Brands once had to manage only a few touchpoints that drove word of mouth during consumer purchase cycles. Today's consumers still are influenced through word of mouth, but what has changed is the ease by which word of mouth can spread due to emerging technology.
Originally, online retailers built technology to support consumers who already knew what they wanted. But today's online consumers are becoming increasingly social in their shopping behavior. They are bringing more of the decision process online—looking for inspiration and advice from different channels and sources.
The growth in the creation of information combined with the hunger to consume and share that information in real time are driving this next wave of innovation in social retail. Due to using social networks, online consumers are not just buyers anymore; they are critics, experts, advocates, and influencers.
The following eight social touchpoints contribute to the extended decision-making process, providing various ways for customers to connect with friends, family, and experts for advice and creating multiple opportunities for brands to influence potential customers throughout this journey.
1. Discovery platforms
The consideration phase typically starts here. What used to mostly happen offline either in-store or through an advertisement or via word of mouth is happening more online. Consumers are going to sites like Pinterest, Wanelo, and Houzz to get ideas and inspiration for products they want and need.
2. Influencers and bloggers
Influencers are people who affect others; people trust their opinions. Some influencers may be bloggers or people with big followings on other social platforms like Twitter or Pinterest.
3. Affinity groups and communities
Some of the most active communities online are traditional forums and groups. And most of these communities still reside on platforms like Yahoo! Groups and Ning, especially around affinity groups like moms.
4. Social networks
Customers looking for insight or product recommendations typically go to their network of friends on places like Facebook. Consumers look to their trusted inner circle for advice, feedback, and recommendations, whether via a broadcast post on their timeline soliciting feedback or messages to a select group of friends
5. Social media platforms
Platforms like Twitter help customers further research and connect with individuals about certain products and brands. They can connect directly with brands or find and follow trusted influencers to get that additional insight.
6. Consumer reviews
Fewer than eight years ago, most online retailers did not have reviews as part of their shopping experience. It wasn't until Bazaarvoice built the technology to support reviews at scale that retailers started offering these on their sites. Typically, customers are close to the point of purchase if they are reading reviews.
7. Direct communication
If a potential customer is on your site and has a question, he is probably close to making a decision. That could be a question about the product or general service, but conversion on customers who arrive on your website that engage with brands via live chat or through a phone is significantly higher (sometimes up to 5X higher) than those who don't.
8. In-store via mobile
The emerging trend in e-commerce is bridging the gap between online and in-store for consumers. Consumers have blurred this line when making purchase decisions, and some brands are finding ways to enable that behavior through mobile applications. Consumers will connect and share products and ideas with friends, family, and experts when in-store through their phones to get feedback on their purchase decisions.
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Those social platforms and technologies empower consumers to discover, communicate, and share information about products and brands with almost anybody in the world. Companies that have embraced that fact are monitoring and communicating via social media. They are using social to maintain a clear, direct presence on online channels and help consumers confidently make their purchase decisions.