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Focus on: Landlord-Tenant Social Networking

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Manners mistress Emily Post wouldn’t recognize today’s social skills.

Communication styles have changed, with the once-mandatory handwritten thank-you note supplanted by a tweet or a family email blast. These days, good table manners are far less important than proper posting protocol.

Revolutionized social expectations have blanketed the retail industry just as pervasively. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, apps and blogs are as much a part of the retail fabric as fitting rooms and shopping bags. In fact, naysayers who predicted e-commerce would spell disaster for brick-and-mortar stores have largely been quieted. Mounting evidence shows those retailers that bridge the gap between online and offline today are the brands most likely to emerge as tomorrow’s forces to be reckoned with.

Blending e-commerce, m-commerce, f-commerce, whatever-commerce with the physical space isn’t easy. But everyone has to start somewhere. To enumerate the various jumping-off points toward social transformation, Chain Store Age conspired with digital guru Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, VP digital strategy for Cleveland-based mall owner Forest City Enterprises (@SSEatforestcity), to create the most basic of must-do lists for retailers that need to ramp up their online presence by the most time- and cost-effective means available. It might just be easier than you think.

1. Leverage what your mall/shopping center owner is doing.

Not every landlord is as social-forward as Forest City, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t piggyback opportunities there for the taking. Most shopping center owners have created a Facebook page for their individual properties, and many utilize Twitter to push out additional content. Even if you already have your own Facebook page and Twitter account, take advantage of what your landlord is doing to maximize exposure of your content.

“Each of our mall’s Facebook pages are two-way communications with shoppers, they promote events and discounts, and feature all kinds of fun and interesting content designed to engage the people who frequent each property,” said Shriver-Engdahl. “Our tenants can leverage that.” Get to know your malls’ Facebook pages and look for ways to participate.

2. Cover the basics and build your programs from there.

The most basic social platform is Facebook, and if you don’t already have a page set up for your brand, you need to get with the program, and fast. Tweeting is the next step. “A year ago, we almost jettisoned Twitter,” said Shriver-Engdahl. “Because it wasn’t getting the same traction as Facebook, we thought tweeting was a waste of time.” Today, Forest City has a robust Twitter presence, but it took some trial and error. “We learned that while Facebook users often look backwards to scroll content that was posted previously, Twitter followers rarely do and only look at the here and now.” The Forest City team learned to tweet with frequency and to pay attention to dayparts, just like a well-planned radio buy.

The point is to grow your users as each channel matures and as you gain understanding; add more inspiring content, get better at customer engagement. Try things, watch what happens and repeat what works.

3. Establish a local voice.

“Our marketing directors are our voice for social media because we believe this is the most authentic voice of all,” said Shriver-Engdahl. The same is true for retailers. In order to engage a local community, it’s critical to include some localized content. Make sure that your Facebook page, your tweets and any other social programs you utilize reflect what is going on in your stores’ immediate trade areas. Don’t rely solely on national programs to build your online brand.

“Retail chains tend to be very protective of their brands, as they should be, but when the voice is centralized from the corporate headquarters, you miss the authenticity that local flavor brings,” said Shriver-Engdahl.

4. Become a social listener.

Too many retailers treat social media as if it’s a one-way conversation, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Take a break from your constant posting to listen to what your customers are saying on Facebook or Twitter. Create a listening strategy that includes monitoring other relevant social platforms, including blogs and reviews. Establish a response strategy; don’t ignore what others are saying about your brand.

5. Model what others are doing.

Imitation is not only the highest form of flattery; it’s how social media advances. Don’t hesitate to “like” other retailers’ and malls’ Facebook pages and monitor the content. Follow your competitors on Twitter, and adapt the content you like to your own unique brand. Find ways to take what is currently being done in the social space and then spin it to fit your brand’s voice.

6. Communicate with your partners.

“The biggest missing link is the connection between landlord and merchant,” said Shriver-Engdahl. “Together, we’re stronger and better, but too often we’re not communicating.” Don’t forget that the consumer sees the mall and its retailers as a unit; it would behoove everyone to act accordingly. “We’re scraping content from the Web being posted by our retailers so that we can then, in turn, post it on our mall Facebook pages or tweet it out. We could be better partners if there was better communication between us.

“I honestly believe there is a technological answer to this, but I don’t know what it is just yet,” Shriver-Engdahl added. The communication between brands and landlords is extremely important for the future of retail. “I challenge each reader to reach out to me and start the conversation. I want to hear your ideas on how we find a solution. I’m certain as an industry we can come up with answer.” (See sidebar.)

7. Stay ahead of the curve.

“Techniques and strategies change, and we have to keep on top of what is evolving,” said Shriver-Engdahl. Forest City has secured Pinterest names for its shopping centers, even though it’s not actively using Pinterest portfolio-wide. “There’s a new thing every week or every day or every hour, and we need to take care of the meat and potatoes before we put the parsley on the plate.” Pinterest and Instagram currently fall under “parsley” at Forest City, but probably not for long.

8. Become more than “likeable.”

“It’s time to raise the ante on social strategies,” said Shriver-Engdahl. Forest City will be experimenting with social discounts based on a customer’s social clout and sharing. It will roll out social shopping. It will add more video to its social media channels. It will layer in an abundance of local flavor, with local blogger content from stylists, decorators, perhaps daddy bloggers. “We all have to raise the bar, to make sure that we’re giving the most informative, interesting, valuable and engaging content available anywhere. Consumers have too many choices for any of us to become complacent or to believe we have exhausted all of the different ways we can use social media to enhance the shopping experience.”

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Getting Smart With Lighting

BY CSA STAFF

With ‘intelligent design’ emerging as yet another buzz phrase in an industry full of them, Chain Store Age talked with Jim Crowcroft about how TCP incorporates smart design into its lighting products and projects, as well as what hot lighting trends he is seeing for 2013.

