Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thank you all for reading this year! I'll be back in 2010 to bring you more on the latest Gen Y retail trends. Have a wonderful holiday season and a very happy and healthy New Year! :)

Web sales surge during holiday snows

Although foot traffic at U.S. retailers last weekend took a hit due to holiday snowstorms, trapped inside took to the Web. Online retail sales rose 22.4% for the weekend compared with last year, according to a report by the Associated Press, which cited research from Web research firm Coremetrics. On Saturday, sales were up 24.8% alone.

Coremetrics research also found that the average shopper spent and ordered more on Saturday, when the weather's effects were deepest, than Friday. The surge continued on Monday; morning sales were strong as shoppers raced to make purchases so they could be delivered by Christmas.

As a result, online retailers are leveraging the spike. Many have extended the cutoff for standard shipping.

Now, what to make of these stats? This quote sums it up nicely: "This teaches consumers that maybe those of us that procrastinate, we still have time to go online very close to Christmas," John Squire, Coremetrics' chief strategy officer, told AP.

Kodak takes out the shipping anxiety

Sending last-minute reminders to shoppers about shipping deadlines is undeniably smart. But giving them the exact cut-off time to ensure delivery before Christmas is even better. Kudos to Kodak.com for taking the mystery of the equation by spelling out shipping rules clearly and upfront. It will make everyone more merry come Christmas morning.

The season for being social

In our recent December issue, I spoke with Susan A. McKenna, CEO of Winnetka, Calif.-based social-media firm McKenna’s Marketing, about how companies should tap into social-networking sites to lure last-minute holiday shoppers this season. Retailers, listen closely:

“Twitter is the place to be to get the word out about timely promotions,” McKenna said. “Meanwhile, both Twitter and Facebook can be used to offer up exclusive discounts, and hold countdowns and contests.”

Retailers can also use these sites as a vehicle to let consumers know what’s still in stock (and what’s going fast). “Anything that stimulates demand is effective,” said McKenna.

In addition, don’t be afraid to send out more than one tweet to plug a Twitter promotion. “Create some buzz, and get the word out as much as possible,” McKenna added. “Send out between five and eight tweets in a 24-hour period.”

Online retailers: Highlight what’s in stock

Once again, let me gush over Amazon.com for a moment: I love how the company's latest email blast highlights what items are still in stock and readily available to mailed out ASAP.

It's no secret that retailers expected inventory levels to be especially low this year. Since many retailers last year were left with lots of unsold merchandise after the holiday season, companies ordered fewer items this year to fill shelves. News of this spread quickly among shoppers, so be clear and tell them what's still in stock. Then offer guaranteed shipping so they know it will arrive in time.

Amazon's been on my good list all year ...

KISS works at Wal-Mart

Ever wonder what it would be like if the members of KISS worked at your local Wal-Mart? OK, me neither. But how amusing would it be to see them there, stocking the shelves and helping you at checkout? Click the video to watch. KISS is currently selling -- and promoting -- its latest album, "Sonic Boom," exclusively at Wal-Mart.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Target pops up in NYC

Target opened a temporary store in New York City today, attracting dozens of shoppers lined up in the cold for a chance to snag some of the retailer’s most-popular holiday gift items. Despite this morning's freezing temperatures (I mean, freezing), I went downtown to check out the launch.

The pop-up location Target To-Go is creatively set up like an outdoor take-out dining spot, where shoppers peruse items listed on signage resembling a menu at a fast-food restaurant. Customers then order by number and take the items to go. All gifts come already wrapped.

Those waiting in line at Target To-Go -- situated at the intersection of Gansevoort and Washington Streets near the High Line entrance -- received a clipboard with a list of the available 50 items -- ranging from toys and gadgets to home decor, beauty and fashion items.

The list is intended to give shoppers an idea of what to expect when they arrive at the front of the line. The location also features product displays to showcase the items for sale.

The concept is extremely unique and should fare well during its short stint in Manhattan. Target is also opening temporary holiday pop-up shops in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“This holiday season, we wanted to give our urban markets a little slice of Target,” said Shawn Gensch, VP of marketing for Target. “We’re always trying to reach our guests in new and interesting ways, and Target To-Go gives time-starved city dwellers a convenient and affordable holiday shopping experience.”

The NYC iteration of Target To-Go is open to the public from Dec. 11 to Dec. 13, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The holidays in a social networking world

I've had a little Twitter bird sitting on top of my cubicle nameplate for well over a year now. I like to think of him as my office mascot and he's certainly a good conversation starter too, especially when people briskly pass by, knock him over and then comment on his adorableness before putting him back on his perch.

