Indie Retailers and Social Media: Perfect Together?

Retail Trend Watchers Say Social Is Under-Utilized Despite Its Potential
July is Independent Retailer Month, a time to salute those merchants across the country who account for half of the annual total retail sales in the US. If our economy is to stay robust, independent retailers of all sizes need to thrive. For the smaller players in this sector of our industry, social media seems like the magic bullet. It’s pervasive, influential, and inexpensive. In addition, platforms like Facebook, offer pinpoint targeting, that matches messages to prospects.

So why aren’t more indies – especially the “Mom and Pops” – stepping up to social? Roughly one-quarter of independents have no social presence at all, and half of those who do have accounts use them inconsistently or post rarely. As regional leaders in commercial retail real estate, this is a trend we’re watching.

(Read more: https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/03/companies-that-do-not-use-social-media.html)

Why Social Media Matters to Small Businesses
As more consumers flock to social – 81 percent of the US population are on it – they expect to find local retailers there. And they expect those retailers to have websites, as well as social presence. Half the respondents to Time Warner Cable’s Small Business Technology Impact Study said they avoided businesses without websites, believing they are not credible. Thirty percent said they may not buy from a company without a social media presence, with females and millennials rejecting businesses without social at an even higher rate. Fifty percent of millennials stated they preferred businesses with active Facebook pages.

Ninety percent of the small retailers who do use social media are on Facebook. In fact, many substitute their Facebook pages for websites, a solution that, in spite of the platform’s popularity and influence, fails to impress potential customers for whom a web presence signals credibility. Bottom line? Small retailers need to think bigger and go with both a site and social for maximum success.

What’s Keeping Indie Retailers Off Social Media
With so much to gain (or lose) and so much competition, why are some indies ignoring or under-utilizing social? Respondents to the recent Clutch 2017 Small Business Social Media Survey say the primary barriers are the time social requires and doubts about ROI. And a recently released study from Infusionsoft says that half of the small businesses they surveyed had no idea what their ROI was and 14 percent believed their investment in social was not delivering a quantifiable payoff. Still, half said they plan to push forward with their online efforts.

From Special Offers to Personal Stories: Social Is Empowering the Indies
While some are missing out on the benefits of social media, many indie retailers are enjoying brand exposure and growth in traffic – both in-store and on the web. Their tactics include:

Storytelling: Millennials especially respond to the personal stories of entrepreneurs, told on social platforms like Facebook or on a website.

Special Offers: Those old reliable – coupons and special offers – are finding a new life on social.

Seasonal Events: In store-events, promoted on Facebook and sometimes livestreamed, are proving to have strong millennial appeal.

How To’s: Recipes, demonstrations, useful information of all kinds are social gold –

especially in video format on Facebook or YouTube.

Charity Tie-Ins: Socially conscious millennials tend to be responsive to social media-based tie-ins to local charities and community fundraisers.

Dialogue: Website visitors and social media followers alike expect responses to their comments and/or questions. Savvy retailers also monitor the major review platforms like Yelp for mentions of their business. Whether positive or negative, they leave a response.

Mobilization: Mobile technology is shaping the nature of shopping. Responsive design that makes websites mobile friendly is essential. And merchants who offer mobile payment options are cashing in with – you guessed it – the millennials.

Social media is no passing fad. Generation Z, the demographic wave behind the millennials, are true digital natives who live the online life. That includes not just online browsing but discovering and connecting with physical stores in their neighborhoods –

often the indies. And the place where this next generation is most likely to connect is in the palm of their hands – on their phone or tablet. Smart indies will make sure they’re there to meet them.

 

Levin Retail Tenants Report Positive Seasonal Outlook, Robust Hiring Plans

Our Annual Pre-Holiday Survey Confirms Digital Marketing Momentum

Results of Levin Management Corporation’s (LMC’s) annual Pre-Holiday Survey of our retail tenants are in and the news is more than good, with respondents reporting robust hiring plans and continued digital marketing momentum. The poll of tenants within our 95-property, 13 million-square-foot portfolio explores year-to-date performance and expectations for the critical holiday shopping season. As regional leaders in commercial real estate leasing we not only welcome these findings, but look forward to more positive retail trends ahead.

Poll Respondents Expect both Sales and Seasonal Hiring to Rise
An impressive 83.2 percent of our survey respondents project holiday sales to be at the same or a higher level than last year. A full 45.0 percent plan to add seasonal staff – well above the average 29.8 percent reporting seasonal hiring in our prior five Pre-Holiday polls (2011-2015).

LMC President Matthew K. Harding, says strong year-to-date performance is behind retail tenant optimism. In fact, 64.3 percent of survey participants reported year-to-date sales at the same or higher volume than at this time in 2015 – compared to the 2011-2015 polling average of 57.9 percent.

LMC Survey Results Mirror Findings of National Studies
LMC tenants are not alone in their optimistic outlook. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurant sales) to reach $655.8 billion – an increase of 3.6 percent over 2015. This compares to a 10-year average of 2.5 percent. Similar studies by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), Kantar Retail and Deloitte project holiday sales to increase by 3.3, 3.8 and 3.6-4.0 percent, respectively. Further, ICSC reports 91 percent of consumers plan to holiday shop at physical stores.

