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Digital Delivery

BY Amanda Baltazar

The way in which retailers market to consumers has undergone considerable change in recent years, particularly in light of the popularity of social media platforms. Indeed, social media has become essential to retailers’ marketing efforts, according to a recent BDO USA survey, which found that 86% of retail CMOs included social media in their holiday 2012 marketing plans.

Facebook gets the lion’s share of the attention. In the BDO survey, 99% of the CMOs said they were focusing their social media marketing on the popular social platform. Davenport, Iowa-based department store operator Von Maur, which has 27 stores in 11 states, is an example of one retailer that is very active on the social media site.

“We’re building customers’ brand loyalty, and we give them a look behind the scenes,” said Holly Danler, Von Maur’s e-commerce manager. “We try to give them insight and make it interactive. We put different content on Facebook so we have highly active engagement.”

One of Von Maur’s simplest and most effective ways to engage the people who ‘like’ it is to ask “fill in the blank” questions, such as “I like to wear leggings because _ _ _” or “My favorite thing to buy is _ _ _.”

“We have found customers also interact with each other and get more dialog going,” Danler pointed out.

Half Price Books also uses Facebook — for everything from sales and promotions to branding campaigns, blog posts and to feature inventory.

“Facebook serves as a direct communication vehicle with our customers,” said Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive VP of the 115-store Dallas-based brand. “It allows us to respond in real time to our customers’ questions, complaints, comments and compliments.”

The site allows Half Price Books to not only pass on information directly to its fans, but also “allows for brand engagement and loyalty,” Thomas pointed out.

The brand engages by involving its followers with its Facebook page. A recent promotion for a 10%-off coupon had customers vote on whether they preferred zombies or aliens. Once they voted, they were eligible for a coupon.

“People like fun things on Facebook, and you really have to do something different and clever instead of just saying ‘10% off for anyone,’ ” Thomas added.

The value of Facebook isn’t in its ability to sell but its ability to get inside consumers’ heads, according to Wilson Tang, head of digital creative at New York marketing company TBA Global.

Facebook users who see a brand regularly on their wall will become much more familiar and have far greater brand awareness than retailers who are less visible, he said.

“Consumers are being bombarded with brand messages over time,” Tang said. “It makes the brands a little more credible. What [retailers are] hoping is that the next time you walk past their store, or they run a deal, it’s a lot easier to associate with that brand and for them to execute a commerce transaction.”

MOMMY BLOGGERS: Savvy retailers are also utilizing Twitter updates, online contests, and other online forms of marketing and advertising — all of which cost nothing, or virtually nothing, to use. For some retailers, working with “mommy bloggers” is another effective means of communicating with consumers. According to a study by Scarborough Research, 14% of all American mothers with at least one child in their household blog about parenting or turn to blogs for advice.

“A mommy blogger is an excellent resource for a retailer because she’s “an ordinary person, and a peer and someone a lot of these people can relate to,” added David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a marketing agency in Suwanee, Ga. “Readers can interact with them, and that’s key if you want to ask a question or talk about your own experience.”

Target Corporation has been working with mommy bloggers for many years.

“We recognize that mommy bloggers have really large and engaged followers, and they can speak very authentically to their readers … who trust them,” said spokeswoman Dustee Jenkins. “We call them online influencers.”

The chain has 17 mommy bloggers who are part of the Target Inner Circle. The select group of social influencers is given behind-the-scenes access to information relating to the brand to share with their followers. The retailer, for example, might bring a food blogger to its test kitchen, or provide a preview of a new clothing line to a fashion blogger.

Besides facilitating this access, Target is very hands-off with the bloggers. It doesn’t monitor their writing before they publish it, Jenkins said, because “we want it to be credible. We treat them like members of the media. We recognize that they have to be authentic, and they’re not if we write [their blogs] for them and package it beautifully.”

The Inner Circle bloggers are so important to Target that it actively thinks up ways to engage them, so they in turn can engage their readers.

“We have to give them access to behind-the-scenes at Target,” Jenkins explained. “Things go viral because they’re unique so we recognize that for their voices to be effective, we have to give them really good content. They’re going to be interested in Target with or without us, so by playing this role very intentionally we’re just helping them create a better story.”

The Outlet Shops of Grand River in Leeds, Ala., uses about 75 mommy bloggers to create a loyal following and 
get the word out about events and sales, reported general manager Chris Szalay. “They are advocates for the shopping center.”

The beauty of working with mommy bloggers, she said, is that their readers trust them as a peer who is typically in a similar life stage, and who is unbiased.