Anyway, my cubicle recently underwent a full-on holiday decoration transformation, courtesy of editor-in-chief Marianne Wilson. The revamp is especially fitting these days as I've been spending a good portion of time researching how retailers are adding seasonal spirit to their social networking initiatives. Is your company doing anything specific to stand out this season on sites like Twitter of Facebook? Drop me an email (smurphy@lf.com) and share your story!

Happy Holidays from my office to yours!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Give a good game

Idea of the day: Let the online world replicate the brick-and-mortar experience by creating the same holiday excitement that occurs in stores.

How to do so? Industry experts suggest online retailers offer time-sensitive specials. For example, just as some stores often open its doors at midnight or 5 a.m. during the season, dare your customers to shop online at these odd hours by offering discounts.

Create some hype --- shoppers will surely buy into it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Go ahead and be perky already...

More consumers are buying gift cards online instead of purchasing them in person, according to the Pre-Holiday Online Shopper Gift Card Survey, sponsored by CashStar. And an overwhelming 88% of online shoppers indicated that they would be more likely to purchase a gift card that has an incentive attached, such as sending a $50 gift card and receiving a $10 gift card in return for the shopper itself.

It looks like restaurant chain Houlihan's is paying attention. This promotion landed in my inbox, and I like the way it sounds.

It’s perfect timing too -- it's no secret that gift cards are a top seller in the last 15 days leading up to Christmas, so they should be promoted throughout retail sites by now. Gift cards should also be highlighted in the obvious spots -- such as the home page and product pages -- but don’t overlook less obvious areas either, such as the key shopping cart section, according to Ken Burke, founder and chairman of Petaluma, Calif.-based MarketLive, an e-commerce software and solutions provider.

“The shopping cart page allows shoppers to think about the purchases they want to make before heading to checkout,” Burke recently told me. “Pair the promotion with the catchy verbiage, such as ‘Forget someone on your shopping list? A gift card is an easy solution!’"

Since a gift card is the cheapest thing a company can send, Burke said ship it to shoppers for free. “These perks can be very effective,” Burke added.

So start showing off your best incentives ...

Playing up the Christmas calendar countdown

Amazon.com reigns supreme in the online shopping world, and rightfully so. It plays all the right moves to lure shoppers to its site, especially around the holidays when its free shipping on orders over $25 offer goes an extra long way.

Although not all retailers can afford to offer free - incentives, it's critical that they make shipping a priority.

Here's an easy way how: Since customers don’t want to risk that their purchases might not arrive in time, retailers should take the mystery -- and anxiety -- out of the equation by calling out shipping dates across the site, especially in the days leading up to Dec. 25.

Retailers should also send out dedicated e-mails to remind shoppers how much time is left to make a purchase so it arrives by a certain date. Use language such as “Only 48 hours left!” to create a sense of urgency.

It's simple concepts like this that go a long way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Free shipping for all procrastinators

How can you not love the idea of a dedicated free shipping day? Now with Cyber Monday long gone, retailers and online consumers alike have December 17th to look forward to. The one-day event offers free shipping to customers with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

More than 450 retailers have already signed up to participate in "Free Shipping Day," eclipsing last year’s final tally of 250. Participating merchants include Toys R Us, J.C. Penney, Apple Store, Nike, Sears, Babies R Us, Eddie Bauer, PacSun, PetSmart, and Ralph Lauren.

“Numbers show that online shopping dramatically slows after December 10th,” said Luke Knowles, founder of FreeShippingDay.com. “The day encourages people to continue buying items online later into the month of December, and obviously this is appealing for retailers.”

Offering free shipping is always a smart move for retailers, and this is a great way to attract sales from -last-minute shoppers. What a great way to celebrate procrastination!

Manhattan Holiday Window Displays

Speaking of innovative holiday windows popping up throughout Manhattan, I got a little carried away with some research. Click above to see a compilation of the city's most popular displays, along with a voiceover by yours truly.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great things come in pairs...

... which is precisely why I love Bloomingdales' holiday window series this year. The colorful display embraces a "dynamic duo" theme that features famous couples -- from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and Batman and Robin to salt and pepper shakers -- all lined up to meet Santa.

Photos courtesy of Rudy Pospisil, anothernormal.com

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Cyber Monday!

It's Cyber Monday, the official kick-off to the online holiday shopping season! Many retailers are getting in on the action today, offering online shoppers everything from free shipping on all orders (from companies such as American Eagle Outfitters) to 60% off toy purchases from Toys "R" Us. Who could resist?

It will be interesting to see how consumers will turn out online today. Web sales were already up this past Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, shoppers spent 35% more on Black Friday Web purchases than a year earlier, with the average order value reaching $170.19, according to online retail analytics company Coremetrics. Those shoppers bought an average of 5.4 items per order, up from 4.6 items last year. We'll see how the sites fare today!

Visit the National Retail Federation's site, CyberMonday.com, for a list of retailers offering top deals -- is your company highlighted this year?

(Image via Zazzle.com)

Ikea tags its way to the top

Check out Ikea's fascinating use of social marketing via a Facebook photo-tagging promotion that's truly one of a kind. This video is definitely worth a few minutes of your time!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Free e-holiday Starbucks cups for all

You know the holidays are in the air when Starbucks' signature red cups are everywhere -- and they aren't just in the hand's of loyal coffee drinkers, now they're gracing Facebook too.

Facebook members can give the gift of Starbucks to their online friends, thanks to a promotion from the Seattle-based coffee giant. Virtual icons include flavors Caramel Brulee, Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread Latte. A delicious promotion for sure.

A sweet tweet

Speaking of eBay, here's a smart Twitter incentive the company used to get shoppers to check out its new pop-up location.

eBay pops up for the holidays

I went to check out eBay's first pop-up store on 57th Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan e this week. The company's new 5,500-sq.-ft. store in bustling Midtown gives shoppers the chance to browse a sampling of 400 holiday products available from almost 200 million product listings on eBay -- including everything from Zhu Zhu Pets (one of the hottest toys this season) to diamond rings.

Although I was expecting some products would be available for immediate purchase at the store, shoppers were directed to surf and shop eBay via touchscreen kiosks or through eBay’s iPhone application.

It's uncertain how many customers will use the pop-up location to place bids and buy items through the site, but the store could influence shoppers to remember eBay when doing holiday shopping online.

eBay’s pop-up holiday experience is open to the public from Nov. 20 to Nov. 29 (closed on Thanksgiving Day).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

OfficeMax brings back the holiday magic

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

The video is me dressed as an elf doing some pretty awesome break dances. I have OfficeMax to thank for that. 'Tis the season for the retailer's popular free holiday e-greeting, ElfYourself.com, so let the ridiculousness begin!

Powered by JibJab Media, ElfYourself.com allows consumers to create free personalized holiday e-cards by uploading their photos and transforming themselves, family and friends into dancing elves. Users can then share their holiday e-cards via e-mail or using new capabilities that enable them to post their creations to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

Whether you want your friends or family to be center stage of a hip-hop video or a country hoedown, OfficeMax gives you that chance this holiday season. And it's certainly giving people something to talk about too. A very smart move all around.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ordering in the new world

I haven’t ordered from Pizza Hut in years and now I suddenly can’t get it off my mind. After the company announced earlier this week that it raked in more than $1 million in sales, in just three months, from its Pizza Hut app for the iPhone and iPod, my curiosity has inevitably peaked. What makes the app so special?

Not only is Pizza Hut the first national pizza chain to introduce an ordering app for the iPhone and iPod touch, it's one of the most engaging and uniquely entertaining apps out there.

When ordering pizzas, users can virtually build their own pizza by choosing a type of crust in the scroll wheel, "pinch" select the size they want, and drag-and-drop toppings onto the pizza, all with visual confirmation. If an overeager pizza customer adds too many toppings, the pizza explodes and toppings go flying across the screen with an alert to make their pizza happier with fewer toppings. How fun does that sound?

Meanwhile, the section used to order WingStreet wings starts with a bowl of wings that changes as users choose the type of wings they want. Next they select a sauce and are prompted to "sauce their wings" by shaking their iPhone or iPod touch until the wings are covered. Shake too long and the sauce flies across the screen. As with the pizza ordering, customers finish with a representation of the ir order.

Pizza Hut also has given customers a way to pass the time as they wait for their order with a game called Pizza Hut Racer, in which users are challenged to deliver a pizza quickly while avoiding obstacles in the road. And finally, each time a user orders using the app they get 20% off their entire order.

All that said, it looks like Domino's has lots of strategizing to do ...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I always knew you'd be famous one day

American Eagle Outfitters is offering shoppers at its soon-to-open Times Square flagship a chance to see their face in bright lights.

After making a purchase, customers will be invited to pose in a mini photo studio for an experience the company is calling “15 Seconds of Fame.” Moments after, the customer’s photo will be projected onto 15,000 sq. ft. of LCD screens (25-stories high) outside the store for all of Times Square to see.

Customers can also write a quick message with their name and hometown to accompany their image. Since there is no minimum purchase and shoppers can participate as many times they want, I expect this will be a big hit, especially among younger shoppers.

I can just see their excited Facebook statuses now …

(Image via Associated Press)

Let's air a point-of-sale frustration

I understand that Express wants to keep track of its customers by asking for an e-mail address at the register, but let me tell you how frustrating it is to type into a keyboard without seeing a computer screen in front of me. Why is only a keyboard provided? I'm pretty sure I must mess up my e-mail address every time.

That said, the company must be limiting the growth of its e-mail database due to these inevitable typos. If Express wants to save on computer screens, wouldn't it be just as easy to tell the cashier your e-mail address? Just saying ...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Macy's gets ahead of the game (but that's O.K.)

O.K., so this might not have to do with Gen Y, but it does have to do with retail -- and as a Philadelphia-area native, it makes me very happy. (Though, I'm sure it angers a lot of my New York-based workers).

Macy's on Monday ran a pre-mature ad congratulating the Phillies on winning back-to-back championships. Click here for the full story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Powell's Books adds the personal touch

It seems like there are a bunch of bookseller updates these days, doesn't it? Next up: Powell’s Books.

The legendary Portland, Ore.-based retailer is gearing up to reach customers this holiday season with a targeted e-mail marketing campaign that delivers book recommendations to customers based on their preferences.

The company, which operates four general bookstores, two specialty stores and an e-commerce site, has been its testing e-mail marketing strategy throughout the year and has since seen an increase in online sales. In fact, its open-rate results are more than 70%.

The move to personalize the content of its e-mails comes as Powell's is expanding the reach of its e-mails and online marketing efforts with social media. It's done a lot to engage customers online -- and its strategies are worth a closer look. To find out more on what the company is doing, click here to read the Chain Store Age exclusive.

Click me!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buy now, get 50% off later

The Paradies Shops, an Atlanta-based bookseller that operates more than 500 stores in over 70 airports and hotels across the U.S. and Canada, is well known for its Read & Return Book Program. First introduced in 2003, the program allows travelers to buy a book and then return it within six months to receive 50% of the purchase price back. Books that are returned in good condition are then resold at half price, and those that aren't are donated to a local charity.

Curious about how the program is doing during a time where many cash-strapped shoppers are looking for ways to save, I checked in with Bobbi Passavanti, managing director of marketing and communications for The Paradies Shops -- and her answer was surprising:

"The program remains as strong as ever, but we actually don't measure the results," Passavanti told me. "Our book business has steadily increased about 20% over the years, but we're not as focused on the Read & Return program's numbers -- we just know it's successful by seeing how many loyal returning customers it brings in."

It's hard to believe that the company doesn't officially monitor the program's results, but even still, it's obvious it's working for them. "It's really grown over the past few years, mostly through word-of-mouth marketing," she said.

Passavanti said the program is especially popular among airport workers and flight crews, who have frequent access to its stores across the country. And when a customer purchases a book, the cashier either staples or tapes the receipt inside, along with a bookmark that lists all its locations.

How's that for smart marketing? Shoppers start thinking about when they can make a second trip to one of the company's stores even before they leave the one they're in.

Borders wants you to stay awhile

Borders Group recently signed a deal with Verizon Communications to provide free WiFi service in "virtually all" of its more than 500 stores around the country. Although this is GREAT news, I'm surprised Borders is only offering this service to shoppers now. Booksellers and coffee shops should all be wireless by now -- though, I think in this case, the key word here is "free" WiFi.

It's also smart the company is informing its online shoppers of this new service with a bold message on Borders.com. A good move for Borders all around.

Wanna chat? Why yes, I do.

A new study from RightNow to investigate online shoppers' attitudes towards the technology used for customer service found that consumers are foregoing traditional methods of communication with contact center agents, such as phone and e-mail, in favor of self-service and chat.

In fact, more than 64% of consumers who have engaged with an agent through a chat session said they would rather use this channel than speak with an agent on the phone; 69% said they would prefer to use chat than e-mail.

I fit right into this statistic. I always choose this option if it's available rather than picking up a phone or going into a store to ask a question. Sure, some might consider it lazy, but that's the brilliance of it. It's minimum effort with personal one-on-one customer service. What's not to love?

* As a side note, 1-800-Flowers.com plans to use its LiveChat tool to help answer questions during the holiday season. I suggest other retailers follow suit.

E-books to hurt booksellers

Just as downloadable digital music affected the entire music retailing industry, analysts are expecting that a shift from physical to digital books will hurt traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers, analysts said as Barnes & Noble launched its new e-reader. Introduced last week, the Nook is designed to compete against Amazon.com’s Kindle, which has dominated the e-reader market, and Sony’s Reader.

While Barnes & Noble might become a major player in the digital book business, its e-reader could actually speed the downward trend in its revenue and profit, said Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balte, in an Associated Press report.

“As the math currently works, each sale through a Nook is not just unprofitable but potentially replaces a higher-margin sale at stores,” Balter wrote in a client note Friday.

One obvious risk is that downloading books reduces the need to go into stores, Balter said.

E-book readership is small, but growing fast. Forrester Research predicts 3 million e-readers will sell in the United States in 2009, and twice that many in 2010.

Although there will always be something special about walking into a bookstore, perhaps it's inevitable that consumers will choose immediacy and convenience over that in-store experience ...

Hhgregg goes social

Appliance and electronics leader Hhgregg is opening a store in Memphis, Tenn., and in the Southhaven, Miss., area today -- the Southaven store is Hhgregg’s first store in the state of Mississippi. To introduce local-area shoppers to its brand, the company is turning to Facebook .

The Indianapolis-based retailer is launching its "Show Me Your State" Facebook photo contest to Tennessee and Mississippi residents until mid-November. Residents can download a picture of Hhgregg's mascot, "hh," take a picture of him at their favorite location in the state, and post it to his Facebook page for a chance to win a prize. It's another great way to encourage in-store shoppers to interact with the company online.

What is your company doing to bridge the gap?

PS - How cute is 'hh'?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gap wants to connect

Looking to create more interaction between its brand and customers, Gap Inc. is encouraging shoppers to click through to its Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages via the bottom of its e-mail marketing initiatives.

Embedded flash messages occur within the e-mail: "Born To Fit," "Born to Party" and "Born to Connect." Then it asks, "What were you born to do?"

Shoppers are then pushed to information about the company's new "Born To Fit" campaign. On Facebook, for example, Gap's page is filled with videos, style ideas and tips to find the perfect jean for your body type.

Retailers are looking for new ways to push shoppers to their social networking pages, and e-mail marketing is another smart way to cross that bridge.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Embracing the shopping bag

Express first started to get the word out about its social networking initiatives by encouraging shoppers to visit its Facebook page or follow its CMO on Twitter (@ExpressLisaG) via their receipts. Now, the company is taking it a step further by placing its messaging on the bottom of its shopping bags.

Although it might seem like an unusual place for this type of marketing, the shake up is surprisingly eye catching since customers are used to blank-bottomed bags. The attempt is successful in my book.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Amazon gives Twilighters a sweet treat

Amazon.com is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 weeks of sweepstakes starting today and ending in mid-December. Prizes range from $10,000 diamond earrings to a high-def home theater and a dream kitchen.

This week, Amazon is taking a stab at luring Gen Y shoppers to its site by offering two tickets to attend "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" premiere in Los Angeles and a chance to meet members of the cast.

It's not a quick and simple enter-and-run giveaway, though -- you have to create, add to, or share an Amazon Wish List to automatically be invited to enter. And then the site will surely keep tabs on your list, reminding you it's there and encouraging you to purchase.

It's smart -- they're giving a little with potential to get a lot back.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dressed to kill

Lord & Taylor might seem like an unlikely choice to showcase fashion from the serial killer drama Dexter, but the retailer has teamed up with Showtime to prepare for the show's upcoming season premiere set to air this Sunday.

Lord & Taylor unveiled its Dexter-themed window displays last night at its 5th Avenue and 39th Street location in Manhattan. The windows captured the essence of the hit series, aiming to show how the character leads a secret double life. Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall, is a serial killer when not working at the Miami Metro Police Department as a blood spatter analyst.

Visitors at the unveiling had the opportunity to take a professional photo with a large Dexter display, enter to win a weekend getaway for two to Dexter's hometown of Miami, and the first 250 people to arrive at the scene received a Dexter gift bag, filled with books and DVDs, valued at over $100.

Those lucky enough to arrive early were given a ticket to pick up their gift bag inside the store, appropriately in the men's department. There, customers could enjoy complimentary Dexter-themed drinks, which included a Blood martini.

Although many discussed what might happen on Dexter this season, others shopped the area and eventually found their way to the nearest cash register. Blood martinis and killer fashion? A lethal combination indeed.