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The Importance of Social Media in Retail

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

This month, we invited Lorraine Windsor, Managing Director of The Social Matrix, to share her insights into  the value of social media marketing for retailers and the impact platforms like Instagram are having on the retail design landscape.

If you have previously allocated resources to social media to market your retail brand and been disappointed with the results, you might be sceptical of social media’s importance.

However, social media channels draw in huge audiences. If you have had little success in the past, the chances are you’re missing something very important.

But with more and more retail brands using social media to target their audiences, having the right strategy is critical if you want to be heard above the ‘noise’ and achieve success.

The Facts and Figures

According to research commissioned by Engage Hub, after email, social media is the most popular form of brand communication for consumers.

26% of 18 to 24 year olds said social media is their preferred method of receiving messages from brands.
1 in 5 (20%) of all people surveyed said they would prefer to receive marketing messages from brands via social media platforms.
57% of people said they are more likely to buy from brands they follow on social media.
75% of people said that they have made purchases based on something they saw on social media.

These days social media platforms are used by everyone. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they are only popular with the younger generations. Social media is widely used by most people aged between 20 and 50 – that’s Generation Y and Generation X.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are very popular with Generation Y (20 to 36 year olds, also known as Millennials).

Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are very popular with people aged 35 to 49 (Generation X) and this generation spend almost seven hours a week on social media.

In fact, the older Gen X spends on average 39 minutes more a week on social media than the younger Gen Y! I wouldn’t mind betting that’s a bit of a surprise for some of you.

There is no doubt that social media can be a highly effective way of reaching potential customers. However, without a considered strategy you run the risk of turning your audience off.

A Targeted Approach

Whether you reach out to your audience via email marketing, social media, or both, your messages should be targeted to specific audience groups. The reasons for this are clear from the Nielsen 2016 Social Media Report:

90% of UK consumers admitted to unfollowing a brand over the past 12 months
46% of those who unfollowed a brand said they did so because brands sent them too many messages
24% of those who unfollowed a brand said they did so because the brand sent them messages that were not relevant

With any form of marketing, it’s important to make sure your messages remain relevant to your audience. For example, your email lists should be segmented by age group, gender, or any other demographics which make sense for your products.

Similarly, your social media messages should be aimed at specific groups. You can achieve this by following a community building strategy which attracts relevant followers to your social profiles.

You can drill down further by using targeted ads, website cookies and pixels, to determine likes and interests of specific groups.

Whatever you do, avoid ‘spray and pray’ tactics and make your messages as targeted as possible. This will help you to ensure that your marketing messages reach the right audience members and will help you to achieve more stable follower retention.

Targeting is not the only strategy, however. You also need to create engaging content.

Creating Engaging Social Media Content

Creating content for your social media profiles is not as simple as just posting messages about your products and promotions. You’re unlikely to engage your audience or generate sales for your business. In fact, your audience are more likely to unfollow you!

Instead, post a variety of content. Ideally, only 10-20 percent of your posts should be about your offers, sales, competitions and other promotions.

Don’t get me wrong, your audience do want to see your promos and offers but they also want advice, ideas, inspiration and to develop a personal connection with your brand. So, create a good mix of content to keep your audiences engaged.

Your posts should be targeted to specific groups, have personality, tell a story, be interesting, informative and inspirational.

For example, posting photos of a new line, with an “available now” message and a price, is extremely dull and unlikely to generate much buzz.

A more engaging way to promote a new line of products would be to post a photo of the stock arriving, with a message about how excited you are to open the boxes and to get the new lines on display.

You could also post a short video of staff opening the boxes, or a fun image or video of a member of your team using or demonstrating the product. This will generate interest and a buzz around the new line, which can be followed up with further information on how the new products came about, who created them and why you decided to add it to your range.

If you put your mind to it, there really is no end to the fun ways you can engage with and captivate your audience.

On Instagram, John Lewis for example, post images of their products, images of models wearing their products, images of their products in real-life situations, videos of upcoming promotions and behind the scenes shots of their staff – plenty to engage and enthral their audience.

Jamie Oliver posts images of food, images from his own past, images of him cooking in his own kitchen at home, images and videos of him at various personal and business engagements. His Twitter account truly rocks, with over 6 million followers! Plus, all his recipe photos link directly from Twitter to the actual recipes in full on his website – now where is my frying pan? – I could just rustle up a nice steak sandwich.

The Very Green Grocer

Another example, and a bit of a local celebrity, is The Very Green Grocer. He posts images of colourful fruit and veg, images of the other local produce he sells via his mobile shop, images of his stands at markets and local festivals and images of his delivery van laden with goodies. You can also check out his Twitter account here. As you can see, on Twitter there is also a lot of delicious photos and a huge amount of engagement taking place, not only on his posts, but he also shares other peoples’ posts to help them increase the audience they reach!

Variety is the name of the game when it comes to social content. Make it varied. Make it colourful. Make it informative. Make it count!

Instagrammable Moments

Relatively new to the retail industry is the idea of maximising your ‘Instagrammable moments’. Retailers are realising the necessity of considering Instagrammable moments as part of their retail design. For instance, exciting brand spaces in-stores, bars and restaurants encourages customers to post to Instagram. So visually encapsulating the essence of your brand throughout your retail space has never been more important.

Millions of posts are posted to Instagram every day. Instagram is an image-based platform, a place to share real-life photos that capture a moment in real time. People all over the world right this minute are taking photos of their restaurant food experiences, their tech purchases, or their new clothes or shoes, to share with their friends and followers.

If you, as a retail brand, have an Instagram account, your customers will mention your handle, advertise your location and express their happiness with your products and services. Plenty of mileage for the one hour a day (on average) it takes to manage a social media profile!


Social media provides considerable opportunities for retailers to engage with customers, increase brand visibility and generate sales. But it’s imperative that you create a considered social media marketing strategy to achieve this.

Ensure your posts are targeted. Ensure your posts are as varied as they are creative. Ensure there are lots of non-promotional, personality-led, interesting posts mixed in with your promos. And don’t forget to ensure you consider those Instagrammable moments in your retail design strategies.

As a retailer, you can use social media to inspire your audience and to create a desire for the products you sell. Don’t miss the opportunity.

The Social Matrix Ltd has been providing social media marketing services and training to a wide range of companies since 2010.


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