Working through bloggers allows retailers to deliver information “in a way that you’re not trying to sell them, but inform them,” Szalay added. “Any time you can engage your customers you’ll have a better relationship.”

The Outlet Shops also provides bloggers with unique access — it might be a style seminar or a Twitter scavenger hunt for gift cards (clues were posted to Twitter and bloggers had to find all five and tweet them to win).

An event such as the scavenger hunt is also very experiential, according to Szalay.

“You can walk people around and show [bloggers] the stores, but when you get them to go around and have them participate, it’s a lot more fun,” she said. “When they report on it they’re reporting on their fun, not just what someone else has told them.”

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B.Low says:
Mar-28-2013 03:52 am

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B.Low says:
Mar-28-2013 03:52 am

Several buses are available near along Ang Mo Kio Ave 5 and Yio Chu Kang Road along with shopping centers and restaurants. Belgravia Villas is also near to Nex Shopping Centre as well as the buzzling Toa Payoh area. Entertainment for your loved ones and friends is therefore at your fingertips with the full condo facilities as well as the amenities around Ang Mo Kio. Ang Mo Kio Cluster House

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IT Hot Buttons

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

From mobile payments to mining big data for customer insights, savvy retailers are using all the tools at their disposal to engage and connect with shoppers and provide relevant, convenient and personalized shopping experiences across all channels.

As retailers competitively position themselves for growth in 2013 and beyond, there are a number of hot buttons or key considerations that will be driving their strategies. Here is a look at some of the top ones:

Marketing and IT collaboration

Reaching today’s digitally connected, channel-surfing and social network-linked customers requires a certain set of skills — and it also requires something that, until very recently, was almost unheard of in retail: close collaboration between IT and marketing.

A recent survey by IBM drives the point home: Sixty percent of marketers point to their lack of alignment with the company’s IT department as the biggest obstacle to reaching today’s consumers.

“This research indicates that as new channels continue to mature and consumer habits evolve, marketing and IT have no alternative but to emerge from their traditional silos and form a strong partnership that puts the business in a position to succeed,” said Yuchun Lee, VP, IBM Enterprise Marketing Management Group. “CMOs and CIOs, an ‘odd couple’ in some respects, will be the catalysts in forging this union and enabling the types of personalized multichannel brand relationships that today’s customers demand.”

Some retailers are already making the leap, from Saks Inc. to Macy’s to Guess?, all of which are working to blend the expertise of their CMOs and CIOs. Supermarket retailers are also making the leap. Similar to many other retailers, Salt Lake City-based Associated Food Stores’ IT and marketing teams historically operated completely separate from one another, occasionally joining efforts on separate projects, according to Jason Sokol, the company’s director of marketing.

But all that changed when the company began exploring a new loyalty program that would allow them to tie actionable data back to consumers.

The team chose a platform (from Accelitec, Bellingham, Wash.) that allows it to deliver targeted promotions, email marketing and electronic daily deals, similar to those found on Groupon or LivingSocial.

Associated launched the program in its Macey’s banner in October and had 50% of its shoppers using the program in less than two months, greatly exceeding its goal. Associated expects to deploy it within additional corporate and membership stores. The IT and marketing partnership has been and will remain the driving force behind the rollout, Sokol noted.

Social Analytics

Social media is becoming such a strong part of the customer experience that 86% of best-in-class retailers are using the channel as an interactive touchpoint, according to Aberdeen Group. Yet, retailers still struggle with how to track social media activity and its impact on sales. To avoid operating social channels in a silo, retailers are applying analytics.

Apparel retailer Caché understands that social media is a critical component needed to create an intimate shipping experience between the shopper and the brand. Besides appointing a social media manager dedicated to bolstering social media presences across sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, the retailer is working on a community site, or a portal that will incorporate social elements, including blogs, product reviews, a social Q&A page, “look books” and links to social media pages.

The company is also delving into analyzing activity occurring on the portal through an integrated reporting tool from its New York City-based mobile provider Usablenet. All pages are tagged with code. As users share photos or comments with friends on their social media pages, a dedicated URL is published on users’ friends’ social pages. As these friends click on the link, the tagging solution captures the conversion back to the site.

A dashboard gives Caché users insight into what shoppers shared, how many people they reached and new sales from connections. They can also look at specific timeframes and dates. The program will launch during the first quarter.

Digital connections: the omnichannel imperative

The Web has helped retailers break down the proverbial store walls, allowing shoppers to interact with brands any time of the day. And with consumers quickly adopting emerging digital solutions, retailers have gained new ways to interact with them. It also makes it easier for retailers to connect with shoppers throughout the shopping experience, both at home and at the store — the key to a successful omnichannel experience. Now retailers are evaluating how to leverage these solutions at store level to improve the in-store experience.

