The massive disruption of the retail space has plenty of merchants scrambling after things like social commerce without quite knowing what exactly they should be doing to help their businesses. While plenty of startups have managed to isolate this or that customers’ preferences and activities to a formula and a dashboard, there are still plenty of times when consumers are downright unpredictable, and in some of those cases, it’s to a retailer’s benefit.
Take this most recent example of how the spread of a seemingly innocuous video on social networks can have a veritable butterfly effect within the wider market. On Nov. 12, YouTube user James Wright uploaded a video of himself unwrapping and eating a slice of Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie carried exclusively by Walmart in a partnership with the former R&B singer. In between bites of the pie, Wright breaks out into rapturous singing a la LaBelle, imploring viewers to rush out and buy up any pie they came across on Walmart shelves. And it seems as if some of the video’s 8.5 million viewers are doing just that.
How has the video helped sales? In an interview with NPR, Kerry Robinson, vice president for bakery and deli at Walmart, claimed that some stores were selling one Patti LaBelle pie just about every second over the weekend. Even though Walmart was keeping its ear to the social media ground when Wright first posted his harmonious pie review and was able to move excess stock into stores when demand started kicking up, Robinson told the Associated Press that the response to Wright’s video has been so strong that they’re actually struggling to keep shelves full.
“We need something like 2 million pounds of sweet potatoes [to make the pies], and that’s not something easy to get,” Robinson told AP. “We swept everything we had right into the stores to supply the demand, including our Christmas volume, so they have everything we’ve got.”
In some cities, demand is running so high that some stockpilers have even taken their “Patti Pies” to Craigslist, offering full pies for $25 — or slices for $10. If retailers could bottle this kind of fever-pitch interest in their products, they might show a similar frenzy for such a product. However, most merchants have to stick with the next best thing: replicating the form and feel of a video like Wright’s that instigates widespread social movements around their brands.
Most of the time, this comes in the form of sponsored content or native advertising, but a study conducted by Contently found that most consumers have overtly negative opinions upon discovering a piece of content they’ve just viewed is sponsored content, as well as the genre in general. A majority (54 percent) of respondents said they didn’t trust sponsored content, and 59 percent admitted that a news site loses a certain degree of credibility in their eyes when they realize it runs sponsored content alongside regular coverage. In fact, 57 percent said that they would rather their favorite websites run dreaded banner ads than attempt to package advertisements into content packages.
So, brands once again find themselves in a difficult place. Consumers are clearly becoming more easily connected with the desire and trends happening around them on social media, but retailers that try to inject themselves ham-fistedly into these conversations end up coming across worse off in their shoppers’ eyes than had they done nothing at all.
If nothing else, Wright’s video should convince brands to focus more on maintaining positive relationships with consumers no matter what — just in case one or two of them blow up overnight into a YouTube celebrity.