Retailers Hope to Bag Rivals’ Customers on Twitter

Poaching purchasers via social 'conquesting'

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Google “conquesting” has long been an e-commerce practice where marketers buy ads targeted at consumers searching for other brands’ products. But for holidays 2013, ’tis the season for poaching customers on a particular social platform that just went public.

“The new conquesting game in town is Twitter,” said Ammiel Kamon, evp of marketing and mobile at Kontera. “Brands’ mentalities have gone real time. ”

Retailers themselves aren’t talking publicly about the nascent area of Twitter hijacking, although Kamon works with a number of clients that are gearing up to nab customers from rival merchants. Per industry sources, last year Walmart was hugely successful in exploiting competitors’ problems like product availability or delivery deadline issues. The retail giant tweeted at consumers who had such issues with adversaries like Best Buy. Walmart’s Twitter Elves, the firm’s dedicated customer team on the social site, seemingly found the consumers by searching “@bestbuy” on the platform before pushing a counteroffer.

In a cutthroat marketplace, this tactic is fair game, said Jeffrey Roster, Gartner retail analyst.

“I can’t imagine anybody that puts a complaint out on Twitter wouldn’t be thrilled that someone read it and responded,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea and is a good early example of the next arena that retailers will be battling in [via] social media.”

But the practice isn’t without risk, said Ken Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax. “If you tweet that you have a product the competitor doesn’t have on Black Friday, you better have it in stock because people are going to drive across town to your store or spend time visiting your website,” he said.

And they might complain about that experience on Twitter. Real-time conquesting involves a very public, potentially circular nature, unlike the Google version of the practice that targets users in a vacuum.

“On Twitter, everyone can see people talking to a brand or about topics like big-screen TVs,” said Nimble CEO Jon Ferrara. “And then you can engage with users who are researching those things.”

Sarah Cave, managing director at Retail-X, added, “This practice isn’t widespread yet, but you are going to see more of it because it makes a lot of sense.”

This is the first holiday season that retailers have in-house targeting software available for paid Twitter promos. The iPad launch last month provided a glimpse into poaching via Twitter ads, as Samsung, Nokia and Microsoft bought Promoted Tweets around Apple’s tablet debut. Per data firm Mashwork, Nokia scored highest for jumping on the iPad news, getting retweets, favorites and replies galore in a matter of hours.

So, expect holiday retailers to use these new tools to zero in on Twitter conversations.

“Retailers are using social in a more competitive way,” said David Deal, president of David J. Deal Consulting. “I think it’s smart, and it’s fair.”

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.