What do you see as the main elements of intelligent lighting design?

I would say intelligent design involves a thorough application of useful, advanced technology to deliver real-world operational improvements, but within a value-based innovation model at its core. Our engineers and designers realize that to make a successful product, you must consider optimizing product design elements in order to improve aesthetics, economics, performance and value elements, plus deliver solid solutions that improve bottom-line performance, as well as excite and impress the end user.

What are some trends you’re seeing in energy-efficient lighting for retail?

By far, the hottest trend right now is the rapid adoption of new solid-state lighting alternatives (LED lighting) across the wide spectrum of all retailing categories. In 2011, LED lighting really "came of age," as products began to meet and exceed the performance levels of incumbent technologies (incandescent, halogen and HID lighting), while at the same time we saw the prices of these new LED products tumble. Industry experts project a continued double-digit growth curve in LED lighting over the next 10 to 20 years, as it is expected this technology will rapidly overtake many traditional lighting applications. LED offers many inherent benefits: long service life, improved color rendition, excellent lumen (light) output, reduced heat load and, of course, significantly reduced overall energy consumption.

Today, LEDs already outperform most other lighting choices in key retailer-use categories, such as specialty and directional lamps, as well as in severe-duty and outdoor lighting applications. And LEDs offer an almost infinitely flexible variety of design possibilities and packaging alternatives, for uses in area lighting, task lighting, display lighting and facility and outdoor lot lighting.

What retail categories are ahead of the curve in lighting, in your opinion, and which are some of the laggards?

Although I have witnessed LED lighting adoption by retailers in most all categories, it seems the largest department stores and some major specialty products (high-end clothing) retailers are moving forward with large-scale facility conversion projects. Another segment that is embracing new lighting technology is the convenience store/fuel distribution segment. I believe this retailer group saw advantages of energy efficiency, durability and reduced maintenance as key reasons for adopting LEDs.

Also, luxury goods retailers are quickly installing LED lighting in their display cabinetry and other special applications, such as cove lighting and accent lighting applications. On the other end of the scale, I have seen slower adoption from specialty retailers (mall stores, general merchandise stores) that are clinging to traditional halogen/HID and fluorescent lighting technology. Many have expressed concerns over high initial costs (LEDs can cost three to 10 times more up front) and inferior lumen (light) output in some applications where LEDs have not yet been able to deliver comparable overall light output.

Specific to TCP, where are your areas of focus this year?

TCP will continue expanding our directional LED lighting product line, adding new applications and additional options across the broad spectrum of products. We will release new-and-improved specialty lamp varieties, such as omnidirectional (A-Lamp) types and decorative specialty lamps, with improved dimming and best-in-class lumen output. We are also adding new integrated fixture LED lighting products and components for this rapidly expanding category. Our new product releases will encompass new application categories, such as interior area lighting fixtures, exterior fixtures and lighting retrofit kits.

Another area of innovation is the emergence of remotely controlled lighting, which promises to integrate Internet accessibility to facility operations through smart technology. TCP is leading the development of new IP (Internet-Protocol) enabled lighting technology across all applications of lighting and lighting control devices.

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Criminal Background Checks

BY Laura Klepacki

The use of criminal background checks by employers is being closely watched.

Concerns that convictions among African Americans and Hispanics were causing hiring discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Council has issued new guidelines regarding employer use of criminal records under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the Pew Center on the States 2010 study, while one in every 87 white men in America have been incarcerated, among Hispanics it is 1-in-36 and blacks it is 1-in-12.

Some experts say that abiding by the updated guidelines can be tricky for retailers. Thomas L. McCally, a labor attorney at Carr Maloney in Washington, D.C, described the 57-page document as "clear as mud" in a presentation during the National Retail Federation Convention’s 102nd Convention & Expo in New York City.

McCally stressed that the new guidelines present suggestions, and not rules or regulations. But if the EEOC detects hiring activities that arguably violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin — it intends to pursue legal action. In the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013-2016, it presents a litigation agenda regarding the misuse of criminal background checks.

"Retailers," McCally said, "are in direct target because of their large numbers of hires." The EEOC has indicated it is on the lookout for individual cases that could be broadened to class actions or systemic violations.

Under the new guidelines, arrest inquiries are generally not allowed.

"In most cases, employers cannot consider the arrest record of a job applicant," McCally said.

As the EEOC points out — being arrested does not make one guilty. However, there are exceptions that retailers could use as a defense, such as the underlying behavior that caused the arrest. It must be considered in the context of the events that occurred and how that behavior would impact qualifications for the specific job. An example, according to McCally, would be if the arrest was for sexual misconduct and the job was for a daycare center.

Conviction records must be weighed with caution.

"You cannot say, ‘If you have a criminal conviction we won’t hire you.’ There is no longer a blanket exception," McCally said.

In fact, in the guidelines, the EEOC recommends "that employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when they make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."

As a best practice, the EEOC says employers should conduct individualized assessments. Three things to be considered are: the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct, the time that has passed and conduct since the offense, and how it applies to the nature of job sought.

"This gives the individual an opportunity to explain and an opportunity to go deeper into the matter," McCally explained.

McCally advised retailers to stay tuned to their state and local ‘Ban the Box’ laws, which prohibit conviction questions on applications. Federal legislation has also been introduced in the Congress — H.R. 6220 — to eliminate questions about criminal history on applications.

To stay in accord with the laws, McCally emphasized, "The burden is on you, the employer."

Laura Klepacki is a contributing editor to Chain Store Age.

Under the new guidelines, arrest inquiries are generally not allowed.

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