Holiday shopping gets social

blackfridayFacebookRetailers and sellers looking for innovative ways to reach their customers this holiday season are looking towards social media as an emerging marketing and business tool.  According to a study by, almost half of retailers surveyed said they would increase their use of social media this holiday season. So it’s no surprise that to kick off the season, retailers from Best Buy to Barney’s used social networking sites on Black Friday to tell eager shoppers about bargains, discuss purchases, and help solve customer service issues.

Retailers continue to use contests and sweepstakes to help drum up holiday shopping excitement. Sears held a Facebook sweepstakes for lucky customers to win gift cards and buy items at Black Friday prices early.

Real time communication on sites like Twitter let retailers tell consumers about short-lived promotions, even those lasting only a few hours. Taking advantage of this, Best Buy is publishing a “deal of the day” over the entire holiday period.

Retailers are getting better at using social media as a customer service tool. To give customers a better shopping experience on Black Friday, Mall of America used Twitter to tell consumers which parking areas were full and directed customers to better places to park.

According to a RazorFish study, around 40% of social media users that friend and follow brands do so because they want exclusive deals. Retailers like Disney Stores and Staples took advantage of this by offering sneak peeks into their Black Friday sales and shared exclusive bargains with their Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

Social media became a major platform for Cyber Monday with retailers like Amazon flooding Twitter with Cyber Monday deals.  Creating deeper involvement with customers, Toys R Us used crowd sourcing for sales, letting friends and followers vote to determine which holiday merchandise went on sale on Cyber Monday.

The benefits are obvious. Retailers are wise to be where their customers and prospective customers are this holiday season. They are benefiting from earned media as their promotional messages are being spread through social networks for them (once deals are posted, consumers often repost them and share them with friends). And customers are shopping smarter by combing Facebook and Twitter to track holiday sales. Still, it will be interesting to see what social media marketing will do to lift holiday sales. This is the first year in which social media is playing such an important role and with the Black Friday rise in retail spending coupled with the growth of Cyber Monday traffic, social media marketing is already proving to be more cost effective than traditional advertising this holiday season.