Online shopping is growing around the world, but is this affecting how people are shopping in physical stores? The truth is, online shopping is a two-way street, according to new research from Nielsen. Consumers aren’t simply “showrooming”—browsing in store and then going online in search of the lowest-cost option. They’re also “webrooming”—researching online and buying in stores.

Conducting online research is not the only activity that is complementing the shopping experience. Three online activities score consistently high, regardless of the product category being considered. They are what you likely expect: Looking up product information, checking/comparing prices and searching for deals/promotions/coupons.

For consumable—particularly edible—products, percentages are notably lower than for durable goods, but the same online activities remain top strategies. For fresh foods, 38 percent say they looked up information, 39 percent checked/compared prices and 30 percent searched for deals, according to Nielsen. 

Perhaps more telling is what consumers are not doing online. Across all categories reviewed, the online shopping activities with the lowest mentions include those that marketers often rely upon heavily to reach consumers—usage of online ads, store emails and social media. Only about one-10th of respondents say they’ve clicked an online ad or email ad to find out more in the last six months. Even fewer say they have subscribed to product or store emails or liked/tweeted/commented about a product or store on social media. 

“In an increasingly complex retail environment, engagement is the emerging skill to master,” said Patrick Dodd, president of Nielsen global retailer vertical. “Retailers must move from a linear marketing approach to a value exchange model in which customers receive a tangible, personally relevant benefit for their time and attention.”

Social Media Strategies

The US Small Business Association (SBA) recently posted valuable tips for small businesses (including bakeries) in order to maximize the opportunities that social media provides.

Sometimes, less is more. Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest. The list goes on. Managing social media – from the content to the execution–takes effort and time. If you do not have the resources to managing multiple accounts, think wisely in which ones you will invest in. Depending on the size, location and industry of your business you might focus on more visual platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. Get creative in showcasing behind-the-scenes snaps of your restaurant or interview clips with the craftsman building your next project. If your business relies heavily on sales and is in a very professional line of work, using LinkedIn would be appropriate. 

Timing matters. In 2012, Oreo got it right during the National Football League’s biggest game when it aptly time tweeted, “you can still dunk in the dark.” Earlier this year, when Beyoncé released a new song and video with a mention of Red Lobster, the brand wasn’t as timely. These social media cases are incidents of timing and how you a business, big or small, has to be ready to respond. Staying ahead of the curveball means knowing what type of content and stories to react to, maintaining a social media plan in the event of a communications crisis or an opportune moment and having a staff person and/or software to monitor social activity. You never know when opportunity strikes–timing is everything. 

Check the numbers. Social media is a two-way street and therefore social marketing is not simply broadcasting products and services. When testing new marketing ideas and campaigns, review platform analytics. Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics, to name a few, have built-in data to show you information such as the audience demographics and the highest engaging content. Cross reference your tactics and plan with analytics and adjust accordingly. If you decide to incorporate paid posts or other advertising, it will be essential to determine and analyze your benchmarks, metrics and outcomes.

Get organized by developing an editorial calendar. Make note of important holidays like Thanksgiving or seasonal changes like the first day of summer and have content ready to share with your audiences. You could have a contest, free merchandise to giveaway or a special announcement to share if you’ve planned a coordinated effort in advance. Additionally, you can pitch stories to outlets and magazines about your upcoming events and promotions if it ties into their brand and editorial themes for the year. 

Social media does not have to be complicated. Keep it simple by investing in a few platforms that aim to engage your audience and customers while positively representing your brand. Remember that timing, engagement and an organized process of developing and sharing content is important. Lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously, have a little fun.