Retail Social Media: Small Business vs. National Chain
By Alicia Deily and Lindsey Jones
Social media is imperative to the success of a business. When companies interact with consumers through these websites, they are more likely to attract new customers and develop stronger loyalty with current ones. We wanted to compare a local retail business with a national retail chain to see the differences and similarities in their social media usage.
Buffalo Exchange is a clothing store that buys and sells gently worn clothing and accessories. The store was first established in 1974 in Tucson, Arizona. After the initial success, the business was franchised and now can be found in 15 states. There are 42 stores and 3 franchises which collectively create $72.9 million a year in revenue (as of Dec 2011). Buffalo Exchange is an independent and privately held company. They have Boston-area locations on Harvard Avenue in Allston and in Davis Square in Somerville.
We got in touch with Michelle Livingston, Marketing Director, to learn more about how they manage their social media. The first few search engine results of the store are: the company’s website, Twitter, Facebook and blog. Their website is extremely user friendly and engaging. It features information about the history of the business, locations, current events, customer reviews and publicity.
The company has a very healthy Twitter feed. They have over 5,000 followers and almost 2,000 tweets. Their tweets are very useful and interactive that appeal to their target customers.
Buffalo Exchange has a very strong Facebook presence. They have over 30,000 likes. The company uses Facebook to promote deals and upcoming events. They are active on other websites like Tumblr, Myspace, Pinterest, Flickr, and Youtube.
This company jumped on the social media bandwagon early. By 2003, Buffalo Exchange had been updating their bulletins on their website more frequently. Then, in 2004, Buffalo Exchange began their Myspace account. In 2007, the company joined Youtube and Facebook. Their Flickr and Twitter accounts were established in 2007. In 2010 they began their blog. Most recently, in 2011 the company established an Iphone application for their customers.
Buffalo Exchange believes that social media is a fun yet powerful way that they can interact with their customers. They recognize and take full advantage of the fact that social media acts as free advertising for their business. Buffalo Exchange uses Hootsuite in order to manage their social media presence. They have a schedule for posting blog posts and bulletins on their website. Buffalo Exchange uses Google analytics to measure the effectiveness of their online presence. They have noticed that their Facebook page is by far the most successful for reaching their customers.
Buffalo Exchange is a prime example of a company using social media effectively. They started gaining a following early and it has strengthened over the years. Although the company is a national chain, their stores often have the feeling of a local boutique. Our suggestion to them would be to further emphasize this feeling through their use social media. Their online presence could be even more connected to the communities where their stores are located. For example, they could promote local bands and local events. Focusing on the ‘small boutique’ feeling of their stores will drive more traffic and help them gain an even stronger following.
Buffalo Exchange realizes that their online presence has a large impact on their success, and that their target market responds effectively to social media. Michelle said it best with this summary:“Our target audience is the driver for our decisions”. As long as the company continues to cater to their customer’s interests and needs, they will be successful. We were very impressed with their extensive use of social media.
Tiny Hanger is a local boutique located on Coolidge Corner in Brookline. They offer fun clothing and accessories to children ages 6 and under. They also offer exclusive designer goods and handmade crafts. Currently they have a Twitter feed a Facebook page and a Blogspot blog. They also have a website.
We interviewed its owner, Lucia Berman-Rossi. Tiny Hanger opened in October of 2011; this is when they began using Facebook and Twitter. Lucia said that it was obvious Tiny Hanger needed a social media presence. She said that everyone is on Facebook and it has become essential for businesses to connect with their customers there.
They currently update their website using Dreamweaver but due to the fact that it is so complicated, they do not update as frequently as they would like to. They end up using Facebook more. Lucia feels that the website is not where she wants it to be so they are switching their website to WordPress. She hopes that this will make frequent updates easier and less time consuming.
“Facebook by far is the most successful social media site. People will come into the store and specifically ask for clothing items they have seen highlighted on the Facebook page” said Lucia.
She is still getting used to Twitter but she tries to tweet several times a day. Eventually, she would like to tweet more interesting and useful articles along with style advice. She feels that the Blogspot blog is probably the least effective medium so far but they still feel it is important to maintain for the store to have a complete online presence.
Currently it is just Lucia and her husband managing Tiny Hanger’s social media. She is planning on having Christa Tuon, the store’s Visual Merchandiser, take on some of the responsibilities. Christa said “I think Tiny Hanger is taking advantage of social media and headed in the right direction however, more needs to be done in the acquisition of ‘followers’ and ‘friends’. Tiny Hanger is still a young company and if it stays on the right path, it will really take off.”
Tiny Hanger does have a Hootsuite account but Lucia has not had time to fully figure out how to effectively use it. With Christa’s help, Lucia would eventually like to get on a social media calendar to streamline all of their outlets. As for analytics, Lucia explained that they do use Google Analytics but since they have been so busy with the store, she barely has had time to look at it. She is aware of the benefits and would like to utilize it more when she recieves more help.
The business uses social media to promote special events and offers. They are involved locally and they have held events like “Story-Time” and “How to Make Your Own Baby Food.” For the baby-food event, she brought in an outside source to teach customers how to make their own baby food. She promoted it through Facebook and Twitter and so did the outside source. People came to the event specifically because they saw it promoted heavily online. This shows how effective social media can be locally.
However, Lucia says that she will often run sales that last only a day and promote them through Facebook or Twitter. She does not feel that this is effective because the sales are too short and does not give customers sufficient time to make it into the store. If she ran a longer sale, she believes she would better be able to better drive traffic through online promotion.
Social media is important to Tiny Hanger because it creates customer loyalty. Fans can follow events and promotions more easily. It also drives traffic especially when new shipments arrive, people see specific items they want and come to the store looking for them. Customers lead busy lives and they do not have a lot of time to spend online. Tiny Hanger has to keep this in mind when posting.
Lucia feels that social media is great because it is “free, easy and people use it.” But the downside is that it is a limited audience and that it is easy for a business to “rely on it too much”. She guesses that only about 25% of her customer base followers her on Twitter or Facebook. She said that she has posted information about upcoming events online and then realize that she forgot to put up posters in the physical store. In this case she estimates that she missed 75% of her customers or potential customers by relying too heavily on social media.
One suggestion for Tiny Hanger is that they create a mobile application for busy parents on the go. Creating an Iphone-friendly application would be yet another way to effectively reach their target market. For being such a new business, Tiny Hanger has done an excellent job of maintaining an online presence. If they keep up their momentum, we are sure that they will continue to grow and gain followers.
Whether a business is a national chain or a local boutique, social media is essential to connect with current and future customers. Buffalo Exchange and Tiny Hanger are two examples of businesses that know how to effectively reach their target market with social media. Both businesses recognize that having a heavy online presence is essentially free advertising and they take advantage of this.