Jul 29, 2014

Social Media vs. Storefronts: Where is Business Going?

Some Long Beach retail stores still rely heavily on face-to-face relationships with customers, while online businesses say they have better rapport with their patrons.

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This is the second part of a two-part series.  

Long Beach island businesswomen Danielle Gill and Sueanne Shirzay are a study in contrast that some might say perfectly reflects today's marketing world that finds itself in the midst of a social media revolution. While Gill has no Internet presence, not even a website, for her West End women's boutique, Danielle M., Shirzay has built Sueanne Shirzay Jewelry almost exclusively online.

Gill offers that time-honored excuse for not promoting her clothing, jewelry, bags and accessories online: lack of time.

"We don't have a web site yet, [but] that is our next project," she promises.

What Gill has established is a loyal following that comes with being in business and the same West Beech Street location since the mid-1980s.

"The secret to our success is our personalized attention," Gill said. "Our clients became friends."

Shirzay contends that she can give even better attention over the Internet. The Lido Beach resident sells her jewelry on her website that she promotes heavily on Twitter, where she has some 6,800 followers, and Facebook.

"Tweeting is all about building relationships," Shirzay wrote to Patch from her iPhone, on which she conducts 90 percent of her social media-related business. "I know what my customers' interests are. Sometimes I know what they are having for breakfast, lunch and dinner! I know who had a bad day, who just got a promotion, who just fell in love … You won't build that kind of relationship from a five-minute storefront interaction. I engage with my followers every day." 

Last year she created a style blog and vlog (or video blog), which she designed for everyday women and to help connect with her customers.

"I love advising people how to put a 'look' together with style," she said about her purpose for this project. "Also, my customers were asking me for advice and it just made sense."

Seismic Shifts in Marketing

Mitch Tobol, a partner in the Amityville-based marketing firm CGT Marketing, who lectures on social networking, calls on businesses to expand their online presence to interact with their audiences.

At a lecture he gave at Hofstra last year, Tobol informed business owners that they live in a social media world where tech-savvy consumers can register their evaluations of their products and services on epinions.com and similar websites, which has caused seismic shifts in marketing.

"The marketing message is now in the hands of the consumers," he said. "They are all-powerful. Technology allows them to send and receive messages in seconds, and they tell everybody — everybody — what they are thinking. This is a totally new dynamic in marketing. If you are not aware of it, you need to be."   

Consumers can now instantly find competitive services and products, he cautioned, and he advised businesses to regard complaints as windows into their weaknesses. "When someone writes something bad about your business, engage that person," he encouraged.

In addition to engaging her online customers, Shirzay speaks publically about her niche in social media, joined the Social Media Club of Long Island, and networks, volunteers and attends conferences. Her online presence has consequently blossomed.

"People blog about my work and review it online," she said. "Most importantly, I develop and maintain relationships with people."

Using Facebook for Business — Correctly

Shirzay does also display her jewelry at four boutiques, including Salvage Chic, a new re-sale shop on East Park Avenue. Melissa Barnett, who previously owned Lil' Towheads, a children's clothing and toy store at the same location, and Stephanie Thornton, who had owned Frock, a woman's boutique on West Beech, merged businesses this year.

While the partners promote their new venture at various functions around town, and email their customers about sales, they don't expect to create a website until next summer. Meanwhile, their Facebook page, Salvage Chic lbny, has generated considerable business, Barnett said.

"People come in all the time and say 'We follow you guys on Facebook," she said.

In effect, Salvage Chic is part of the roughly 77 percent of Internet users in the United States who are on Facebook, according to Tobol. He calls Facebook a viable marketing medium that too many people fail to use appropriately for business.

"They go on, they create a profile, but they don't understand that for business it requires a different strategy," he said.

Tobol believes businesses should take more advantage of new business-friendly Facebook features, especially

customized tags where they can post their blogs, and an email feature that allows them to upload their email lists to invite people to their fan pages.

"Facebook's goal is really to supplant email and be the main communication medium online," Tobol said.

Like Barnett, Andrea Shulman, who owns Pinup, a women's boutique on East Park Avenue, finds Facebook has been great for business. When Shulman opened her store three years ago, when the financial crisis was starting to wreak havoc, she started a Facebook group for her store, Pinup lbny, and then a separate group for Long Beach retail businesses and restaurants, called I Love Long Beach, NY.    

Facebook groups are pages that users can create based on virtually any subject, from social and political causes to fans of blue pens, and where members post comments on the group wall and send messages to within the group. Schulman said she started the group to give businesses another avenue to advertise.

"I was seriously just sitting around having coffee trying to learn about Facebook," Shulman recalled the origins of the group. "I did it for my business first to advertise myself and then before you know it there's 20 businesses on it and about 1,500 members."

Tobol said that what Shulman has done, separating her personal business page from the business group page, is important, so as not to create unnecessary confusion among members and visitors. 

"I always tell people that when online be focused and transparent, but be focused on a theme," he said. "Don't try to move the page, the content, from a place it shouldn't go, and if you do that you'll gain a more loyal following and more meaningful interaction."

Yet Schulman finds Facebook has not been her best marketing tool, at least not during the holidays. She advertised in local papers, and she even set up a small boutique in Lola's restaurant on West Park Avenue for two nights that generated some new customers. Here biggest draw, however, proved to be the standard post cards she mailed to her customers. 

"My holiday postcard with my savings did the best," she said. "My good, loyal customers responded to it."

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