Social media could have been tailor made for retailers. Sure, you may know your regular customers and say “hello” to them when they make their purchase. But before the advent of social media, that was probably the only affordable way to keep in touch with them.
High end stores could maybe afford a printed newsletter every now and then.
Smaller stores with regular purchases could maybe use a loyalty card (usually with a rubber stamp for each purchase).
But not much more.
Now retailers can use various methods to keep customers loyal and informed.
Probably the easiest social media presence to set up is a Facebook page. They have a built in process that takes you step by step through the initial page creation and after that it's just a matter of keeping the page up to date and encouraging your customers to join your page.
The encouragement process is often by way of special offers and events but only for people who have signed up to your page.
This method alone can help you to increase customer loyalty as well as increase their spending.
That said, people will get bored quickly if all you do with your social media is try to sell things to them. That's not why they thought they logged onto Facebook – even though the number of adverts on that site tell you that they are being treated more and more commercially.
Gossip is good – you can tell people about birthdays, your pets, even what you did at the weekend or last night so long as it's fit for public discussion!
The more you can use your social media to build up a bond with your regular customers, the better.
Once you've built up a number of people on your company Facebook page, you can also use the advertising function on that site to target more potential customers. There's an excellent drill down facility on their advertising panel that will help you to do this although you need to be aware that – much the same as Google's AdWords – it's designed to line Facebook's pocket first and foremost so it's best to get some help from an expert if you don't want to spend more than you bargained for.
For retailers, social media also expands to mobile phone communications.
It's easy to ask your customers to sign up for text messages that contain news and special offers from your company. So long as you keep the number of messages reasonable and the value they offer high, they can be an excellent way to drum up trade almost instantly.
Text messages have a high “open” rate – well over 9 out of every 10 messages sent are read within a few minutes of being sent.
Which means that if you've got an empty shop or restaurant or whatever and can make a compelling offer, you can change that round very quickly. It's not unheard of for restaurants who've used text offers to have a queue at the door later that day. The same goes for retailers who offer a flash sale but only to people who've received the text.