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Social Marketing

BY Staff Writer

Retailers spend months developing smart, effective strategies across their in-store, Web and mobile channels each holiday season. But social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can be just as powerful in getting the message out to shoppers in the days leading up to Christmas.

“As always, it’s going to be a value-driven Christmas, and people will be compelled by offers such as free shipping and rewards,” e-tailing group president Lauren Freedman said. “Whether you encourage consumers to ‘Like’ a brand for a discount code or use it as a way to get information out to target audiences in a timely manner, there are easy ways to boost social engagement and influence sales along the way.”

Keeping channels consistent is key, so the first step is to integrate a streamlined seasonal aesthetic. Retailers can dress up social media sites similar to how they would add pictures of gifts or snowflakes to an email marketing initiative or website. For example, consider switching the company’s usual profile picture on Facebook and Twitter with one that better represents the holiday season — the same goes for picking a fun, vibrant and seasonal Twitter background image.

“Merchants have to be consistent and since they are typically under-resourced, it’s strategic to take what you’re doing in mobile and on a website and somehow incorporate it on your social media channels,” Freedman said.

Not only is this important for visual themes, but integrating features across various channels is also effective. For example, apparel retailers Armani Exchange and Jessica Simpson have rolled out their Twitter newsfeed to their websites, allowing online shoppers to see in real time how people are tweeting about the brand.

Social media can also be integrated into other channels by encouraging Foursquare users to check into their store location and holding Twitter contests — for example, the first 20 people to retweet a message from the brand wins a prize.

“As long as there is a discount or an offer such as free shipping, consumers will do what they can to get it,” said Ken Burke, founder of online solutions provider MarketLive. “Retailers can also create a sense of urgency by offering Happy Hour specials on social networks that only last for an hour or so.”

According to a recent survey conducted by MarketLive, about 42% consumers said they plan to purchase products on Amazon, which means competitors need to give shoppers more reason than ever to visit their site instead.

“Amazon is a highly transactional site, but one way to compete is to make a brand more personalized,” Burke said. “Many retailers think they should have a silent voice, but incorporating corporate culture and posting pictures that show what the company really stands for can go a long way.”

Retailers, for instance, can post pictures of staffers decorating the offices or participating in charitable events. In addition, digital marketing agency Blue Glass advises retailers to ask their target audience questions on Facebook and Twitter to encourage engagement. Sample questions include: What was the best gift you received as a child? If you won a shopping spree, what would you buy? Even ask what the weather is like in their part of the country.

“People go to Facebook to keep up with friends, so consumers love when companies have a personality and don’t come across as just a large corporation,” said Tori Cushing, social media analyst at Blue Glass. “If a brand comes up on your newsfeed and only talks about products, consumer will think of it as spam and ‘un-Like’ the retailer. It’s important to keep that personalization and engagement factor, so your fan base doesn’t leave you behind.”

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Perfect Timing

BY CSA STAFF

With approximately 95% of retail purchases still occurring in physical stores (according to the National Retail Federation), it has never been more important to find new ways to engage, and connect with, in-store shoppers. For The Finish Line, mobile point-of-sale was a critical component in its drive to enhance the customer’s shopping experience.

“We recognize the importance of being where our customer is at the time when he or she needs us,” said Rob Baugh, director of store applications and delivery, The Finish Line, Indianapolis, which has 641 stores in malls across the country. “By leveraging mobile POS, we are empowering our associates to engage and assist consumers throughout the [store-level] buying process.”

The retailer made mobile payments a reality as it upgraded its POS system to a platform from MICROS Systems, Columbia, Md. When it was time to select the best customer engagement solution to integrate to POS, the retailer researched all of its options. It selected a solution from VeriFone, San Jose, Calif.

Finish Line upgraded its entire POS infrastructure with the MICROS Retail X POS solution, and MX915 payment terminals from VeriFone.

In addition to supporting electronic payment options, including magstripe and PIN-based debit and credit cards, chip-enabled (EMV) smart cards and near-field communications (NFC) mobile payments, the color, high-speed multimedia processors also support full-motion video to further engage the shopper during checkout.

The second piece of the POS rollout included the addition of iPod Touch devices integrated with Micros’ MyStore application and VeriFone’s PAYware Mobile Enterprise software, which supports all device transaction functionality and adds a level of security to the mobile devices.

Choosing a user-friendly customer-facing technology was important, but plenty of work happened behind the scenes to bring the devices’ functionality to life. To streamline mobile POS processing, Finish Line performed network upgrades and added wireless access points. It also deployed mobile receipt printers throughout stores to aid sales associates performing mobile POS transactions.

