Social media and e-commerce going hand in hand
In the 2015 MasterCard Online Shopping survey, of the respondents polled in the UAE, nearly one-third had made online purchases through their mobile phones, which is higher than what was observed in the UAE for results collected in 2012 and 2013.
In the retail landscape, the evolution of social media has in many ways gone hand in hand with the evolution of mobile and e-commerce. With Dubai Shopping Festival set to kickoff on January 1, we have examined the social media trends of consumers in the region, and monitored a rise in the use of Twitter during exciting shopping periods which emphasises that with the advancement of technology, people's buying behaviour also changes.
In the 2015 MasterCard Online Shopping survey, of the respondents polled in the UAE, nearly one-third had made online purchases through their mobile phones, which is higher than what was observed in the UAE for results collected in 2012 and 2013. That social media and e-commerce run in parallel is shown by a Nielsen survey that indicates that more than eight-in-10 global respondents (83 per cent) say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family. But trust isn't confined only to those in our inner circle. In fact, two-thirds (66 per cent) say they trust consumer opinions posted online - the third-most-trusted format.
The evolution of usage and features has transformed social media's role to a powerful branding tool that can lead to retail conversion. The public, real-time nature of Twitter, for example, has brought its role to the forefront of companies' external-facing marketing, communications and sales arsenal, and this is most apparent in the retail industry's busiest seasons and sales periods.
The holy month of Ramadan is a time of reflection, being with your loved ones and of renewing your faith. Infact throughout Ramadan in 2015, there were over 8.4 billion impressions of Tweets about Ramadan on Twitter and syndicated across the web.
The real strength of social media platforms when it comes to retail lies in enriching the consumer experience and based on our Ramadan research, brands began their campaigning at least one month before to leverage heightened consumer activity. Similarly, 75 per cent of UAE residents started their shopping a month before Ramadan for both long and short cycle purchases, such as home appliances, food and beverage and clothing, with 42 per cent having already engaged with brands over Twitter in particular during key campaigns or seasons. Whether e-retailers, or brick-and-mortar stores, companies need to better understand the festive shopper journey and how social media platforms influence product consideration, discovery and purchases.
At the core of the consumer experience on social media is the level of engagement and responsiveness they get from a brand - the tenets of customer service. The ubiquity and reach of social media means your brand's account is now visible and works as your most influential staff. Festive buying tends to be a harried experience for consumers, and bringing in your customer service team early for preemptive resolution and engagement puts your brand top-of-mind with the consumer. This year, Souq.com (@souq) started a shopping campaign (#WhiteFriday) where they provided consumers with massive discounts on a wide range of items, and took the campaign to Twitter to increase their engagement with customers.
Through the campaign, @souq were able to garner attention from people living across the UAE, and in the region as well. We noticed the same with our research as throughout Ramadan, 58 per cent said they would use the platform to keep updated on brands and products they are interested in and 68 per cent would use it to look out for deals or promotions from brands followed.This means it's crucial for retailers to check their timelines twice and ensure no Direct Message go unanswered.
In the UAE, apart from seasonal blooms lots of companies are increasing their engagement with Twitter users.
Monitoring social channels is an obvious step, but instead of looking for negative comments or problems to address, sentiment and keyword analysis can be used to great effect in planning out strategies to engage with your customers, both for service recovery, as well as for conversion. Take this one step further by encouraging customers to post about and share their holiday buys to entice potential customers. The study also revealed that businesses should keep a keen eye on overall brand following. Twitter's Ramadan research also revealed that an impressive 94 per cent of respondents are following at least one brand, the top categories included beverages, fashion, beauty and consumer electronics.
Engage consumers early through the use of richer content, like videos on Twitter and Periscope, infographics and visual instructions for a more pleasant and immersive festive buying experience.
Every interaction on social channels is an opportunity to remind customers that there are actual people behind the brands that they engage with. The smartest brands on social media are those who interact with customers using a more personal tone, instead of churning out corporate-speak. Being friendly and responsive is always a good way to start building a stronger relationship with your customers.
Remember, there is no better referral than one that comes from a very satisfied customer.
The writer is head of revenue, Middle East and North Africa, Twitter. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.