“Digital solutions are what retailers need to revitalize the store experience, especially as more millennials enter the marketplace,” said Eric Olson, VP education strategies, National Retail Federation, Washington, D.C.

Retailers are adding kiosks, digital signage and proprietary mobile solutions to interact with shoppers as they make purchase decisions at store level. But it is consumers’ personal smart devices that could expand customer engagement. The technology helps chains localize conversations, promotions and pricing — all efforts that build loyalty.

Hallmark Gold Crown leveraged the personal technology to deliver a digital catalog of its popular line of Keepsake Ornaments. Created with Bangalore, India-based Infosys, the book is available online and through a downloadable app.

Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill., made a similar move with its new mobile loyalty program, Balance Rewards. Supported by a mobile app, shoppers show their digital membership card during checkout to earn loyalty points.

The Mobile Store

Digitally connected consumers begin their shopping trip well before setting foot in a retail store, often with much more knowledge than the average store associate — a crucial point forcing retailers to embrace the power of mobility at store-level. But mobility involves two paths — consumer-driven or employee-assisted.

On the consumer-driven side, retailers often launch apps that enable shoppers to browse merchandise, scan bar codes or QR codes to learn more about inventory and, with the help of Near Field Communication (NFC), pay for purchases. Seattle-based Starbucks pioneered this process through its Starbucks Card Mobile. The free app enables users to input pre-paid gift card account numbers that act as a virtual wallet and pay for purchases. Recently, Dunkin Donuts joined the game with its own mobile app. Besides supporting mobile payments, it also enables users to design and share electronic gift cards with friends and family via text, email and Facebook.

Employee-assisted mobile programs put mobile solutions in the hands of associates, a move that is cultivating more informed sales associates who can help the shopper through the store-level shopping experience. During its recent POS upgrade, Finish Line, Indianapolis, added iPod Touch devices to the mix, allowing associates to conduct price checks, inventory management processes and check out shoppers anywhere in the store.

Big Data

As retailers adopt digital solutions, the amount of incoming data is swelling — and becoming difficult to manage and analyze with existing reporting tools. In fact, 40% of companies struggle with how to integrate this data within business processes, according to Aberdeen.

In its quest to improve customer segmentation, market basket analysis and real-time personalization cross-channel, Macys.com struggled to harness data volume coming from multiple digital channels, including online kiosks and attributes related to its 60,000 products. The solution: A high-performance BI tool allows analysts to build reports on products, marketing and merchandising as they compare current information with its historical database.

Besides gaining “a unified view of data and performance across our omnichannel enterprise, we more effectively measure the impact of online marketing initiatives and how this translates into general sales, as well as sales by channel.” The automated report generation also saves the company more than $500,000 a year in comp analyst time.

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What the C-suite Needs to Know About … Cloud Computing

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Retail chains are keeping a sharp eye on IT solutions that will deliver a fast return on investment and streamline business operations. A step in the right direction is to transition a legacy-based applications to the cloud, but a lack of understanding among the corporate hierarchy can slow efforts.

While many non-IT executives are not well-educated about the benefits of cloud, C-suite retail executives tend to understand what cloud computing is, and the benefits it provides. They realize that cloud computing allows their companies to provision the power and applications they need. They also understand the cloud’s elasticity provides more agility in their go-to-market strategies, and the open platform costs less to maintain and operate than mainframe options.

Retail CFOs are often in favor of cloud computing due to lower upfront investment costs, and oftentimes work with IT in the planning stages. In 52% of retail companies, both IT and finance groups work together when deciding whether to adopt cloud or on-premise ERP solutions, according to the Boston-based Aberdeen Group.

While more CIOs are in favor of pushing more operations to the cloud, it is not always a slam-dunk sell enterprise-wide. Issues slowing adoption include:

• Preconceived notions: Oftentimes, the C-suite may not believe cloud solutions are as robust as a traditional on-premise solutions, forcing CIOs “to prove that functionality will support business and that the solution is viable,” said Nick Castellina, research analyst, enterprise applications, Aberdeen Group.

• “Why fix what isn’t broken?” Organizations that have an established on-premise solution that works may not be open to change, especially ones that includes a new infrastructure, such as cloud computing.

• Lack of IT buy-in: Sometimes it’s not the C-suite, but the IT team that needs convincing. “Knowing that SaaS solutions require fewer internal resources, IT associates are wary about losing jobs,” he said.

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