This article is part of Square’s definitive guide on eCommerce best practices during the holidays. Explore the guide to learn how to curate a festive and stress-free shopping experience for your customers and stay competitive.
The winter holidays are all about sharing joy. For shoppers who love staying connected online and are highly active on social media, that includes streaming product reviews, sharing unboxing videos, and swapping holiday haul opinions and recommendations to their followers. These networks and online communities then become a new group of interested customers.
Because of this, their opinions are immensely influential — these networked shoppers have access to large groups of consumers who are actively looking for tips on things their peers like or enjoy, which can be powerful for online sellers that fall into their good graces. More than 24% of consumers have been introduced to a product or brand via recommendation, according to GlobalWebIndex. And, according to Adweek, 63% of Gen Z wants to hear from “peers and everyday folks, not celebrities.”
To avoid missing out on opportunities to engage networked shoppers online, or becoming a holiday horror story with your business a target of negative reviews or Twitter rants, here are some tips on how to create positive and share-worthy experiences.
Understanding the networked shopper
Because networked shoppers care about the opinions of others, they crowdsource product reviews and share positive (and negative) experiences across numerous touchpoints and channels.
They’re more than connected. Networked shoppers aren’t just connected, they’re actively engaged across a variety of online communities. When shopping malls were the primary retail option, they would have brought friends with them on each shopping trip. Now they look for shopping advice on social media and mobile apps. In addition to Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, and Snapchat, use of retailer apps has doubled in the last year, according to Business Insider, which also credits this increasing mobile app usage with record holiday sales.
They tend to be younger. In a survey of Gen Z shoppers from investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray, 73% of respondents said they preferred brands to contact them about new products through Instagram. Snapchat followed as the second preferred method, at roughly 50%. And, according to Convince and Convert, 77% of millennials have recommended a product or service to someone else. That makes them 50% more likely than other segments to praise good experiences through word of mouth.
They value others’ opinions over marketing. What these shoppers really want are the honest opinions of other people. Research from Gartner found that 84% of millennials said that user-generated content from strangers influences what they buy. With the networked shopper, real-life pictures, descriptions, and reviews win the day.
How to meet networked shoppers’ expectations
For these highly connected consumers, it all comes down to relationships. Their contributions to their favorite online communities are motivated by wanting to be authentic and helpful, and businesses that care about their online reputation should be able to relate.
Be authentic. According to a study of frequent “online sharers” by the New York Times that looked at what motivates them, 68% publish something online to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. This kind of authenticity extends to the brands they support and recommend. Sharing relatable content, especially around the holidays, is an opportunity for businesses to connect with people who share similar experiences. For example, a coffee roaster could post about how much they enjoy that first cup of coffee on crisp winter mornings. If the sentiment resonated with customers, they might share the post with friends and associate the brand with holiday nostalgia.
Provide useful information. The New York Times study also found that 94% of the online sharers carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient. For businesses that sell apparel, home goods, beauty products — anything that meets a consumer need — that means considering how and why your product is being used, and bringing that information up front. If you’re a skincare brand and sell baby moisturizing lotion, including pertinent product details about skin sensitivities, how long the application lasts, etc., puts parents’ minds at ease and opens the door for them to pass along their recommendation to other parents who are looking for hypoallergenic products for their own children. Be as helpful, and transparent, as you can about what you sell and how customers (and their networks) can benefit.
Build a community. Sharing a purchase experience makes networked shoppers feel involved and valuable. It’s an important qualifier for other networked shoppers who are evaluating a purchase — 49% of frequent online sharers in the New York Times study said that sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about, and potentially change opinions or encourage action. Encourage shoppers to post about their experience. By creating a sense of belonging with your brand, you can grow a loyal customer base long after the holidays.
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How to catch their eye
These consumers are known to express themselves and look for fellow networked shoppers to do the same. Thankful for others’ recommendations, they naturally return the favor or pay it forward. Give these holiday shoppers tools to promote your brand.
Curate shareable shopping experiences. User-generated content helps drive brand authenticity, according to Adweek. Square’s social media expert recommends creating an area at your pop-up or brick-and-mortar store with social sharing in mind. “A neon sign, a printed wall, a piece of unique art, or a beautiful coffee bar are all ‘Instagram-worthy’ shots for customers and free content for you. Prominently display branded hashtags and your social channels for tagging nearby, and consider incentivizing customers with in-store social media displays by sharing the best images on your brand channels.” Don’t forget to add your Instagram feed to your eCommerce website to highlight all those hashtags and showcase your fans at the online point of purchase. And, most important, engage with customers who are sharing content with you — reply, comment, and like their posts to ensure they feel seen and heard.
Invite their opinion. The easiest way to do this is with online product reviews and ratings. Take it a step further this holiday season by asking for testimonials to add to your website as social proof. Most networked shoppers are happy to share their opinions and recommendations with others who are searching for gifts. If you haven’t already, make it a priority to offer multiple channels for customers to engage with and reach you online — open up your social media direct messages, create a customer support handle on Twitter, leverage live chat on your website, and be sure to follow up on email.
Reward their fandom. Clubs, subscriptions, community boards, and loyalty programs not only appeal to networked shoppers’ desire for connectivity but also can allow you to cultivate new networks around your brand that you can activate in other ways. Offer rewards such as invitations to in-store holiday events, personalized coupon codes that are shareable with friends and family, and other promotions where participation in the community extends beyond purchase. Furthermore, encourage them to invite their friends to join.
Like most holiday consumers, networked shoppers want to have a positive experience. It’s their overall journey to finding the perfect gift and the connection they form with your brand that they will share with their community. By crafting and promoting an inclusive, authentic online presence, online sellers can become the next addition to the networked shopper’s inner circle. And it’s this trust that will keep them coming back after December 31.
The holidays can be the busiest time of year for businesses. From helping shoppers find the perfect gift to keeping up with your inventory, sellers need to wear multiple hats. Square is here to help. We have all the tools you need to start, run, and grow your business, whether you’re selling in person, online, or both. And we’ve made all our tools to work together as one system, saving you time and money — and making decisions easier. So you, too, can enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. See how Square works.