Friday, July 9, 2010

So long, farewell...

Readers! Today I am writing with big news: After nearly four and a half years at Chain Store Age magazine, I am leaving the company to pursue a new opportunity. I'm so sad! But also excited for what's ahead. Thank you all for reading this blog (and my longer stuff in print!) and I've truly appreciated your feedback over the past few years I've been doing The Y's Choice. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it.

Please track me down in the future!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Deal-seeking Gen Y wants it through email

Women are more likely than men to subscribe to email marketing messages, according to a new study by interactive marketing solutions provider ExactTarget – and judging by the obscene amount of emails I get each morning from various companies, I can’t say I’m surprised.

But here's the real kicker: The study also found that more than half of online teens are turning to email – not social media -- in search of deals and exclusive offers. Despite sites like Facebook and Twitter being touted as the best new way to reach out to shoppers with promotions and special discounts, it seems as though consumers are mainly looking elsewhere.

“Regardless of age or gender, email is the first place consumers turn when they want ongoing promotions or information tailored to their unique interests,” said Morgan Stewart, principal, ExactTarget’s research and education group. “Consumers are turning to Facebook and Twitter to show support for their favorite brands. However, when it comes to on-going deals, email remains the channel of choice.”

In fact, Gen Y is twice as likely to subscribe to email (56%) in search of on-going deals as they are to search for deals on Facebook (28%).

As much as I love social media, I’m with the majority: I’m way more likely to take advantage of an email offer than scrounge around for deals on Facebook and Twitter. This also has to do with the fact that email promotions make it easy for consumers -- you don’t have to search around on other sites, especially when they can come neatly presented in your inbox each morning.

Ice cream for the digital age

It’s impressive how far along vending machines have come over the years. This is a video of a smile-activated vending machine that will be popping up in shopping malls throughout the U.S. in the next 18 months.

The system called Share Happy by SapientNitro senses when people are near and uses face recognition to determine gender, age and if they are smiling. The technology captures and measures the smile and rewards the biggest with a free ice cream from a Unilever brand. With 3G technology, the machine then allows them to upload their picture on Facebook to share it with friends.

Retailers should take note – what a smart way to get the news out about a new product. Offering free samples and using innovative technology to encourage others to spread the word is a very good move indeed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Forever 21 lights up Times Square

Forever 21 opened its new 91,257,-sq.-ft., four-level flagship store in Manhattan’s Time Square on Friday with much fanfare and hundreds of fans lined up around the corner to get in. I went to see what the fuss was all about.

Tourists walked by the scene and repeatedly asked what in the world could be going on, many scratching their heads why a store opening would attract such a large crowd. This wasn't just any store opening though -- Forever 21's Times Square debut becomes the largest single-brand apparel store in Manhattan.

One cranky guy passed by the outside and said his first impression was that the store was nothing special, calling it "The Gap on a Bad Day." But once you got deep within the store it became evident that something indeed special had been created.

The store – which occupies the former space of Virgin Megastore -- boasts a clean, sleek look and features a yellow taxicab and other icons of New York City throughout the space. It also houses all the company's brands in store-within-a-store departments.

Other features include a Stud Room, whose walls are covered with 3,000 gold studs (the area features studded-apparel) and the kids’ department, which has a wood tree house. There are also 150 fitting rooms for shoppers to try on styles.

The doors opened at 10 a.m., but many shoppers took their place in line many hours before. The location’s regular hours will be from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., allowing tourists to shop the store into the late hours of the night.

When shoppers finally entered the store on Friday, dozens of employees yelled, clapped and welcomed each person as though they were a celebrity. The star-treatment continued on each of the four floors when shoppers stepped off of the escalator.

To celebrate the launch, Forever21 featured a live DJ, a free manicure booth and gave shoppers an exclusive Forever21 Times Square location tote bag.

Unlike the guy who didn't even give the store a chance, those that did wait in line were not disappointed. One shopper called the store "hot" and unlike any other Forever21 she'd seen before.

What I liked most about being one of the first people to enter the store was that the floors were relatively empty and it was easy, relaxing and fun to navigate through the racks. That will surely change though.

With the location's first-year sales projections to surpass $100 million, it won't be long before you have to fight your way through the store along with everyone else.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Retailers debate how to get chatty

Last week I attended the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2010 in Chicago and with no surprise, social media took center stage. Many retailers debated the best way to approach the medium and here's a rundown of how some are using the platform to reach out to customers:

“The impact of social media is clear -- it’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘now,’” said Andrew Koven, president of e-commerce and customer experience for Bayside, N.Y.-based Steve Madden Shoes, during a session. “We don’t want to be a general merchandiser that just throws things against the wall -- so we have to make things relevant to audience.”

