Tapping Social Networks to Clinch Sales

Article excerpt

Brick and mortar stores like Target and Walmart are engaging heavily with social networks, notably Pinterest, to clinch holiday sales.

"Showrooming" is no longer a bad word.

Just a few years ago, the retail industry was deeply shaken by a growing trend in store browsing -- shoppers wandering around the aisles with their cellphones, surveying the merchandise while looking online for somewhere else to buy it for less.

Some retailers explored blocking Internet service in stores. Others swapped out bar codes to make them incompatible with their competitors'. But ultimately, most major retailers decided that many customers would be on their phones regardless of what stores did -- so they decided to get on their customers' screens.

With online retail competition increasing, nowhere is that frantic embrace more evident this year than in the parade of partnerships and projects traditional retailers have formed with digital companies, many of them for the holidays.

"We want to be where the consumer is," Gregg W. Steinhafel, the chief executive of Target, said in an interview.

"I think it's like anything that hits you with a ton of bricks, it requires you to step back and say, 'O.K., it's very sobering, now what does this mean for us?"' he said. "We ultimately concluded that if that's the way the guest is going to live and shop, then we want to be a showroom. And we love showrooming -- provided we can capture that sale."

For Target and many other retailers, among this season's favorites is Pinterest, which Casey Carl, the president of multichannel at Target, described as "one of the social platforms where it's actually not only about sharing."

"It's not just about, 'Hey, look what I had for dinner!' It's about products," he said.

There are holiday-party-planning boards for Target Red Card holders. Nordstrom, which already released its holiday catalog on Pinterest, said it would station signs in its 117 full-line stores that highlight some of its popularly pinned wares.

Pinterest itself was to start a new feature on Wednesday, a "Holiday Gift" category that would not only offer shoppers gift ideas but give retailers yet another display window -- this one online -- for their items.

"Pinterest is a service about connecting with things, things you have, things you like, things you want," said Steve Patrizi, the head of partner marketing for the nearly four-year-old company. "So for retailers, it's a no-brainer. Go where people are already looking for things."

But as the title "multichannel" or "omni-channel" coordinator might suggest, most major retailers are not linking themselves to just one social media site.

Walmart is leveraging Facebook and Google. Toys "R" Us is pushing hard on YouTube. Sears is on Instagram and hosting holiday parties on Twitter.

According to comScore, which collects and analyzes online data, Pinterest has plenty of competition. Compared to its more than 43 million unique visitors in October, Twitter had 64 million, and Facebook towered over its neighbors with more than 178 million unique visitors.

And while shoppers referred from Pinterest to retailers spent more, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark, those referred from Facebook were buying more frequently. During a four-week period in October and November, customers referred from Facebook spent an average of $54.64 per order, compared with an average of $123.50 per order from Pinterest, IBM found. …