Unless you've been digital dinosaur, you'll know there's been a retail revolution taking place over the last few years. It's been characterised by the closure of many "big-box" and legacy retailer outlets not just in the US but in most of the developed world, as more and more people choose to shop and buy online as opposed to physically in stores.  So much so that it's been termed the "retail apocalypse". 

The underlying significance seems to have been lost though, and it has something very much in common with the idea underpinning social selling. Yes you read that right - social selling almost perfectly explains the new realities of retail in the 21st connected century.

Retail eras can be divided into "BA" and "AA". In the "Before Amazon" period, stores were built and people would come. That was just how it worked. While prices obviously mattered, comparison and information gathering was laborious, and what mattered more was distance, familiarity and perhaps the "outing", which was really a way to spend the extra time you had in your day. What were the options anyway?

Fast forward to the "After Amazon" era, where the internet and online marketplaces made a mockery of physical distance and redefined convenience. Suddenly, familiarity was sacrificed in favour of cheaper prices - and now easily comparable too - and it became a lot more fun to scroll and surf than to physically walk through the mall.

This mass migration of shoppers from bricks to clicks highlights the fundamental issue of customer acquisition. You could build all the stores and marketplaces in the world, but if you're not hanging out where your customers are, or engaging with and appealing to your target segments, you will lose the game. 

The best online retailers have figured this secret out a long time ago: give customers what they need and want (even if they don't realise it!), and they'll keep coming back. Free delivery? Check. Unlimited returns? Check. Personalised recommendations? Check. Access to global inventory? Check. Convenience of shopping from their armchairs? Check. The list is frankly, unending.

So how is this exactly like social selling, you ask? Well, isn't it about creating personalised customer experiences? Isn't it about creating and distributing relevant content, in the right context and providing insight, so as to engage and convert potential customers? Isn't it about leveraging the power of social media platforms to obtain referrals and recommendations? Isn't it about creating lasting, sticky relationships? And ultimately, isn't it about creating behavioural change? 

Social is the attitude and behaviour. Digital media is the platform. Selling is merely the outcome; it's not what you do but what you achieve.

So, be confused all you want about whether bricks (as many online retailers are doing), or clicks (as many legacy retailers are scrambling to do), is the way to go. But don't for a minute doubt the power and effectiveness of social selling; it is the engine powering your customer-centric strategy whether you're offline or online.