There is a growing trend within the converging spaces of social media and e-commerce. Customers are increasingly going to social media to voice concerns and questions. This is a natural progression for the e-commerce industry as the popularity of internet shopping has steadily risen in recent years. At the same time, social media use and engagement has increased as well, and now customers are taking to the social platforms to make their voices heard and ask questions of the retailers in which they shop. These brands, however, are not entirely ready for this type of two-way engagement from their customers. Retailers have indeed set up accounts on the various platforms but have largely used them as one-way communication tools, solely sending out marketing messages. This is problematic as users' concerns are not addressed which results in customer dissatisfaction and then brand reputation is negatively impacted in a number of ways. E-retailers ultimately need to re-assess the way they utilize the platforms, and do it quickly.

New research from both StellaService, a customer service vendor, and market research firm Forrester brings the issue to the forefront for the industry in general and several major brands in particular, and the figures are quite telling. According to Forrester, 27% of US online consumers went to an online platform to seek help from a retailer in 2011. This is up considerably from 7% in 2009 which illustrates the rise in consumer online request behavior. According to the StellaService test study where they posted questions on the Facebook walls of 20 different retailers, J. Crew, One Kings Lane, RadioShack, Rue La La, and Victoria's Secret failed to reply within 48 hours to posted questions. 25% did not respond to consumer questions on the walls and within comment sections of their brand's own posts. Further, only a few retailers responded to all the inquires and in a timely manner highlighting the fact that retailers are still adjusting to the behavior.

What Sector Convergence Means for Retailers
As these industries progress, this convergence of social media and e-commerce is only going to increase, and as momentum grows, customer service, public relations, reputation management, and marketing will converge as well. This activity will redefine the way retailers address customer service and resolve issues, protect their brand's reputation, market to customers, engage in positive public relations, and market their brand in the social space. All of these facets of a retailer's operations are impacted by this activity and businesses have a choice to make in how they handle it. Larger brands may be able to absorb the loss of customers or the harm to reputation and image that comes from not taking consumer posts seriously, however, that is dangerous territory and a potentially slippery slope.

Retailers first need to determine the amount of consumer questions they receive and plan for that number increasing in the years to come. Second, retailers need to define a unified strategy for addressing this activity and acting in such a way that they achieve customer service, public relations, and reputation management goals. - primarily by restructuring and prioritizing the resources to field customer questions and resolve issues. Third, retailers need to coordinate these actions with their SEO and social media marketing strategies to leverage one another. Proactive steps need to be taken to resolve the issues and tie that action into promotions and messages that are sent out to customers across social platforms.

For more information on social media and how it can be used by businesses within the e-commerce sector or how internet marketing can assist a company's web presence in general, reach out to me directly at Also, refer to my recent blog post discussing a separate research study on this subject.