NRF 2014: Social Media, Physical Stores Both Critical to Future of Retail

The NRF 2014 Conference & Exposition kicked things off Sunday, Jan. 12 with sessions examining both how social media will continue to evolve as a dominant means of customer interaction and how the brick-and-mortar store will remain a highly relevant part of the retail environment in the 21st century. Let’s look at a few highlights from each session.

Picturing Social Success
Amanda Williams, associate director, Social Strategy, Resource, kicked off the morning breakout session “The Future of Social Shopping” by explaining how retailers can curate user-generated content on social platforms like Instagram to create a branded experience.

“People do things like put photos of they eat on Instagram,” said Williams. “Most of that is branded content. You can tie it back to your promotions.”

Williams said that this type of user-generated content is a pure form of peer validation that is much more effective than traditional customer ratings, recommendations and reviews. She also recommended creating culturally relevant moments, such as what Kohl’s does by live tweeting during episodes of “The Voice,” which it sponsors, tying back to real-time activities of judges and contestants.

“Be where the customer is when she is there,” advised Williams.

Williams was followed by Daniella Yacobovsky, cofounder of fashion jewelry e-commerce site BaubleBar, who said retailers must adapt their social strategies to the specific platform being leveraged.

“People on Facebook don’t want to be taken off Facebook,” said Yacobovsky. “On Pinterest, they are looking for ideas and inspiration, so there is an expectation of being clicked out.”

Yacobovsky also said traditional online product photos are no longer effective.

“Our top 100 most engaged pins are lifestyle pins, not product pictures,” she said. “They show how products are worn and indicate who we are as brand and what we believe in. Users engage with them.”

From Souk to Not Having to Park
Even as social media becomes a more crucial component of retailing, brick-and-mortar stores provide an unparalleled means of creating a compelling and hospitable customer experience.

“When you create a compelling store experience not only your market share grows but your heart share grows – that is, customer loyalty,” said Rick Caruso, founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, during a keynote titled “Reimagining Main Street – How Brick and Mortar Retail Will Thrive in the 21st Century.”

Caruso told attendees that brick-and-mortar stores can successfully draw customers from online competitors by providing organic social settings that do more than just sell products, but fill the age-old human desire for hospitality.

“The souk in Marrakesh is not worried about being disrupted by Amazon,” said Caruso. “The souk will be around long after Amazon.”

In a panel discussion, Candace Nelson, founder of Sprinkles Cupcakes, said her store tries to meet the personal needs of customers by offering brick-and-mortar services such as curbside pickup of goods in New York in L.A., so customers don’t have to find parking.

“We’re trying to be there for the customer,” said Nelson.

Rebecca Minkoff, fashion designer at her eponymous company, said brick-and-mortar stores allow retailers to edit the limitless information customers receive from websites and provide a more personalized experience than can be delivered online.

“You can offer a guided customer experience,” said Minkoff. “It’s nice to have a two-way conversation. You can give a celebrity VIP feel.”

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