Archive for January, 2009

How Can Twitter Help Your Retail Business?
Thursday, January 29th, 2009

To tell you the truth, I am not really sure where this is all headed. But one thing is for sure, this is a growing trend and phenomenon that cannot be missed. Why are so many people following these pesky little tweets? Take a look at Zappos with 44,000 followers, Starbucks with 38,000 followers, or Whole Foods with 30,000 followers. What’s up with that?

What are these retailers tweeting about? What do they hope to accomplish? Let’s see what some of them are saying on twitter, right now:

Whole Foods:

  • Major expansion on PB (peanut butter) recall. All products to be re-examined. Previous “okays” may be wrong given new info.
  • Jody Vilecco , our Whole Body Quality Standards Coordinator talks about the Anatomy of a Shampoo
  • @debbiedoesraw We have some raw recipes on our site, but we’d love to have you contribute to our forums.
  • Game Day Recipe of the Day: Vegetarian Chipotle Chili (also gluten-free and easily made vegan)

Starbucks:

  • If you’re in Seattle, check out the Burke Museum’s new exhibit: “Coffee: The World in Your Cup.” on the UW campus
  • Have you pledged 5 hours to your community? type in your zipcode, find volunteer opportuniteshttp://pledge5.starbucks.com/ #pledge
  • We also built a Facebook app for #pledge5 … It makes it easy to find volunteer opportunities and share with your friends

Zappos – (this is actually the CEO, Tony Hsieh himself that is tweeting)

  • SUPER excited Zappos made FORTUNE MAGAZINE’s ”100 Best Companies To Work For” list!
  • You can feel everyone’s energy & excitement here at Inauguration. Over 1 million people estimated here. That’s lot of shoes.
  • Crazy, US Air plane crash was about a mile from my hotel. Makes you think more about life, what really matters, and what to be thankful for.

(see Tony’s recent blog - http://tinyurl.com/dgsh4a - how twitter can make you a happier and better person).

We can see quite a diverse and varied set of tweets in just this very brief example. From helpful food prep tips, to product warnings, to charitable activities, to touching recounts of important events. Don’t you get an immediate sense of the type of companies you are dealing with? In addition they will all respond to any query that you might post for everyone to see, good or bad. Talk about transparency!
Once you enter the world of twitter, you will quickly understand its widespread appeal. It’s interesting, it’s engaging, it’s fast-paced, its informative but most of all its FUN!! (WARNING: its highly addictive!!). As with all of these social media outlets, its about connecting with your customers. If you are thinking that twitter is simply a tool to send out an endless list of promotional messages, your missing the boat. And even if you try that approach, you won’t have any followers. And therein lies the beauty of twitter. It’s not spam, spam won’t even work. Its about providing content that consumers can connect with and choose to follow or not. As with all of this new social media, the power has shifted to the consumer. Post interesting information, green tips, creative specials, or whatever message you want to convey about your corporate culture and values, and people will follow. If they follow you, if they connect with your messages, they will buy into your brand. Remember this is a 2-way channel. Retailers can be searching for what consumers are saying too (see my blog - ‘Are You Listening?‘).

I am going to guess that 30,000 followers is nothing, we will soon see companies with 100’s of 1,000’s of followers, if not millions. And from there you can see the power of twitter. Very cool indeed!

I would love to hear any positive experiences you have had with twitter. Just comment here or tweet me@rickboretsky!

What’s Old is New Again
Sunday, January 25th, 2009

According to a recent article, it was announced that Canadian Tire has dropped it’s e-commerce option altogether and has opted to allow web orders for store pickup only. Sears offers a similar model with its mobile Sears-2-Go channel - order by phone and pick-up at store via a drive through counter. Tesco Direct of the UK has been offering this service for quite some time, where consumers can purchase items online, shop at the store, and then finally pick-up items ordered online at time of checkout.

