WITH the explosion in communications technology through mobile devices, tablets and applications, ever more consumers are willing to share information with each other online, and also with their favourite retailers and brands, a survey by IBM showed this week.

This means companies need to influence customers to also influence other potential clients - which to a large degree can only happen by harnessing digital media.

"The speed of technology innovation, consumer adoption and access to information has created an environment where everything is known and the consumer is truly the one in power, coalescing around shopping communities of 'we'," said Jill Puleri, global retail leader of IBM Global Business Services.

Increasingly, savvy retailers are responding to this and using technology to make sure that interaction with customers is spot-on, based on individual preferences, location and lifestyle.

Woolworths and Pick n Pay actively engage with customers on Facebook and Twitter.

First National Bank's social media strategy aims to build sustainable relationships with customers.

"It's quite innovative that banks and insurers follow their clients on social media. They are doing so to try and understand the trends, to see what customers are thinking and spending on, with the view to come back into their organisations and asking what products and services they need to adjust," Colin Daley, associate director for advisory services at Ernst & Young said.

Gerard Dumont, IBM SA retail sector lead, believes there is a big opportunity for retailers to engage within these technologies.

"Mature markets have fairly developed internet economies and online shopping capabilities, whereas in growth markets these areas are less established.

"The uptake of social media through devices by younger generations and the growing middle class in growth markets means that social media is leapfrogging this lag they have in the internet gap," Mr Dumont said.

mooradz@bdfm.co.za