Has Social Media Killed the Mall? Part 1

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Has social media killed the mall? The "death of the mall" has been a topic of conversation for some time as e-commerce and social media continue to engage would-be buyers while distracting them from in-store shopping. Trending images of deserted malls and social groups like Dead Mall Enthusiasts have popped up on Facebook. Are the days of brick-and-mortar businesses numbered?

In the 80s and 90s, the mall was the epicenter of teen social life. Trying on new outfits and hunting down bargains with friends was an inherently social experience. The recent surge of social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat is having an impact on retail, however. Consumers find that instantly sharing the new fit of a pair of jeans they bought online will get them hundreds of "likes" in minutes from Facebook friends and Instagram followers. It's almost become more gratifying than stepping out of the dressing room for a reaction from a single friend.

Before jumping to the conclusion that social media and e-commerce have left the mall deserted, it's important to think about what you can leverage from social media listening and interaction. What should retailers and brands be thinking about in order to capitalize on their physical store investments?

Data: Your Secret Weapon and Crystal Ball
Wish you knew exactly what your customers were thinking? They wish you knew too — and they're not afraid to tell you. Those social shares add up to more than likes on your Facebook page. With a combination of knowing the right things to look for and mastering the right way to interpret your data, you can make sure you have the right products in place in your retail store, turning the brick-and-mortar experience into a one-stop shop for your customers’ wish lists.

Social Media is Your Friend, Not Your Foe 
Take a page from the big retailers like Nordstrom and use your social media following to identify well-liked products. In 2013, Nordstrom saw that Pinterest represented its largest social community, with 4.5 million followers (vs. only 270,000 Twitter followers at the time). Capitalizing on that reach, Nordstrom began showcasing items in-store with a "Top Pinned Item" sign in order to catch the eye of the frequent online browser.

Similarly, applying predictive analytics to real-time social data can identify which new products will be the most sought after by your target customer, therefore enabling you to place those items in your store windows or feature on the homepage of your website.

Location, Location, Location 
Use social media to leverage and promote your own sales and events as well as nearby promotional events that could lead to more foot traffic. You know your customers are listening on social media, therefore use the channel they've got their eye on to entice them with an event-specific special promotion. Assign a special hashtag to an event so you can promote your brand, its specials and the event itself through users who share their experience on social media. Hashtags can also help you keep track of how many people interact with a topic. That data can then be used to plan forthcoming campaigns and see what's top of mind for consumers.

JetBlue, for example, offers a great use case of the power of social media to get customers moving. In 2010, it devised a "Twitter Ticket Giveaway," tweeting secret locations in various cities where people could show up and receive free plane tickets. By sending out tweets that demanded an action, JetBlue got social media users on their feet and rewarded its most loyal customers. Savvy retailers can take note, offering special promotions and giveaways that get customers away from the computer and into their stores.

Make Sense of Your Data … and Put it to Work
While social media monitoring can offer key customer insights, does your team know how to make sense of thousands of data points? This year, commit to embracing more technology and using analytics. Say your ideal customer has her eye on a new red sweater. She can easily buy it online, but happens to be running an errand for something else. You've mined your data and put it to work: You know that 65 percent of women are looking for red sweaters this year and have placed several in the display window to catch her eye, as well as offering a special in-store discount. That's putting your data to work, and reaping the fruits of your labor.  

Social media may be changing the dynamics of the mall, but a shrewd data cruncher knows it can also be your best resource for increasing both in-store traffic and sales. By leveraging tools that mine data, like that produced by social media, you can better figure out what your customer wants. In part two of this series, I'll talk about the power of technology and social media once prospects are actually in-store — e.g., how can you leverage the smartphone in their hand to make sure they're more than just a window shopper?

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