Thursday, April 22, 2010

Looking to fit in

As e-commerce continues to grab a larger share of retailers’ revenues, many chains are still trying to figure out how to best close the cross-channel gap and reach out to shoppers in dynamic, engaging ways. Indeed, that was a dominant theme at the 2010 eTail West conference, in Palms Springs, Calif., back in February, where merchants across the board discussed how they are adapting to the changing retail landscape.

It's taken me awhile to get up some notes, but here's a look at some initiatives being deployed by retailers nationwide. In this post, let's start with Gap.

Gap has admittedly struggled with altering its marketing strategy to the online world in recent years, according to Keith Mercier, VP of Gap Online for Gap Inc.

“Back in the mid-90s, we were telling shoppers what to wear and when to wear it, and shoppers would then just show up at our stores,” Mercier said during the session “Creating A Dynamic Social Strategy.” “We called it brand communication, but there wasn’t actually a two-way dialogue with our customers. The times have since changed, and we’re trying to figure out how to change with it.”

Looking to become more relevant to modern shoppers, the Gap took a different marketing approach last fall with the launch of its “Born to Fit” campaign, which aimed to reintroduce Gap denim to consumers. Although the company still used traditional mediums, such as print—not TV—to promote the new line, most of its resources were used online.

It launched a “Born to Fit” page on Facebook, where shoppers could discuss what they were “Born to Do.” Videos were also uploaded of Gap employees, community leaders and celebrities talking about their passions.

“We knew we wanted to get involved with social networking, but you can’t buy a timeslot in these online communities like you would for TV,” Mercier said. “It took us awhile to figure out how to make it work.”

Gap also uploaded videos onto Facebook that showed a behind-the-scenes look at its headquarters and featured designers working on different styles.

“Since we usually paint a perfect picture of the company to the public, it took a lot from us to take our audiences behind the scenes and show them we’re not perfect after all,” Mercier said.

Before the launch of its “Born to Fit” campaign, Gap reached out to fashion bloggers and sent them jeans to test.

“We were putting our money where our mouth was like we never had before, and that was scary,” Mercier explained.

In another big first step, launched an online customer reviews feature.

“It took us a long time to be OK with the fact that some people might write negative feedback,” Mercier said. “All of this, however, has been a positive experience, and we’ve learned some great things in the process.”

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