If just one more cashier, clerk, store associate or representative asks me to complete yet another online survey or “tweet”, “share” and “like” my retail experience – I will, literally, scream.
Merchandisers are increasingly tracking consumer purchasing behaviors through social media platforms to analyze whether certain business practices are yielding a profitable return on their investment (ROI). However, determining ROI based solely on a ratio of gain over costs is not as easily measured in today’s tech-driven economy. In addition to determining ROI for practical aspects of business such as overhead, labor, training, and development, merchandisers are more and more frequently employing digital strategies to gather empirical data. They want information about more obscure forces impacting their markets like the best way to generate leads; brand awareness and perception; customer experience; or, security and risk mitigation.
New digital platforms have vastly shifted the relationship between marketers and their consumers. Merchandisers who use conventional media platforms like television, radio, direct mail and print media tend to cast a wide net to attract potential buyers. This one-way relationship pushes out marketing content to the public and is primarily focused on product awareness. Thus, the more people reached by this method of marketing; the better chance of reeling in potential customers. However, marketing through digital social media enables merchandisers to target specific consumers and promote a two-way relationship in which they can communicate with their consumer audience on the same platform. These consumers use digital devices to compare prices and product reviews, consult family and friends before making purchases; and, shop online retailers for the best delivery of goods and services. They are more likely to make a purchase, whether online or in a store; and, as equally important, tend to provide valuable feedback via their clicks and comments.
Over the next five years, merchandisers are projected to more than double the amount of money they spend on social media strategies, according to a CMO Survey of 468 chief marketing officers in the U.S. They use Internet service and content Providers’ analytics and clickstreams, users’ digital footprints on the web, to track consumer preferences, influences, economics and demographics. Merchandisers glean invaluable information from the data which they use to steer potential buyers to the next best offer: purchases or services customized and presented to consumers at just the right moment, for the right price and through the right channel.
This subconscious act of consumer manipulation is not new. However, in an economy dominated by social media, it seems to occur with greater frequency, thousands of times per day, while our eyes are transfixed on digital devices. I recently made a purchase at a health food store and, within hours, ads for similar products popped up on my smartphone and home computer. Was it a coincidence; how did they know? What kind of imaginary tether stretches from a single transaction, secured with a swipe from my credit card, to the digital devices in my pocket and in my home. The whole ordeal, brief as it was, left me feeling a bit anxious and wondering who’s watching me while I am watching my digital screen.