Survey Respondents Predict Early Holiday Shopping Surge
LMC tenants expect their customers to shop early this year. A full 24.0 percent said they anticipate their sales will peak prior to Thanksgiving. Another 23.5 percent expect their sales peak during the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend. The balance of respondents’ expectations for peak sales are spread among early December (12.3 percent), mid-December (18.1 percent) and the weekend before Christmas (16.2 percent). Only 5.9 percent expect their peak sales to fall between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Tech-Stacked Marketing Will Rule 2016 Holiday Shopping Season
Technology-centered marketing remains an ongoing priority, say our survey respondents. The Pre-Holiday survey asked those whose companies are embracing mobile apps, social media, email, texting and other platforms to compare their amount of digital marketing year over year. A full 94.0 percent reported they will incorporate the same or more tech-centered marketing this holiday season.

“This is smart planning,” noted Melissa Sievwright, LMC’s vice president of marketing. “Deloitte forecasts that digital interactions – consumers’ use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers – will influence 67 percent of brick-and-mortar sales during the 2016 holiday season. In turn, our tenants recognize the importance of reaching their customers via digital platforms – both prior to and during store visits.”

Email and Social Media are Top Promotional Channels. In-Store Promotions Include Digital Coupons, Loyalty Programs and Discounts
Survey participants who are actively using technology to reach shoppers outside their stores favor email (74.7 percent) and social media (73.1 percent). Other top channels include text messaging (30.6 percent), banner and other internet advertising (30.6 percent), and digital ads targeted to mobile devices (25.3 percent). For in-store reach, popular tools include digital coupons, discounts, loyalty points and/or rapid payment (73.8 percent); free Wi-Fi (37.8 percent); post-sale online surveys (35.4 percent); and electronic receipts (29.9 percent).

Social Media is Strong Element in Digital Marketing Equation
Facebook reports the holiday season brings more posts, shares and comments than any other time of the year. Deloitte notes that social platforms – such as Facebook and Pinterest – are “shaping what people think a great shopping experience is – a fast, highly-curated assortment with access to visuals, information, and buying sources.”

Among survey respondents, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform, used by 89.9 percent of those who incorporate social media into their marketing efforts. Other popular outlets included Instagram (40.5 percent), Twitter (33.3 percent), Google+ (27.4 percent) and Pinterest (10.1 percent).

“Social is a vital part of the digital marketing equation,” Sievwright said. “Our tenants are using these channels to announce in-store sales and experiences, and for post-event coverage. Instagram and Pinterest, since they are so visual, are popular choices.” An emerging retail trend to watch: live broadcasts from events on Facebook’s Livestream and Twitter’s Periscope.

For the first time, survey participants were asked whether they are enhancing their social media presence with paid options. Of respondents who use social media for marketing, 37.5 percent indicated they are leveraging opportunities like Facebook’s sponsored content or ads.

Our Retail Sentiment research will continue in 2017. In January, we’ll be gauging retailers’ outlooks for 2017, and in June, we’ll report mid-year progress and explore technology issues.

Levin Mid-Year Survey Yields Strongest YTD Sales Report in Poll’s History

Influential Retail Real Estate Trends Include Technology and E-Commerce
The results of our mid-year Retail Sentiment Survey are in and the news is good, with our tenants reporting strong year-to-date performance. They’re optimistic about the months ahead and are continuing to leverage technology to stay competitive in the e-commerce-influenced retail landscape.

Retail Real Estate Tenants Cite Numerous Causes for Optimism
Our latest poll of store managers in our 95-property, 13 million-square-foot shopping center portfolio yielded the strongest percentage (65.8 percent) of participants in the survey’s five-year history reporting mid-year sales at the same or a higher volume year over year. This represents a jump from 51.9 percent reporting same-or-higher sales at mid-year 2015 and 42.9 percent at mid-year 2014. Similarly, 61.3 percent of participants reported the same or a higher volume of shopper traffic to date in 2016 compared to 2015.

“Retail is experiencing solid momentum following the stock market volatility and bankruptcy announcements that kicked off the year,” said our president Matthew K. Harding. “The latest retail sales data from the U.S. Commerce Department, which shows a 2.4 percent year-over-year increase for March to May, reinforces what our tenants are saying. At this year’s International Council of Shopping Centers’ well-attended RECon in Las Vegas, expansion was an overarching theme among national retailers – another confirmation of a positive trajectory.”

So, it’s no surprise that a full 67.0 percent of our survey participants expect sales to continue at the same pace or improve through the remainder of 2016.

The Digital Revolution is Here to Stay
Like most savvy retailers, tenants at our leased and managed properties are employing digital technology – such as online ads, mobile apps, social media, email and texting – to attract customers to their stores. And our survey found that technology’s importance is growing. Of respondents active in tech-centered marketing, 42.4 percent have upped its usage year over year; while 52.7 percent said their usage levels had remained at the same level.