Holiday Rush: While many retailers will hold off on rolling out an innovative, expansive technology such as mobile POS until after the holiday rush is over, Finish Line knew mobile POS would deliver, as Baugh explained, “additional checkouts, line-busting and enhanced customer interaction — all components that can help us to put the customer first, throughout the holiday season and beyond.”

To prepare, Finish Line conducted a 36-store, three-month pilot of the technology from May to August. Each store featured five mobile devices that supported a variety of functionality, including “credit payments, loyalty account lookup, gift card bar code scanning, and later we added PIN-based debit,” he explained.

“The trials were successful, and our customers valued interacting with sales associates using the mobile POS units,” Baugh said.

Positive feedback prompted a company-wide rollout of the mobile solution a month later.

“We are deploying five devices per store, each integrated with VeriFone’s PAYware software that enables the iPods to accept credit, PIN debit, and eventually EMV and NFC payments,” Baugh explained. “The devices also have a bar code scanner, allowing users to conduct price checking and inventory management processes.”

While sales associates can use the devices throughout the store, units are tightly integrated with POS. As a result, all mobile transactions are filtered through the retailer’s central processing system, providing one overall view of data.

At presstime, Finish Line was close to completing its rollout across all of its stores. The retailer has high expectations for the technology’s functionality, especially when intimately connecting with store-level shoppers during the critical holiday shopping period.

“During the trial, there was certainly a ‘wow’ factor, and this new shopping experience created excitement among both with sales associates and our customers,” Baugh added. “Moving forward, we will be measuring the results of the rollout, and comparing transactions on the sales floor versus transactions occurring at the counter.”

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The Right Fit

BY CSA STAFF

One of the biggest problems for retailers is ensuring they have the right sizes and styles available in the correct stores. Retailers that have trouble planning localized assortments are at an additional disadvantage.

Town Shoes knows this challenge firsthand. The 60-year-old company relied on spreadsheets to create assortments, making targeted or clustered store assortments nearly impossible.

“We plan well at high levels and in aggregate, but without a system automating and managing assortments, our planning process is not good enough to focus at the store level,” said Peter Gerhardt, CFO, Town Shoes, Downsview, Ontario.

With its acquisition of 69 stores from Canadian-based Sterling Shoes earlier this year, it became even more important for Town Shoes to strive toward customer-centricity and tailored store-level assortments.

“Being a much bigger company than before, we could not replicate what we have done previously through brute force,” Gerhardt explained. “We have leveraged all abilities thus far, but now it is time to automate our process so we can assess inventory and get an action plan based on demand.”

A longtime partner of Jesta I.S. (Verdun, Quebec City), Town Shoes recently added the vendor’s Vision Merchandising replenishment solution to automate its inventory management, which is also tightly integrated with Jesta’s point-of-sale software solution (Vision Store).

The retailer is no stranger to the merchandising technology; it installed the solution in its Skechers brand in Canada a year ago.

“It was a natural fit for Sterling; it is user-friendly and a newer solution,” Gerhardt said.

The success prompted the retailer to roll out the solution across its Sterling Shoes division. Vision Store sits on the company’s central server residing at corporate. As corporate planners create an assortment plan, they input data into Vision Merchandising, which is then filtered into Vision Store.

“The integrated solution enables associates to see which stores have inventory,” Gerhardt said.

The planners also now can load price changes and other enterprise operational functions through the solution’s centralized user interface (rather than into multiple locations), allowing all data to be centralized and accessible.

Based on the solution’s intuitive training and minimal learning curve, the company expects the solution to improve planning and allocation, and aid in its creation of more customer-centric tailored and relevantly sized assortments at individual stores.

“Like other retailers, we are working toward driving more turns and sales using less inventory, but we must better manage our assortments to ensure we don’t reduce sales,” Gerhardt explained.

Town Shoes is currently creating a road map for its future planning and allocation strategies, including localized assortments. Once a plan is in place, the company expects to begin tailoring assortments across 70 of its 200 stores. It hopes to begin implementing localized assortments by the end of January 2013.

Town Shoes also plans to expand its merchandising system to its multichannel operation.

“We are currently creating a new user interface that we plan to launch in January, and we are working with Jesta I.S. on implementing electronic distribution and online order management that is linked to enterprise inventory management,” Gerhardt added. “We expect to use our ecommerce site to create an endless aisle, so if shoppers do not find what they need in-store, we can order it and ship it directly to them.”

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