Shopping the social media supermarket

As any supermarketer will tell you, there’s a big shift involved in helping a consumer in from the point they see the banners outside the store – the media – to how they actually navigate through it and the nature of the user experience – the modeling.

A lot of my career has been spent working with and advising retailers. We used sets of assumptions how customers shopped a store and many of them are still used today.

Navigating one’s way through a large supermarket is one of modern life’s most complex organizational events. Navigating the web’s and virtual organisation’s a step on from that, which is why services like Google using neuroscience and algorithms in their deployment of stuff to us.

A networked organisation has a multitude of elements – social objects – and complex range of activities going on inside it, similar to the number of lines a supermarket carries on its shelves.

There is a wide choice of elements that consumer and participants can pick up and engage with, accessible via the web. Strong brands, though, still have a sense of threshold, of inside and outside in terms of belonging and of an identifiable space.

If you’re a maker of a digital brand or business, a consumer or a participant in one, the degree to which it can be thought of as your ‘local convenience store’ in terms of familiarity and loyalty, depends on how well the user experience delivers interesting and sensible reasons to engage that make easy to go back to.

In the same way as retail principles created physical spaces in the analogue environment, there’s a need to make navigate through brand cultures online today. The curation and cultural meaning of social brands as a crucial part of wayfinding and creating experiences people will want to come along, browse, and select activities to participate in, in the process of involving themselves in your brand.

Today’s online merchandising includes hashtags. There’s the clustering of social and digital events. How do people get a snapshot of all of it very quickly?

There’s the livery of your social brand architecture and a framework for category management. Just as there are semiotics – colours, images, words – associated with fresh food, the pharmacy, the deli, the meat, fish and diary sections of a supermarket, that create distinctive associations and triggers of understanding, there are digital semiotics, ways people sense-make online around different parts of the digital organisation. Your organisation’s digital culture includes unique and distinctive cultural attributes you can call your own, social differentiators and protocols, visual and verbal languages and points of focus, that need to be easily understood.

Many companies are using social media for rapid fire interaction, similar to how supermarkets are geared to everyday transactional exchanges. The social media supermarket today is a trolley-filling exercise in collecting likes, +1’s and share buttons and clickthroughs.

But, ultimately, these items are not where the value is for consumers. The cultural value of their digital store environment in engaging with a brand is predicated on how content is set out and ranged, the social ambience and the ease of shopping the website.

Online, brands must become ‘go-to’ destinations to be truly socially potent. Consumers shop the stores they like because they know where the categories are and they’re easy to navigate.

We see many organizations are currently frantically trying to put social media on their shelves while ignoring the basic principles of designing an engaging social environment. Beyond the frenzy of tooling up to be social, social brands and organisations need to create special ambiences, experiences and making sense of what’s on the shelf digitally, considering the question  of how they’re going to create a compelling user experience, online as much as in real life.

Because when there’s a high volume of goods and competing calls for attention on offer, what matters more than anything is continually connecting with a consumer’s desire to shop.



  • If you’re a brand, and you want to be a social brand, and you want to give people experiences that enhance your brand, that make them purchase the goods and use them and talk about them,. where do the retailers fit into your plans?

    My answer: you have a real problem. Because the supermarkets are brands in their own right, and they control their store layouts to suit their own agenda; to make you linger longer, spend more, deviate from your shopping list and purchase on impulse. What if I want to buy Gillette and Colgate? Well, the product on my list will be cheek by jowl with a dozen competitors. And it might not be in the same aisle as it used to be. Only a month ago I had to ask for assistance in Asda because I always pick up my razor blades at the checkout, but they only had Venus. “Hey, where are the guys’ razorblades?” Brand loyalty isn’t just psychological, I need to know the heads are going to fit on the stick I have at home.

    I need my supermarket to be like talent, like good writing: I need it to be there, and not get in the way of my shopping. I will pay more at a supermarket that gives me that pleasure, and (the illusion of) being in control.

  • Anne

    Gordon – thanks for your comment – the whole business of brokerage in a friction-free environment like the web