What My 50th Birthday Trip Taught Me About the Impact of Social Media on Retail

  • By Brad Umansky on December 14, 2018

social media and apps are changing the retail environmentI just returned from a vacation in Maui to celebrate turning the BIG 50! Not only was it a fantastic trip, but while I was there I realized first-hand just how much social media and apps are changing the retail environment. Here are a few examples:

GyPSy App: On our drive on “The Road to Hana” my wife and I used a driving tour app called GyPSy. It was amazing. At very specific points along the way, a narrator would describe to us what we were passing and approaching. Throughout the drive, he would make recommendations on where to stop including certain restaurants and attractions. Could you imagine owning a successful roadside food stand that suddenly has a drop in business because a virtual guide is telling people to skip the first row of stands in favor of the next set only 1-mile further? What power!

Instagram: While using GyPSy, we ran into a group of “30-somethings” that were not aware of the app. When I asked them if they used a tour book to guide them, they gave me a very curious look. Instead they explained they used Instagram to figure out where they should stop along the way by using the hashtag #roadtohana and based on which pictures they liked away they went. So if a business on the route doesn’t have an Instagram page, they might be out of luck.

Facebook: One really fun experiential retail experience we had was glass blowing. We got to make our own vase via a private glass blowing session. Did we walk by this vendor’s location or read about it in one of the many activity guides that Maui has to offer? Nope! Instead, through Facebook marketing, this activity popped up on my wife’s Facebook feed. This business wasn’t even remotely in a retail location, but we drove through an industrial park and found the “storefront”.

Yelp: Then there was my experience with Yelp. I really enjoy detective novels and wanted to buy a couple of paperbacks. I much prefer a real book vs. an electronic reader because I still love to hold a book and turn the pages. So how did I find a bookstore? I visited Yelp. Now it is really sad that a resort community no longer has a true bookstore, BUT by using Yelp I was able to find the “Maui’s Friends of the Library” which is located at the back of a shopping center that I would never have found without their presence on Yelp complete with a 5-star rating!

More Help from Yelp: We also used Yelp to locate a spinning studio. Yelp linked us to the studio’s website and then sold us with a bunch of really good reviews. This business clearly benefits from its positive presence on the platform. I also utilized it to identify restaurants whose name I had forgotten (it happens with aging). For example I typed in “healthy food” and found Choice Health Bar which is a small chain of cafes that sells really nutritious and tasty foods.

My “aha” moment from these experiences is that although we are constantly hearing about Amazon changing retail, social media is clearly a game changer for the merchants that occupy the shopping centers that Progressive Real Estate Partners helps lease. If we want our retail and service businesses to be successful, we need to better understand how the tenants can use social media to help their businesses thrive.

One of the items that I have added to my “to do” list for 2019 is identifying a list of firms that specialize in helping businesses navigate the social media landscape to help maximize their revenue and profits and sharing that info with the businesses that sign leases at our client’s properties.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing what other learning experiences and exciting adventures my 50’s will bring – Aloha!