Now, you can text, tweet and Facebook what's on sale — and what's hot. You can snap and send photos of what you find. You can tell your friends where the crowds are — and aren't. You can comparison shop by looking up prices and reviews on your phone.
And, if you don't get the service you think you should, you can publicly complain as loudly as you want in cyberspace.
"It's the season of sharing," said Jennifer L. Cherry, senior vice president of public relations firm Marx Layne & Co. "And the power of shopping is now in the palm of your hands."
In the past few years, retailers have been turning to social media to connect with and engage customers, said Cherry, who also writes about social media trends for the Michigan Retail Association. This year, she added, many retailers are tying their sales campaigns, as well as their customer service, together and are rewarding shoppers who use their social media tools — including text messages, Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest and websites — with deals and freebies.
Experts point to five ways you can take advantage of social media tools:
(1) Get the scoop on deals and products. The Web gives you more information than ever before, and sometimes before anyone else has it. Shoppers are both taking in information and sending it out. Whether it's following a specific Twitter user and chatter on Twitter and Facebook to find great deals on the products you want, or reporting to your friends whether there are any parking spaces or red cashmere sweaters left in stock, social media lets you in on the closely-held secrets.
(2) Take your entire network with you. Shopping has always been a social event; but now, there are almost no limits to who you shop with. Many people now, as they shop, are sharing the experience virtually with friends — and even strangers with similar interests — through social media. Does this outfit look good on me? Take a photo and text it, or post your question on Facebook. Do you need to commiserate after a harrowing day at the mall? Or vent about the long walk from the parking lot? Or complain about that oh-so-rude clerk? No matter where you are, you and your friends can shop together — connected through your phone and social media.
(3) Buy exactly the right gift, every time. If you are looking for something specific, you can use social media to locate it. You also can get ideas and suggestions from others for that hard-to-shop-for relative. And you can return the favor by sharing what you know with others, too. In addition, wish lists on websites or pins of favorite things on Pinterest can help you get just the gift. And, if you are not sure about say the right color, just snap a photo of it and find a way to subtly ask. This way, you don't have to wait until the gift is opened to know whether it is the right thing.
(4) Use exclusive deal and freebies. To entice shoppers to join their social networks, such as liking a page on Facebook or checking in on Foursquare, and share information about products or shopping experiences, retailers are offering exclusive deals and freebies. The Gap, for example, is creating and mailing custom postcards of customers who visit Postagram's Facebook app. People who pin Gap's favorite holiday items to their Pinterest wish lists through an app on Gap's Facebook page will be entered to win Gap gift cards. Companies also are sending offers directly to customers through text messages, Facebook and Twitter.
(5) Expect better customer service — and quicker responses. These days, everyone has an opinion, and is expressing it on social media. If you have doubts about a shop or product, check reviews online. As a result, social media experts say, one of the biggest changes, experts say, that social media is driving in shopping is that retailers are trying to use social media to not just market to you — but interact. In some cases, it might be easier to connect with companies on Twitter than calling — or waiting in line to for a clerk. "It's comforting to know," Cherry said, "if you need something, there's someone there to help you."
— By Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press (MCT)