2 min read
Austin Williams - Jun 15, 2017

How Online Retailers Leverage Social Media to Outperform Department Stores

One very silly argument marketers of a certain age tend to make is that millennials are killing department stores. This opinion is equal parts misguided and misleading. Online retailers, in fact, are killing department stores. Contrary to what baby boomers may think, millennials and the internet are not synonymous.

While the argument that millennials are at fault for the demise of the department store isn’t a complete lie, it is a half truth. Yes, online retailers appeal more to millennials than any other demographic. So in a roundabout way, this particular generation of young adults has contributed to the current state of affairs. But anyone placing the blame squarely on millennials is conveniently ignoring a few other factors—namely (you guessed it) social listening.

The reason online retailers are running laps around department stores is simple—online retailers are better at navigating the internet, because they have to be. As we’ve discussed before, brands who exclusively sell their products online are burdened with a unique pressure to perform on social media.

As a result, they tend to have better social media managers, clearer defined KPIs, and a better frame of reference for social listening—that frame of reference being a native online landscape that older, more traditional retailers have merely adopted.

As the business of selling has evolved over the years, some department stores have been slow to move with it. Retail giants like JC Penny, Sears, and Marshalls have had to adapt to social media, and thus social listening, while online retailers have already built their business models around the internet.

Social media managers working for online retailers often craft more resonant and engaging content because they have a better understanding of online trends. They have a better understanding of online trends because the strategists they work with are often better at monitoring those trends. Their strategists are better at monitoring those trends largely because their closest competitors all traffic in them—department stores don’t have any of these luxuries, because brands are products of their environments.

Natives of a given environment—in this case, the internet—will always have significant advantages over those who’ve migrated to it.

While millennials may populate that environment, online retailers control it. Marketers working for department stores might be better served listening to millennials via tools like Digimind Social as opposed to blaming them for their shortcomings.


Written by Austin Williams

A New York based writer and pop culture enthusiast, Austin is your best bet if you ever want to know about the MTA or Love & Hip Hop.