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Harnessing Solar Power

BY CSA STAFF

When it comes to managing energy use, more and more retailers are looking to the sun — and are generating electricity on-site through solar roof panel installations designed to increase efficiencies and utilize a proven green power option. Chain Store Age talked with Michael Walker, director, commercial product management and marketing for Lennox Industries, about the growing retail movement toward solar power and how Lennox is leveraging the interest.


Solar installations of varying types are making the news more and more frequently. How prevalent do you see solar becoming in the retail environment?

As sustainable solutions continue to make headlines, retailers are showing a strong interest in solar technology. And that makes sense — more and more customers are interested in sustainable technologies, and they want to do everything within reason to increase efficiency and eliminate grid-based energy usage. As energy prices rise and solar technology becomes more commonplace, expect to see even more retailers taking advantage of it. 


What types of locations or sizes of stores are best suited to solar technology?

Solar solutions can be a good match for any location. At Lennox, we can scale our system starting with one panel on up; which means even locations with small rooftop space can benefit. Obviously, new construction is a great application, because systems can be designed to include solar from the beginning. However, because it is not necessary to tie our system directly to the main electrical system, solar can be a great solution for existing buildings that want to replace their HVAC systems and add solar.


What retailers do you see as having really maximized solar solutions? 

It is not one type of retailer (for example, restaurant, big-box store, supermarket) that has maximized the use of solar, but rather a mind-set. Companies that proactively seek to try new technologies, reduce energy usage, or capitalize on their own customers’ move toward green and sustainable lifestyles are the ones that have expressed the most interest in and are integrating solar products.


What should retailers understand about solar energy, in terms of investment and benefits?

Solar provides retailers with a way to reduce their grid-based energy usage. This will help them lower total energy usage throughout the year, as well as the peak amount used at a single time. Lowering peak energy usage is something that not everyone thinks about. But it can dramatically lower energy bills, because oftentimes, a commercial user’s electric rate is partly tied to the maximum amount of energy they need at any one time. Many retailers also talk about the positive side of being seen as green or using sustainable technologies — their customers identify with and like this idea. In turn, they reward these retailers with their business. 


How involved has Lennox become in solar solutions?

Lennox is the first and only commercial HVAC system that integrates directly with solar power. Lennox recognized the potential power of sustainable solutions before anyone else, and we have given our customers exactly what they have requested. Now, we sell and support a completely integrated solar solution that’s ideal for new construction or retrofit applications. 


Describe your SunSource Commercial Energy System — and how it can impact retail.

Lennox offers a simple, safe, efficient and scalable solution compared with a traditional solar product. With the SunSource system, each solar panel features a microprocessor that allows it to tie directly to the commercial HVAC unit. This unique configuration eliminates the need to integrate SunSource into the building’s main electrical system — which can be prohibitively expensive, especially for smaller jobs. 


Since the efficiency level of the individual solar panels is not tied to the system, energy-draining degradation problems of traditional systems are eliminated. Users can also add or remove panels as needed, based on changing demand or budget. The overall investment and expected returns vary greatly, depending on the number of panels purchased, location and government/municipal rebates.

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Walgreens profit leaps 69% in Q4

BY CSA STAFF

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens reported Tuesday that profit for its fiscal fourth quarter surged 69%, in part due to gains from the $525 million sale of its pharmacy benefits management business Walgreens Health Initiatives during the quarter.

Net income for the quarter ended Aug. 31 rose to $792 million, up from $470 million in the year-ago period and surpassing Wall Street expectations.

Revenue rose 6.5% to $18 billion and same-store sales increased 4.4%.

For the full fiscal year, Walgreen reported earnings of $2.71 billion on $72.18 billion in revenue.

“Through constant innovation and effective execution of our key initiatives, we continued to make substantial progress this year in the transformation of Walgreens to become the first choice for health and daily living,” said Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson.

In the fourth quarter, the company opened or acquired 59 stores compared with 65 in the year-ago quarter. In fiscal 2011, Walgreens added a net gain of 199 new drug stores including 32 acquisitions, on target with its plan to slow organic store growth to between 2.5% and 3% during the year.

The company also said that it completed its 2009-set goal during the fiscal year to convert or open 5,500 Walgreens stores to its new customer centric format. And as announced earlier in the year, it plans to convert or open at least 1,000 “food oasis” stores over the next five years to address the need for greater access to healthy foods in underserved communities across the country, building on a 12-store pilot in Chicago.

