How Social Media can Impact the 5 Stages of the Retail Customer Journey

Another day brings yet another headline of a retailer deciding to shutter some of their stores. Foot traffic to brick and mortar stores continues to drop despite research studies that show consumers still want to purchase in store. The United States is particularly saturated with retail space as compared to Europe or other parts of the world. As stores close, it increases the need for a greater focus on digital marketing, social media engagement and mobile experiences.

I see five stages of the retail customer journey: awareness, consideration, purchase, loyalty and advocacy. Social is one of the few mediums where you can authentically engage with consumers during each stage:

Drive Consumer Awareness through Social Media

There is an abundance of noise in the world around us. Awareness may begin with an ad, a friend’s social media post, or an offline interaction. Brands have less control than ever over creating a consumer’s first impression of their product or service. Consumers look to social for word-of-mouth referrals, recommendations from influencers, or brand promotions. Paid social media advertising is usually essential to drive awareness within product categories. And even if a retailer has name-brand recognition, consumers may not be aware of products offered as they move into the consideration phase. For example, a children’s clothes company may be known for back-to-school items, but parents may not realize that the retailer also sells bathing suits. An office supply store is a great place for picking up paper and pens, but consumers might not realize they can get their cracked phone screen repaired there, too.

Retailer Staplers shared with their social community news that New England Patriots tight end Rob Grownkowski had brought his phone in for repairs, raising awareness of their offerings via Twitter.

Use Social media to help Influence Consideration

Consideration means it’s time to decide where to purchase that car, dress, or bouquet of flowers. 81% of shoppers conduct online research before purchasing. They are reading other customer reviews, seeking out blogger opinions, searching via Google, and scouring their social media network for opinions. A whopping 74% use social media to guide their purchase decisions. And 60% of those actually engage with the brand on their social channels prior to purchase. It’s essential during the consideration phase to have a robust content marketing program that entices consumers to choose your brand. If your social content is old or only jammed with e-commerce links, brands risk turning consumers off.

A whopping 74% of shoppers use social media to guide their purchase decisions.


Use Social Media Promotions to Drive Purchases

During the purchase phase, consumers are seeking rewards and promotions, browsing actively via their mobile phone, and are open to being driven from social channels to in-store visits or e-commerce. (Some people will purchase online, but many more will visit a store.) Paid social marketing (specifically retargeting off web visits) as well as shoppable social links effectively drive to conversion. Using social promotions to drive in-store saves on shipping costs as well as potentially increases the total sale. Research shows that when people pick up merchandise in-store or visit to shop, they are more likely to add other items to their shopping cart.

Why Social Media can play a Critical Role during the Loyalty Stage

Loyalty is the key to profitability. According to Gartner Group, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60% to 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5% to 20%. And, 80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your existing customers. At this stage of the journey, marketing and care teams must be on the same page to ensure a consistent customer experience. On social media, customers expect quick and accurate responses to queries. Usually, more people will contact your customer care team than follow your brand on social channels. Ensuring an outstanding experience with your social care team is just as critical as via phone, chat, email, or in person. Too many brands fail to invest enough time, attention, and resources into social care. All of their carefully planned and executed marketing campaigns are for naught if they only sell to that consumer once.

Marketing and care teams must be on the same page to ensure a consistent customer experience.


It’s not just about care. Marketing also has an important role to play during the loyalty stage. Social media is one of the most critical ways to sustain brand affinity between purchases. It may be weeks, months, or years between purchases (depending on your category). Your hard work during the awareness phase is lost if you don’t keep up the communication during this mid-funnel marketing stage. We know that customers who engage on social media spend 20-40% more in the long term.

Creative marketers now incorporate social media into their loyalty programs in innovative ways. Foot Locker releases new products via social media; loyal sneakerheads subscribe to stay in the know and make plans for visiting stores. Alice + Olivia launched a private Instagram channel for top consumers. Social media may be a popular place for discounts and sales, but savvy brands know that loyalty is even more important to lifetime customer value.

How Social Media can Create Advocates

Advocacy is, of course, the ultimate goal for social media marketers. Cultivating non-paid advocates and micro-influencers to share your products, services, and messages reduces advertising costs and statistics show that word of mouth marketing is far more effective than advertising. Apple spends 1/3 of what Samsung spends to promote smart phones equating to a savings of almost $3 billion.

The bottom line: Retailers must bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds in order to stay profitable. And social helps them do it seamlessly and effectively.

Editor’s note: If you’d like to hear more about the changing customer journey for brands across verticals, join us at Smart Social NYC on May 23rd. We’ll also dive into secrets of cult brands, staying true to your values as a brand, and the power of storytelling.

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Boasting 20+ years experience in marketing from direct mail to web design, email marketing, and social media, Patricia also co-founded and managed a start-up, where she was recognized as leading female entrepreneur. Acting as a digital business consultant to Spredfast prospects and customers, Patricia draws on her wide knowledge of social strategy, from best practices to content strategy and influencer programs.