Steve Madden has already recognized the power of product recommendations via its targeted e-mail programs. Now, however, the footwear chain is taking recommendations a step further by leveraging social networking platforms to draw attention to its products.

For example, shoppers can now like/share/tweet or recommend Steve Madden items and spread the news on social networking sites.

“Social media is an open invitation for those who are interested in your brand -- sometimes the feedback is positive and sometimes it’s not. Either way, it builds customer-brand trust and helps the company know where to make improvements,” Koven explained.

Steve Madden is currently redesigning to make “significant adjustments that make it a more socially minded site,” Koven said. This will include introducing new up-and-coming artists and adding more ties to social networking sites.

It is also setting the bar high for its Twitter and aims to reach triple its follower base in the next 12 months. Not only does Koven and the marketing team send out tweets, so does Steve Madden himself.

As for the frequency of tweets from the company -- a much-discussed topic throughout the conference -- Koven said it depends on whether or not the company has something meaningful to say.

“Sometimes we have a lot of things going on and other times we don’t,” he said. “We keep it natural and organic and don’t say there has to be at least five in a certain amount of time -- though, we do try to send out at least one a week.”

Unlike Steve Madden, however, Palo Alto, Calif.-based -- an online retailer that sells independent designer clothing, jewelry and shoes -- reaches out to its audience via Twitter much more.

“We don’t have the brand recognition yet that Steve Madden so have to do a lot more to engage our customers -- we tend to send out a tweet at least once an hour,” said Julia Kung, director of marketing,

Moxsie -- with nearly 62,000 followers on Twitter -- uses the social networking site to not only let shoppers know about new items and giveaways, it also uses it as a platform to chat directly with customers.

“Like our audience, we watch Glee and reference Lady Gaga,” Kung said. “We go off topic sometimes and this is what keeps people interested -- it’s an authentic voice, and a refreshing and effective alternative to traditional marketing. It also helps us relate and better interact with our customers, and ultimately we get loyal brand evangelizers.”

In fact, some shoppers take pictures or film videos with their purchases and in turn, the company posts them on Twitter. “People like to be a part of our brand, and we’re glad they are active participants,” Kung said.

Its Twitter strategy has indeed helped the company establish its brand presence and get the word out. In fact, 50% of its traffic comes mainly from Twitter. And when Moxie highlights certain products on Twitter, they often sell out fast.

“When something sells out, we usually send out a tweet and let everyone know we hope to get it back in stock soon,” Kung said.

It also gives its Twitter followers a sneak preview of when certain products come into the warehouse.

“We snap pictures and post them on the site,” Kung said. “Even if it’s blurry, we put it up -- it’s not about perfection, it’s about wetting your customer’s whistle and making them feel like they are on the inside.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Social media is not a fad

Did you know that social media tops Google for weekly traffic in the United States, that 1 out of 8 couples in the United States met through social media and some of Gen Y and Gen X consider email passe (in fact, some universities have stopped distributing email accounts -- instead, they are giving out iPads and eReaders)?

I'm at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago this week and just saw Bob Cell, CEO of product recommendation provider company MyBuys, show this compelling YouTube video about how social media is not a fad. It's definitely worth all 4:25 minutes of your time.

Watch, watch, watch.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mastering the art of online impulse buys

I absolutely love, a deal-of-the-day site that offers big discounts on things to do, see, buy and eat in your city. Thanks to its daily e-blast alerts that land promptly in my inbox first thing in the morning, I impulse buy a lot from this site -- which is great but also a problem.

For example, sometimes there's a $50 gift card for Fresh Direct for $25 (amazing, right?) However, there's other times I find myself buying unnecessary but lovely things like sangria flights and salon treatments. The urgent "24-hour only" time period is what sucks you in because, really, who doesn't love a good bargain?

The companies featured on Groupon are basking in big benefits. In one case, a salon received more clients in one day than it usually does in a typical month. Plus, Groupon subscribers often forward the deal to their friends, which creates even more buzz for the company.

The only catch is enough Groupon subscribers have to sign up for the deal (the number needed changes daily) or else the discount is void. This rarely happens though, thousands of people usually pounce on the offer each day.

If you haven't checked it out already, give Groupon a look -- it's worth checking out from both a consumer and a business standpoint.