Retail Real Estate Trends: Digital is Reaching Customers Everywhere
When it comes to engaging customers in-store, mobile device apps (such as those for coupons, discounts, loyalty points and/or rapid payment) are the most popular tools – employed by 69.9 percent of respondents active in tech-centered marketing. Levin tenants appear to be on the right track; a recent ICSC customer engagement survey found that two thirds of consumers in the U.S. use their mobile devices while shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores. Other popular tools among survey participants include free in-store Wi-Fi (49.3 percent), post-sale online surveys (41.9 percent) and electronic receipts (28.7 percent).

Levin tenants are going with tech to reach customers outside their stores. “For the second year, social media and email ranked as most popular among survey respondents active in tech-centered marketing, used by 79.4 and 78.1 percent, respectively,” said Melissa Sievwright, vice president of marketing. “The power of these tools is clear, and social should be on everyone’s radar. In fact, a Deloitte study found that ‘shoppers are 29 percent more likely to make a purchase the same day when they use social media to help shop.’ ”

Facebook Leads the Social Media Marketing Pack
Among Levin survey participants with social media in their marketing mix, Facebook dominates, with 91.3 percent of respondents using it. Other popular platforms include Twitter (36.9 percent), Instagram (34.2 percent) and Google+ (32.2 percent).

Business Models are Evolving as Tech Expands
As bricks-and-mortar stores seek success online, many retailers are finding new ways to serve and engage customers. Our retail real estate tenants are no exception. In our mid-year 2016 poll, 38.2 percent of participants indicated they have adapted their business model in response to e-commerce growth.

Those respondents are adding in-store services and incentives (62.7 percent), offering in-store pickup and returns options for online purchases (57.6 percent); and/or increasing collaboration with their online counterparts (44.1 percent). Some are altering store inventory (35.6 percent); introducing “experience” draws (30.5 percent); and/or changing their store prototypes (13.6 percent).

“We expect the experiential retail trend, especially, to gain momentum,” Sievwright said. “The re-invention of this industry is well underway, driven both by tech advances and new shopper preferences. Millennials and Baby Boomers alike are opting to invest in experiences over things. Smart companies are melding lifestyle with shopping and giving consumers a reason to step into the store.”

Study Finds That the Vast Majority of Americans Shop Online

But…Bricks-and-Mortar Stores Are Still Dominant by a Wide Margin
Online shopping is no longer a trend. It’s now a way of life in America, with 96 percent of the respondents in a recent study saying they shop online. All demographic groups – from Millennials to Seniors – are turning to their various screens for making a purchase. And, they’re loving the experience, ranking it ahead of smartphone GPS and streaming media as “something they can’t live without.” Big Commerce, an e-commerce platform, and Kelton Global, research consultants, discovered these facts and more in a March 2016 study of 1,000 shoppers. Their findings have been reported by Chain Store Age (see article) and other retail industry media.

The massive report is also well worth a read for leaders in retail real estate. But before you dive into all the findings, check out these ten highlights.

1.Good News for Retail Real Estate
Shoppers love online, but 64 percent of those surveyed still buy in bricks-and-mortars. This includes Millennials – 44 percent said they shop in stores. Women make more shopping trips than men. Men buy more online.

2.More Good News for Retail Real Estate
Survey respondents said their least favorite aspects of online shopping were: inability to touch and feel merchandise, shipping charges, exchanges, and waiting for delivery.

3.Brick-and-Mortar Websites are Online Shopping Hubs
Twenty-five percent of respondents in the Big Commerce study had shopped at the website of a brick-and-mortar store.

 4.Favorite Features of Online Shopping
No surprises here. Shoppers choose online for convenience and speed of sale.

 5.Most Online Dollars Go to E-Commerce Marketplaces
Big Commerce’s respondents spent an average of $488 last year on sites like Amazon and eBay. Their second highest spending level was on the sites of major online/offline brands ($409).

6.What Do Online Shoppers Want on Websites?
Online shoppers want images, video demonstrations, customer reviews, and product comparison – all the things that bring an item to life.

 7.How Do Shoppers Choose an E-Commerce Site?
Price is the main driver (87 percent), followed closely by free shipping and speed (80 percent).

8.Shipping Costs are a Major Stumbling Block to Online Sales
Online shoppers are super-resistant to paying for shipping. Two-thirds of those in the Big Commerce study said they had abandoned their shopping carts when they saw the shipping charges.

9.Social Commerce is on the Rise

Thirty percent of the respondents said they were open to buying through a social media network. More than half the Millennials were ready to shop on social. Facebook and Pinterest were the social platforms of choice.

10.Online Shopping is Everywhere and Round the Clock
In retail stores, in the car, in the office – 24/7 – people are shopping online. Forty-three percent shop in bed and 20 percent shop while in the bathroom. Ten percent admit to shopping under the influence of alcohol (13 percent of them Millennials and 17 percent Gen-Xers). Maybe this is why 42 percent of Big Commerce’s respondents admitted regretting an online purchase, and 21 percent said they had bought something online “by accident.”