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The value of conversation

Can you measure the importance of what is said about your brand and products on social networks?

Being able to monitor what is said about your brand and product on the internet has become a vital part of fashion retailing. Forward-looking retailers aren’t just listening to what’s out there, they are also reacting to it.

But if it’s not realistic to have a team of staff monitoring all the sites around the clock, how can you use technology to ensure you can make sense of everything that’s said about you?

“Today, social media can be powerful enough to make or break brand names, and for that reason retailers are starting to monitor web visibility very closely,” says Adam Vincenzini, head of digital at social media agency Paratus Communications. “Conversations on social networks can be analysed for market research purposes, to gauge customer reactions to campaigns and new ranges, and for crisis management when things go wrong. So you really need technology and people in place, monitoring relevant chat rooms, and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, 24/7.”

“A good fashion marketing team will be aware of what’s trending on social networks at any given time,” says Paul Broome, chief technology officer at systems provider Torex. “Through monitoring Twitter and Facebook, they’ll know what promotions competitors are doing, which celebrity looks are most talked about and who’s buying what. Even small retailers can use free social media tracking tools such as TweetDeck, HootSuite and Monitter to gain valuable insights into trends, and potentially see how customers are responding to their own products and brand marketing.”

Keeping watch

White Stuff cross-channel director Alison Lancaster says: “We keep a watchful eye on what’s going on within social networks. We’re expecting to do more with this data in future and are thinking about how to use channels such as Facebook and Twitter most effectively, but it is always in keeping with our brand ethos.”

White Stuff views social media as a tool for brand engagement and customer service rather than sales-driving insight. The retailer takes action if negative feedback is picked up on Facebook and Twitter, for example.

Social networking is flourishing within the White Stuff website and is actually driving business decisions. The retailer’s just relaunched website,, has been geared up for cross-channel customer relationship management activities, and White Stuff has teamed with user-generated content specialist Bazaarvoice to ensure customer reviews are used to create real commercial value for the company.

“Our customers are great brand advocates for us, so the product recommendations are becoming an important part of the site,” says Lancaster.

The company is also using its website and stores to create social emails, so signed-up customers are now segmented and data on how customers shop the site is used in product and marketing planning. “It’s about becoming a more customer-centric retailer,” says Lancaster. “We are almost in the position of ‘we know what you want before you do’.”

Social media analytics can also address campaign management – monitoring how well or badly promotions are doing, spotting best-sellers and slow movers. Facebook wants to work closely with retailers to help them build commercial activities around insights from the ‘like’ button, for instance.

It could help them tailor ranges, send out timely deals and even structure pricing based on ‘like’ button data.

Speaking at the Internet Retailing 2011 conference, Facebook head of commerce partnerships Gavin Sathianathan said: “We work in this way with Asos and Burberry, for instance. We sit down with them and carve out deep personal experiences for customers.”

Page customisation

Facebook is developing new ways for users to discuss their shopping experiences in the social media world, creating data from which to gather insight.

Customisation of a fashion brand’s Facebook page will mean specific ‘social’ activities discussed will be published back to Facebook. “Retailers will also be able to create custom actions – for example ‘I want this dress’ or ‘I just listened to this song’. This creates more authentic ways for people to talk about your business and for people to share it with their friends,” says Sathianathan.

Monetising is the next step. One option might be to offer a 10% discount to customers who send a ‘like’ or ‘want’ alert to a friend.

New social media sites are crowding into the market., which launched in October with 22,000 registered retailers, wants to become a trusted review hub. The idea is for shoppers to talk about products honestly on the site and across other social media.

Shopow is developing social commerce software, which will integrate with retailers’ websites in order to collect reviews and produce advanced social and retail analytics. This all amounts to endless digital conversations that fashion retailers will monitor and analyse, so will they have the tools to perform it all?

“There are some great free tools that will give you reports on social media activity around your brand. They are simple to use, but they do still require someone … making judgment calls about the language being used, and what the sentiment really is,” says Vincenzini. For instance, if a new Superdry coat is being described as ‘wicked’, are these tweets being counted as positive?

Broome says social media insight tools become valuable when they are connected back into the PoS systems, integrated with stock control and allow customer contact with the retailer to be recorded at the in-store point of sale. To this end, Torex has developed a cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) solution called Snapper.

“The Snapper app can provide a reputation management dashboard for general monitoring of the social networks, and will, among other things, track pricing on competitor sites, but it also sits on the PoS, and therefore keeps retailers in touch with how their social commerce campaigns are performing,” says Broome.

“When SMS-based offers get sent out, or offers made through Facebook or Twitter streams, they have unique user codes with them. These are registered at the PoS when a customer takes up the offer, so you can watch how your campaign is going, and extend or pull it accordingly,” he explains.

The advantages are you can ensure you have the right stock in-store for the campaign as it progresses, and stop the promotion in certain areas where the footwear, jeans or dresses are selling out too fast. You also know who came in and bought what, which is valuable information for marketing activities.

Make it relevant

Sceptics suggest retailers would do better to plough resources into getting the basics of ecommerce right before getting tied up in social media data. “The danger is measuring for measuring’s sake. Too few retailers know what they want to do with the data,” says Michael Ross, chief executive of ecommerce trading solutions provider eCommera. “The fact that you’ve got 762 ‘likes’ might be irrelevant. Perhaps it becomes interesting if you can pinpoint the 100 customers who have communicated likes to their friends most prolifically and generated over £500 sales for you. Then the measuring can lead to commercially powerful information with which to work.”

Click here to download the IT in Fashion report

Recent research by eCommera revealed that 73% of ecommerce directors admit to a lack of analytical skills and resources in their businesses as a key challenge to growth. Ecommerce is highly data intensive, and the social nature of the web will only make this unwieldy marketplace more difficult to keep a grip on. Staying ‘social’ will be an ongoing challenge. 

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