Local retailers, big and small, find audiences online

As social media continues to grow as a part of people’s everyday habits, consumers expect businesses to be part of the networking.

According to a recent online Forbes report, 92 percent of business owners said social media is an important aspect of their business — up from 86 percent in 2013.

There’s an immense pressure to have a social media presence, said Ashleigh David, owner of the Purple Peacock in Tacoma. But it also allows a business to directly connect with customers in a way that wasn’t feasible before.

David travels to Asia several times a year and brings back merchandise ranging from hand-crafted jewelry to ornate furniture. She posts pictures of her trips so customers can follow her journey and get a sneak peek of new items.

“Big stores have massive budgets to reach a huge audience, but small businesses don’t have the budget to buy a billboard,” she said. “Facebook is a way for customers to keep up with the store.”

Nestled in the heart of downtown Tacoma, the Purple Peacock gets a lot of foot traffic as people make their way to cafes and museums, but more customers come in if they see a promotion on Facebook attached to a product, she said.

Social media provides customers easy access to businesses and retail websites are evolving from a mere shopping destination to an interactive experience with Instagram photos and blogs.

The Tacoma Mall revamped their website after rebranding the company in 2014, Sarah Bonds, director of marketing and business development for the mall.

Customers can do more than shop online; they can keep up with the fashion world and products available at the Tacoma Mall stores.

“We often partner with fashion or mommy bloggers and a lot of people value their opinion,” Bonds said. “(Consumers) are able to put a face and name to the experience and it offers them an opportunity to see the mall through a different set of eyes.”

David said it’s been an overwhelming process creating a website for her store and there’s a lot of pressure to be involved in all the networking sites.

“It feels like if you’re not on social media sites A, B and C, then you’re not going to be successful,”

While businesses seemed to do just fine before the social media explosion, it is important that companies keep up and stay connected with the digital world, said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

“I think we’re past the point of saying that you don’t need to have a network,” Grannis said. “By now, if you haven’t invested in some kind of social networking, you could have lost out on a very large set of new customers.”

Pew Research Institute reported that 74 percent of online adults use social media in 2014. Business owners should decide early on if their customer’s base is operating on social media, Grannis said.

Bonds said she wasn’t sure if there’s been an influx in revenue because of social media, but building a relationship with their customers is important.

“I think it’s interesting that shoppers are able to showcase their experience and talk about it in an open forum,” Bonds said.

As for David, the goal is reaching a wide net of consumers. Being on Facebook has allowed her to diversify her customer base and compete with the retail giants.

“(Social media) gives small businesses more of an audience,” David said. “It allows me to reach beyond Tacoma.”

Shelby Rowe: 253-597-8672