item also comes with a product description and essential terms breakdown along with their social-specific landing page which makes it a cinch to browse products.

In The Style's Instagram profile

Ideally, you want to keep your customers moving from Point A to Point B rather than bouncing between a bunch of links and redirects. Even if you don’t use a third-party tool for social shopping, making your social landing pages scrollable and mobile-friendly is a must-do.

Additionally, note that social platforms are constantly rolling out new shopping and advertising features tailored for social media for retail. For example, the roll-out of Instagram Checkout signals how networks are trying to make it easier for brands to encourage purchases. 

8. Inspire long-term loyalty by remarketing to current and former customers

Of course, we can’t talk about social media for retail without discussing paid ads.

With social algorithms seemingly cracking down on purely promotional organic posts, running ads allows retailers to appeal to customers without running the risk of spamming them.

The good news is that retailers can personalise and target their advertising like never before. Brands can run campaigns to prospect for new customers or reach out to returning customers simultaneously.

For example, brands like PrettyLittleThing and Look Fantastic use Facebook and Instagram’s dynamic ads to reach former customers or they’re looking to reactivate. Such ads serve as a cost-effective way to reintroduce your brand to customers and are likewise noted for their high ROI. 

Look Fantastic's retargeting ad.


9. Don’t forget your physical packaging

If you’re a retailer, you have a distinct opportunity to make a lasting impression on your customers in person.

This can be done by combining your social presence with your physical packaging if possible. From stickers and business cards to quite literally wrapping up your products with your social handles, there are tons of creative ways to couple social media with in-person promotion.

Even something as simple as a branded business card snuck into your shipped orders is a smart move. Retailers can’t be shy about promoting their social presence and in-person creatives are one of the most meaningful ways to do it.

10. Increase your customer lifetime value over time

The end-game of social media for retail is to nurture customers and encourage them to become long-term shoppers.

In other words, you can’t afford to solely focus on acquisition. Growing your follower count is nice, but ask yourself: is your social presence resulting in long-term engagement and purchases?

If someone is willing to follow your brand, they’ve already signalled their interest to make a purchase. This highlights the need to promote offers while also connecting with a diverse content calendar. As noted by the examples above, retailers have a ton of creative options available for regularly engaging their target audiences.

At the same time, think about how you can increase what your social following is worth over time. Ramp up your efforts during the holidays where consumer spending is at an all-time high. Run influencer marketing and UGC campaigns.

Try your hand at social ads. And along the way, make sure you’re keeping a close eye on engagement via social analytics. By tracking your growth and engagement by the numbers, you can better understand what’s encouraging purchases from your followers over time.

How are you using social media for retail?

There’s no denying that retailers have their hands full in terms of their social presence. But as we said, retailers have the most to gain from social media at large.

From uncovering new customers to increasing the value of the ones you already have, the amount of creative business opportunities available to retail brands on social media is seemingly endless. And with the help of tools such as Sprout Social, brands can run and monitor their campaigns by the numbers to win more customers along the way.

There’s never been a better time to go all-in on your social media to drive more traffic, build a solid community and secure more sales.

Interested in more tips for creating a social-first customer experience? Download this checklist for providing exceptional customer service on Instagram today.