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Blend Social and User-Generated Content to Drive More Business Online

BY CSA STAFF

By Shaun Ryan, CEO, SLI Systems and Mike Hill, executive VP, Guidance Solutions

These days it seems more consumers are on social networks than aren’t, and that’s where they’re getting input from friends and family about what products to buy – or not. When someone posts a positive – or negative – comment on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere about your brand, it’s one thing to spot it and respond. But there are many more things you can do to showcase the good comments and other user-generated content on your site, to improve the visitor experience, strengthen your brand and drive more conversions and revenue online. There are also ways you can leverage social networking sites to gain more visibility for your products, your promotions and other marketing activities.

Below are some tips for actions you can take that give more visibility to the social sharing your customers are doing that will strengthen your brand – and your business.

  • Leverage Social for all it’s worth with Cause Commerce. According to a Cone survey, 79% of consumers stated they would switch from one brand to another if the alternative was associated with a cause they were passionate about. If your company already has a named charity for employee volunteer time or donations, consider taking it one step further by bringing your charity into your e-commerce strategy. This can include highlighting your involvement with a charity or cause on your website, or can be as sophisticated as a social commerce storefront on Facebook. For example, GiftsThatGive, a caused-based retailer, donates $1 of every $5 to the cause of their customers’ choice. Their new Facebook Store allows visitors to create their own Facebook store, choose which products they want to sell, and set a fundraising goal for the charity of their choice.
  • Implement Facebook Sign-In for your store. A more advanced integration between Facebook and your e-commerce site is allowing visitors to use their Facebook profile as their account on your store. This reduces the number of steps and amount of information visitors need to provide to create an account with your site. This functionality can also trigger personalized content for the user based on their friends’ activity on the site. TripAdvisor does a good job of encouraging Facebook Sign-In and using friends’ activity to promote certain destinations or trips.
  • Index social media and user-generated content in site search results. If you have blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook wall posts, videos on YouTube or photos on Flickr, all of this content should appear on your site search results pages – possibly in a separate tab, as Yarn.com handles it. When you allow people to find all this informative non-product content in their searches, you’re helping them do their research before they buy – which can mean the difference between putting an item in their shopping cart and leaving your site.
  • Place Facebook “like” and Google +1 buttons on product pages. This will encourage site visitors to share your products with their friends. In addition, these “like” buttons can improve your page’s ranking on Bing and Google. You can also import the number of likes that each product has into your site search index and allow your site visitors to reorder site search results so the products with the most “likes” are ranked highest.
  • Add site search to your Facebook page. By adding a search box to your company Facebook page, you encourage visitors to search and shop from directly within Facebook, rather than requiring them to leave and go to your site. The results will appear right on your Facebook page, which gives them an opportunity to “like” the results so they’re shared socially. This is a good way to build stronger relationships with shoppers who like to combine shopping with social networking. Make Me Heal and Chaparral Motorsports are good examples of this.
  • Make user ratings and reviews searchable. If you’re like most online retailers, you probably have user ratings and reviews on your site – a great way to help visitors see how other people like your products. There are several ways to showcase this content in search: by showing star ratings in search results and allowing visitors to sort or refine results by the number of stars (so they only see four- and five-star ratings, for example); or by allowing visitors to navigate and search through reviews, particularly when there are many reviews to read for a particular product. For example, Abe’s of Maine, an online camera and electronics retailer, makes their reviews easier to navigate by allowing people to select certain criteria so they see only reviews that are relevant to what they’re looking for.
  • Encourage user-generated content and tie to social networks. When Guidance designed TOMS Shoes, the UX & design group combined customers’ passion for the popular canvas shoe and social network activities. The How We Wear Them section allows users to upload a photo of themselves wearing their favorite pair of TOMS Shoes. The customer associates the shoe in the photo to an SKU in the catalog, linking directly to that Product Detail Page and is then prompted to share the photo on Facebook. These images are then represented as thumbnails on the Product Detail Page, adding a social touch to the buying experience!

They say that your customers can be the best form of advertising – and in today’s socially connected online world, that’s never been more true. By exercising the suggestions above, you can blend your customers’ feedback and social activities into your online marketing efforts, and effectively drive more visibility and credibility for your brand.

Shaun Ryan is CEO, SLI Systems. Mike Hill is executive VP, Guidance Solutions.

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