Does this sound familiar? For those of you from Canada, I am sure you all remember the retail giant,Consumer’s Distributing. It was basically a catalog store, where merchandise was selected from a catalog in the store, and then picked up at the counter. I am not sure if the U.S. had a similar concept? Please share any similar experiences you might have had with this retail format.

If you grew up in the 70’s in Canada, you remember the experience of rifling through a flimsy plastic catolog with poor pictures, brief descriptions, and a special code. If you wanted to purchase the item, you could not look at the product, pick it up, or touch it…nope, you took one of those stubby little pencils, jotted down the code on an order sheet, and then handed it to somebody behind the counter. That piece of paper disappeared to the back and sooner or later the product magically appeared at the front counter. I remember as a kid, not really comprehending what went on back there. Was there a massive store behind this little counter? Were there little robots or elves shuttling around finding your products? Whatever the mechanism, there was rarely a disappointment, as the product just suddenly popped out of the magic window! It was only at that point that you had an opportunity to look at the product more closely before making a final decision to buy or not. What an experience. Seems archaic, no?

Well, it looks as though we are going back to the future, with just one small twist. Gone are the flimsy catalogs and stubby little pencils, replaced by digital web-sites and mouse & keyboard. What a concept! In the comfort of your own home; browse pictures, videos, detailed product descriptions, customer reviews and then finally place your order online. Then go to a local store located nearby to pick it up, at your convenience. Once at the store, you will have the opportunity to look at the product before finalizing the purchase. Or maybe you will go through the store and select other items to purchase. This will dramatically reduce the number of returns, and takes away the hassle of having to be around at home to receive an order or to repack the item for return shipment. This model works well if you have a lot of locations with proximity to most of your customers. It’s a definite win-win.

I think this concept is going to catch on like crazy. It’s convenient, its a time saver, it reduces the costs of shipping and the hassles of returns. What do you think?

NRF Annual Show 2009 Recap
Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

With the current difficult economic environment there was a noticeably smaller turnout at this year’s conference. Nonetheless it was another great show packed with vendors, innovative solutions, and excellent sessions with great speakers.

The economy was certainly the number one topic and analysts stressed the importance of keeping balance sheets clean and costs down in the coming year. Despite this, everyone still seemed quite upbeat and discussed some of the most important areas to concentrate on in the coming year. Retailers can’t just stand around and wait this out. This is the time to make strategic IT investments. The most talked about areas centered around the web, multi-channel, social media and mobile phones. Everything has to focus on the customer. Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart, summed it up as “Understand your customer…now!” .

2008 saw a significant drop in retail sales, and while growth shrunk in on-line sales too, there was still an overall increase of 7%-12% over the past year. Retailers must continue to invest in this ever-growing and ever-changing channel of opportunity. Retailers must move beyond simple disconnected e-commerce sites with static photos and one-line descriptions to web-sites that come to life and tell a story with multi-angle shots, videos, detailed descriptions, and information-sharing. UK Retailer ASOS is a great example that provides a rich on-line shopping experience.

Social media was prevalent amongst all those that spoke. Leading retailers are starting to build communities through the use of tools such as facebook and twitter. They are opening channels of communication and allowing their consumers to share information. Take a look at the online community Mothercare built at gurgle.com. As Mitch Joel, President of Twist Image said, “You must get consumers to ‘join’ your brand”. Build a story, relate to your customer, and you can build a community one consumer at a time.

Mobile phone technologies were another big theme at this year’s convention. Phones that include tag readers, can request prices and information, can search for competitive prices on the web and then can complete transactions via their phone or order products and pick up merchandise in the store.

It is no longer enough to simply build a new channel through the web or phone. All channels must be fully connected and completely seamless to the consumer. Consumers want to shop how, where, and when they want. Buy online or order by phone and pick up in the store or request in-store and have it shipped direct and so on. All channels have to support the consumer, know who they are at all touch points, and let them shop how they desire to.

