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Retailers Stretch Social Media Strategies

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Not that long ago, social media was regarded a simple game of multiple choice by many retailers and brand marketers, with "A and B" (Facebook and Twitter) seen as manageable choices, but "all of the above" (Instagram? Vine?) being out of the question. This was the case even as consumers delighted in exploring the growing number of social platforms available to them.

Presentations at this month’s week's eTail West conference illustrated just how much marketers' mindsets have changed in terms of both social media's promise and the exercising of new options. The perception of social media as a necessary evil with dubious ROI has quickly evolved toward that of a playground of possibilities, particularly when it comes to user-generated content (UGC).

In particular, social media is becoming a cost-effective resource for satisfying marketers' insatiable appetites for images. Streetwear brand Stussy recently leveraged online content aggregator Social Board to grab all social content that included the "Stussy" hashtag, garnering millions of photos that the brand is using "for all kinds of things," according to its lead designer, Domenic Venneri.

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Meanwhile, Under Armour's successful, female-focused "what's beautiful" contest, which encourages women to share their goals and success stories, has allowed the company to glean a treasure trove of multi-media, user-generated content. Several companies, including Jetblue, have now made integrating more socially-derived UGC into corporate websites a top initiative.

Under Armour's mobile app gathers vital stats from users.

Under Armour's mobile app gathers vital stats from users.

Many companies are awakening to the power of the "visual web," which is also driving accelerated interest in Instagram and Pinterest. Steve Hartman, Urban Outfitters' managing director of direct marketing, called Instagram a "huge" engagement venue for the brand, noting that even pictures of employees' shoes have immediately grabbed over 40,000 likes. By contrast, Urban leverages Pinterest for showcasing product. Katie Laird, Blinds.com’s social media manager, said that it wasn’t until they “dug deep” into the data that they realized how important Pinterest is to their business.

As new options proliferate, fewer marketers are defaulting to a "Facebook first" strategy, although Twitter seems to have only gained in popularity, despite the crowded field. For Urban Outfitters, JetBlue, blinds.com and others, Twitter plays a vital customer support role and, in some cases, marketers are intentionally leveraging the platform to take the pressure off of call centers and other traditional customer service solutions.

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Some are also taking more measured approaches to Twitter promotions. According to JetBlue's head of digital commerce, