Thursday, June 25, 2009

Twitter: How are you getting followers?

Retailers are trying to get the word out about their Twitter accounts in different ways. For example, Express lets shoppers know via in-store receipts and Whole Foods has signage outside some locations. Meanwhile, many companies are posting Twitter logos on the top of their sites (like CSA!), and others, such as Famous Footwear, have the well-known Twitter bird on the bottom of their homepage.

Everyone is still trying to figure out the best way to build their follower base. How are you getting the word out? What strategies do you think work best? And finally, where do you think the logo should go -- at the top of a homepage? The bottom?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The decison engine: Giving Google a run for its money?

Microsoft's new search engine Bing was all the buzz at the Internet Retailer conference in Boston last week, and there's a good chance you've already seen some of its commercials on TV. Microsoft is expected to spend at least $80 million promoting its new product.

With four-and-a-half sites created EVERY SECOND on the Web, it's often daunting for consumers to weed through search-engine results to find the answers they want. Unless users have specific fact-based questions such as, "What is the capital of North Dakota?" or "Who was the 17th president?," search engines often provide an overload of information and make it hard to get those complex questions answered (e.g. "What camera model is best for me?").

Bing, the new "decision engine" from Microsoft, aims to make it easier to sift through the Web's wealth of information. It's a fascinating site and I recommend you take a few minutes to check it out.

Bing brings together price comparisons, images and reviews to help shoppers quickly find the products and deals they want. Deals are found from all over the Web, sorted and grouped so it's easy for users to zero in on what they want and make better purchasing decisions. It also helps consumers get cash back from hundreds of retailers (see the demo for details). In addition, a feature called Price Predictor actually reveals when to buy an airline ticket in order to get the best price: For example, "this price will drop in three days, so wait until then."

Its commercials, which feature people rambling off information rather than answering a simple question, are clever. Although the TV spots don't explain HOW the site works, traffic numbers show that people are flocking to Bing to check it out.

Watch the demo at the top, check out the site,, and drop me a line. I'd love to know what you think.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You followin' me, camera guy?

I heard Tom Cox, CEO at golf products retailer, speak at the Internet Retailer conference in Boston last week about how the company is tapping into different forms of social media. And although some of the company's social media experiments have been successful in the past, it was great to hear about some of its flops, as well. (It just means is trying out new things!)

This video spoofs the infamous ShamWOW TV commercial. Even though the company doesn't view the video as a success, it looks like YouTube users have gotten a kick out of it -- and perhaps that's a success in itself.

Epic Hollister rides the wave

Abercrombie & Fitch announced earlier today that it plans to open a Co. flagship, called Epic Hollister, in downtown Manhattan on July 16. The 40,000-sq.-ft. store is designed to embody the Southern California lifestyle and is described by its parent as the first of its kind in the world.

The Epic Hollister's microsite features a first look of store construction, downloadable screensavers, postcards and a countdown to opening day. It also provides the opportunity to get "cast" as a store model and the chance to be featured in the brand's photography.

The welcome video that plays when you enter the site completely embraces the Southern California lifestyle it's going for. It follows a surfer who gets out of a cab on West Broadway and Houston in Manhattan and heads toward the new location.

For more insights on the new concept, check out Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson's video blog on Epic Hollister here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

America runs on Apple apps

Retailers are all about offering free apps for the iPhone and iTouch these days. Here's how Dunkin' Donuts and Whole Foods Market are getting in on the action:

Dunkin’ Donuts' "Dunkin’ Run" app aims to make it easier for customers to
place group orders. Since some consumers go on coffee runs during the work
day to get coffee for themselves and colleagues, the app is designed for easy pre-orders and pickups at their nearest location.

Whole Foods Market also launched an Apple app that allows iPhone and iPod touch users to browse its entire selection of over 2,000 online recipes.

Searchable by ingredient, special diets and other elements such as "budget" and "family friendly," each recipe contains detailed preparation instructions and nutritional information, which can be copied and pasted, saved as a personal "favorite" and e-mailed from within the app itself.

Built with the new iPhone OS 3.0 software, the app also comes with a store locator, where customers use a ZIP code search or the iPhone's built-in location finder to view maps and identify their nearest Whole Foods Market. Each store page contains operating hours, phone and address, store specials, directions and links to maps. And the reviews at the iTunes Apple store have been pretty strong so far.

These apps are all about making life easier for shoppers. I love it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tweet if you can hear me

Conference attendees are often advised to turn off their cell phones or Blackberries as a courtesy to speakers at various industry events, but attendees of the Internet Retailer show in Boston earlier this week were encouraged to Twitter throughout the show.

After I updated Chain Store Age's Twitter status during the session, "To socialize or not to socialize," a representative from a technology company I've profiled in the past saw my message and tweeted me back. "Is that Samantha?"

Although I couldn't find them in the crowded room, it's funny how the Web can make big spaces feel so much smaller sometimes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pretty in Pink 2.0

When Molly Ringwald needed a dress for her prom in 1986, she had fewer
design resources than today's teens. But this year, David's Bridal was prepared
for the big event.

In February, David's Bridal began its m-commerce campaign by collecting
information from its target demographic (13- to 17-year-olds) about what
dress styles they were most interested in wearing for spring prom. Shoppers
were prompted to vote for their favorites at the mobile Web site, and engage in interactive activities, which
generated useful information for the formal-wear retailer.

Read how David's Bridal leveraged this key information, here.