In future postings, I will take a closer look at how some of these retailers are using social media and other tools to build their community and further enhace the consumer’s overall shopping experience. Should you have anything to share with us about your own use or other examples of retailers using social media effectively, please leave a comment and share it with us all.

Are you Listening?
Friday, January 9th, 2009

Do you know if people are talking about your company? Do you care what people are saying about you? I am not talking about eavesdropping or tapping people’s phones but paying attention to what is being said in cyberspace. People are talking about you publicly on social networks, in the blogosphere, on twitter, and other cyber channels. By doing some simple searches, you can follow what is being said. They could be saying good things, they could be saying negative things, or they may simply be offering some good constructive feedback. Either way, people are talking about you and you are missing out if you don’t listen.

If you have no intention of reacting then there is not much point in listening. If you intend to react, change, and even respond to your fans or critics then start listening. Follow blogs, twitter, and other media outlets where people are talking about you. Using some simple search engines like Google’s blog search, Blog Search Engine, or Monitter (to find who is talking about you on Twitter) are some easy ways to start. Here is a great article explaining the ’Why and How of Listening’.

In the future, I will share some concrete examples of this and how you can setup your own communities that will provide your customers an opportunity to communicate with you and exchange ideas that will help you change and improve.

Is Social Networking More Than Social?
Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Online social networking is making an impact. Is it just social or can it be used as an effective business tool? Can it be used to inform customers, improve a brand, or build loyalty? For years now, MySpace and Facebook have popularized social networking with it’s simple purpose of socializing; connecting with friends, chatting, keeping up-to-date, sharing pictures, and other typical social activities. As we start to experience its wide use, we can see that these networks are not only about simply socializing but more about building communities. We all know what it means to be part of a community, to be a part of a church, temple, PTA club, bridge club, etc. These are all examples of communities that bring people together with a common interest, a common purpose.

An online community is no different, with one major exception – there is no limit on its size, reach, and speed with which it can grow. Maybe you want to build a small online community, e.g. ‘How can we keep our street clean and safe?’, inviting only those people that live on your street. Or maybe you want to build a community that goes beyond your street and includes other streets, communities, and cities, ‘How can we keep our streets clean and safe?’. The choice is up to you. Barak Obama built a social network that reached out to every community, city, and state across the United States and other parts of the world, not just his normal democratic-centric districts. And how did he accomplish this? Largely through the campaign’s creative use of online social networking (see the following articles - http://tinyurl.com/656z48 and http://tinyurl.com/5r3exw). Do you think Barak’s use of social networking had an impact?

Building an online community gives you the opportunity to share your cause or interest with others – quickly and virally. Two weeks ago, snowed-in on Saturday night with nothing much to do, a simple twitter message mobilized a large group of people to go out the next day to distribute warm clothes and food to the homeless of downtown Vancouver. The “tweeters” now have a common cause they call TweetupHeatup and will spread the movement to other cities. “We didn’t expect this turnout at all. The power of Twitter and social media is so impressive — you can reach out to people you don’t even know and do amazing things.” (http://tinyurl.com/7w2y7f)

A social network or an online community can have a similar impact on your business. Retailers are already starting to understand its potential impact. We can see retailers creating specialized groups and content on Facebook, attracting thousands of fans and followers. Notable recent examples include JC Penney’s “Beware of the Dog House” interactive video campaign where women nominated men who could only get out by clicking on the site’s jewelry store. The concept was clearly entertaining having been viewed on YouTube over a million times. Victoria’s Secret is instilling team spirit within its’ college student followers by having them compete against other colleges in donating their used sweats to the needy. The prize will be having their college’s logo printed on a line of clothing which the students can then buy to replace what they’ve given away…. Genius! http://tinyurl.com/464vlt

Remember that online social networking is a community that it is designed as a two way street. You can provide information, share new ideas, designs, and promotions but the key is that your fans have to feel that they are part of your community. They need to have a voice and you must be prepared to react to what they are saying. Start an online community today. Share your raison d’être, your passion, and a community with similar interests and passions will respond.

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