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ICSC: Consumers starting holiday shopping early

BY Marianne Wilson

New York — Procrastinating is out this year when it comes to holiday shopping, with most consumers (62%) planning to finish their gift buying on or before Dec. 16, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

As in most years, the top shopping day of the year is expected to be Black Friday. However, Cyber Monday will follow close behind across most demographic groups, overtaking Super Saturday as the second busiest holiday shopping day of the year.

The hottest gift category this year is expected to be toys and games followed closely by consumer electronics. Gifts receiving the most specific mentions include smart phones, tablets, game consoles, digital cameras and televisions.

Other key findings include:

  • 37% of women list "seasonal discounts" as their top motivating factor while only 20% cite "gift practicality." Men were more evenly divided between "seasonal discounts" (30%) and "gift practicality" (27%) as the driving factor influencing their holiday shopping.
  • Men are more likely to shop for consumer electronics this year while women intend to buy games and toys.
  • Respondents aged 18-34 are significantly more likely to shop for consumer electronics this holiday season than any other age group surveyed.
  • Approximately one-third of respondents from households with a combined annual income of $100,000 or more are expected to shop on Cyber Monday versus Black Friday. The opposite is true for respondents from households with a combined annual income of less than $35,000.
  • Respondents from lower income households are more driven to find the perfect gift for their loved ones this year, with 40% of respondents in the $35,000-and-under income category saying that "finding the perfect gift" is the factor most likely to influence their holiday shopping.

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Amazon to deliver Sundays

BY CSA STAFF

Amazon.com is working with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver packages on Sunday, starting in the Los Angeles and New York metropolitan areas, and plans to roll out the service to a large portion of the U.S. population, including Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Phoenix, in 2014.

Amazon Prime members, who receive unlimited, free two-day shipping, are eligible for the service.

“If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can order a backpack for your child on Friday and be packing it for them Sunday night,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s VP of worldwide operations and customer service. “We’re excited that now every day is an Amazon delivery day and we know our Prime members, who voraciously shop on Amazon, will love the additional convenience they will experience as part of this new service.”

“As online shopping continues to increase, the Postal Service is very happy to offer shippers like Amazon the option of having packages delivered on Sunday,” said Patrick R. Donahoe, Postmaster General and CEO. “With this new service, the Postal Service is now delivering packages seven days a week in select cities. Customers can expect the same reliable and valued service that the Postal Service currently provides.”

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Shortsighted Social Media Strategy Misses Huge Revenue Opportunity

BY CSA STAFF

By Brian Smith, [email protected]

While investors put a staggering $18 billion valuation on Twitter at its initial public offering last week, the potential direct-sales value of Twitter and other social networks for large enterprise businesses is potentially even bigger. But companies have to know how to reach their customers with the right message to monetize their social media presence.

Check the corporate social media feed of virtually any large company, and you’ll see a prevailing strategy that’s woefully incomplete. Large enterprise retailers issue updates through popular, centralized, corporate social accounts in an attempt to give existing customers consistent exposure to and occasional interaction with the brand. True, the brand visibility made possible through this approach to social media is good for big companies, and existing strategies do sometimes lead to new-customer acquisition; but most large companies aren’t taking aggressive steps to convert social media follows to direct sales, and it’s hurting the bottom line.

Consumers are eager to financially engage with their favorite brands via social media. One recent study found four-in-10 social media users have purchased an item online or in-store after sharing or favoriting it on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. But in order to connect in a financially meaningful way, companies have to know how to approach their customers. A huge following on a corporate page might look good in an annual shareholders’ report, but it often doesn’t lead to a measurable return on investment. Instead, companies should focus on engaging with customers where customers want to engage — at the local, personal level.

Starbucks, as just one example, has amassed an impressive 35 million Facebook likes, making it one of the biggest corporate presences on the site. In fact, retailers in all sectors — from general goods retailers like Target (22 million followers) to clothing sellers like Gap (4.6 million) to telecom providers like Verizon Wireless (5.8 million) and AT&T (4.7 million) to video game stores like GameStop (5.6 million) — seem to concentrate on attracting followers to a centralized, corporate-controlled social media presence.

These corporate “likes” are good for brand visibility, but they won’t drive very many sales. While maintaining a strong presence on the corporate “parent” page, companies’ sales team should pay much more attention to the thousands of local stores that have — or should have — a social-media presence. Though those “child” pages have fewer followers, they’re much more likely to convert to direct sales. Why? Because social media is about personal relationships. By liking local pages, a consumer is connecting with the Starbucks barista who makes her morning latte, the Gap fitting-room associate who helped her pick out a new outfit, or the GameStop manager who reserved her a copy of the latest Xbox hit.

And as a Millennial skeptical of enterprise advertising, that consumer is much more likely to buy from those people she knows than from a corporate marketer she doesn’t know. According to emerging research on social media engagement, consumers are five-to10 times more likely to engage with a local Facebook page than they are to engage with a corporate page. With the right approach to the creation and distribution of content, converting that engagement to direct sales is a lot easier than most companies realize. Importantly, they can convert sales while maintaining corporate control over messaging, brand identity and sales strategy.

Most large retail enterprises are good at the analog parent-to-child relationship. Corporate offices create compelling point-of-sale displays and distribute them to thousands of brick-and-mortar stores across the country and around the world. These displays are expertly designed to directly drive sales of whatever product the corporate office is trying to move that day, week or month.

Large enterprises need to start pursuing the same parent-child distribution relationship in the social-media world. Digital marketing pieces published on the social feeds of all local pages, from one dashboard, allows corporate messaging to reach consumers where they’re more likely to engage with it. And, it provides local store managers with much-needed content to keep their feeds populated and keep customers engaged. These pieces should be customized for individual stores, serving as e-commerce versions of in-store displays, showcasing products and appearing in feeds based on the company’s understanding of what products are selling where, and to whom.

Translating that functional parent-child relationship to the digital world has proved challenging for many companies, but a better understanding of how consumers engage on social media and a rapid growth in innovative technology to facilitate the digital parent-child relationship are changing everything. By combining sharable marketing content with an e-commerce component driven by a better understanding of social tools, large companies can broaden their vision for social media engagement and realize a quantifiable return on investment.

Brian Smith is the founder and CEO of BizBrag, a social media consultant and software firm based in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at [email protected].


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