Just saying: More on language

It's great when retailers provide recipes or other tips to their target audience via its site. But my goodness, this advice from Williams-Sonoma about how to prepare lobster seems wildly violent. I realize that halfing and cleaning a lobster is not the most peaceful experience, but is it just me or does this language seem extra intense, especially since it's still alive?

Some excerpts:

If you have purchased a live lobster, plunge it into boiling water. Then rinse it under cold water to halt the cooking. Alternatively, set the lobster on a firm surface and securely hold the lobsters tail with a folded cloth to prevent slipping. Insert the tip of a large chefs knife straight down through the back of the lobster to the board, piercing the cross mark in the area between the first and second pairs of thin legs.

Cut the lobsters head in half lengthwise. If desired, hold an uncooked lobster over a bowl to catch the juices. Turn the lobster around, hold its head and cut the rest of the lobster sharply in half.

Lift away and discard the sand sac near the head. Using the tip of the knife, carefully remove the gray intestinal vein that runs along the lobsters back. With a small spoon, scoop out the liver.

The product suggestion for this is, of course, an extra-sharp cutting knife, priced at $129.99. The strategy is smart, tying merchandise to a direct use, but accurate advice isn't always as palatable as the end result.

Read it here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flip-flops with flare

The Gap and Havaianas Urban Beach Flip-Flop Shop, a Brazilian flip-flop shoe company, opened a pop-up store inside Gap's Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan in April, and I’ve been meaning check it out since it launched.

The Gap has been using the space for various pop-up store concepts since 2008, but upon my first impression earlier this week, this joint effort seemed to be quite the crowd pleaser. Young shoppers were quick to purchase the various brightly colored, affordable flip-flops, which vary in price depending on style. The color schemes are also in line with what the Gap is showing for the summer. (Selections of Gap’s current collection are also available for purchase at the Havaianas store).

Personalization is always a crowd favorite, especially among teens, and the store offers a station where shoppers can design and customize their own flip-flops. Very cool idea.

The pop-up closes tomorrow -- it's too bad, flip-flop season feels like it's only just begun.

The value of friendship

BusinessWeek's June 1, 2009, cover story, "Learning, and Profiting, from Online Friendships," dives into how companies are trying to profit from data about our online friendships.

The article is worth a read, and for those pressed for time, here is a quick rundown via video:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Happy National Doughnut Day!

It might be raining in Manhattan, but it's still a beautiful day, thanks to a free doughnut giveaway at participating Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme locations.

It seems like everyone is giving out free food these days -- from Denny's to Kentucky Fried Chicken -- but today's installment of complimentary treats comes with a little bit of history.

Celebrated on the first Friday of June each year, National Doughnut Day started during World War I. Salvation Army female volunteers made fresh donuts to boost soldier morale. The day was officially established in 1938 by the Salvation Army to raise money during the Great Depression.

Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, along with some independent donut shops, are commemorating the holiday by giving out free doughnuts to consumers. Though, at Dunkin' Donuts, you have to buy a drink too ...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

iTunes to go

Apple already has product vending machines in various airports for on-the-go travelers, but now it's looking to add iTunes kiosks to its repertoire. iPod, iTouch and iPhone users will be able to stock up on music and movies when away from the computer.

Although this sounds like a great concept, consumers with iPhones already have access to their iTunes store directly on the device. Though, perhaps it could be useful in limited Wi-Fi areas when a physical connection from device to computer would be needed.

Apple certainly loves its kiosks.

Beyond the Gen Y market

Here is another interesting article from The Wall Street Journal about how retailers are focusing too much on targeting younger women, when in fact, the majority of online apparel sales are made by women older than 35.

"It's so stupid," said David Wolfe, creative director of Doneger Group, fashion industry consultants. "The people doing the programming are still deluding themselves that the 18-to-34-year-old market is going to save them."

Hm, I'm not so sure how I feel about that, but read "The Forgotten Market Online" here.

Is Gen Y embracing Twitter?

The Wall Street Journal says no. And I have to agree. It's a great new resource for businesses to reach potential customers that are already on the site, but as far as adoption goes, all of my friends are still on Team Facebook -- and seem less than interested to switch ...

Click, click, click.

Have it your way -- now

Burger King has introduced a branded iPhone application that supports mobile orders. Supported by restaurant industry technology provider GoMobo, the app enables iPhone users to instantly log in and connect with They can choose their closest restaurant, input their order through the touch screen, and pay through their phone. The order is fulfilled at the selected destination.

Although user reviews have been relatively good, as consumers call the app easy and convenient, the biggest complaint is that Burger King makes the service available for only two locations, both in Queens, New York -- something that consumers don't find out until they have downloaded the app and have started the ordering process.

The app may have some things to work out, but at least it sounds like it's on to something big.

PS - Non-iPhone users can also place orders electronically via computer or text message by directly visiting

Living in a digital world

Not near your copy of Chain Store Age magazine when you want it? Don't worry, now you can catch up on the latest retail happenings via our first ever digital edition. The version allows you to flip through pages, search articles and see the publication as though it was in your own hands. And best of all, it's FREE.

Check it out here.

Cover story: Rules of engagement

When I was asked to write the cover story for the June issue of Chain Store Age about how retailers are connecting with consumers on social networking sites, I was thrilled that the growing phenomenon would take the editorial spotlight. It's a booming trend that just can't be ignored. For tips on how to leverage these initiatives and a look at where the industry is headed and how retailers are reacting, read the story here.