Online retailers turn to social networks for holiday profits

Online shopping becomes more social as big retailers turn to Facebook, Twitter, Google+

Buying things has always been social.

That's the thinking at Zappos.com, one of the largest online shoe and clothing stores. And that's why the Nevada-based company turns to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to answer customer questions and complaints, and to tell fans about their funky company culture.

It's also why Zappos executives have tried to make the site itself more social and by investing time, money and staff to grow the company's presence on Facebook and Twitter.

According to Nate Luman, Facebook marketing lead for Zappos, all of these social efforts have been paying off - especially during this holiday season.

"We definitely see social networks as a source of traffic to the Website leading to sales," said Luman, adding that Zappos has had more social networking-driven traffic this year than ever before. "We recognize the importance of Facebook and see a lot of opportunity driving traffic and sales, as well as facilitating top-of-funnel brand interaction. Over the course of the year, we structured our team to support the growth of these efforts."

The marketing and sales teams at Zappos aren't the only ones working hard to tie their online sales in with social networking.

Many major retailers are integrating online sales with social networking during the holiday season.

"This is really just the beginning," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "Some retailers are reporting up to 300% growth as a result of social networking and that makes this technology likely the difference between success and failure during these hard times. It has become critical to the survival of some retailers."

Many retailers have turned to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to offer online fans sales alerts and special offers. They also use social media to push some of the hottest -- or even slow-moving -- products.

Target, Macy's, Best Buy and Dell are all working to integrate their sales efforts with social networks.

"With online commerce revenue rocketing forward at 15% growth this year, it is incumbent on brands to create and leverage any advantage they can generate for themselves among online shoppers," noted Hadley Reynolds, an analyst with IDC.

Reynolds and other analysts agree that Facebook seems to be the most influential social network, largely due to its massive global reach with an approximate 800 million worldwide user base.

"Wal-Mart, for example, has developed a gift recommendation Facebook application," said Reynolds. "Facebook is clearly the sweet spot, with its audience reach, the success of its "like" program and the level of activity...."

Zappos' Luman noted that Facebook has become a great social network to support many of their retail initiatives, like customer service, customer outreach and marketing.

"Customer service is natural and conversational on our fan page wall," he said. "We make it a point to respond to every post on our wall. We see Facebook facilitating another level of our customer service by enabling fans to interact with us and take part in our culture."

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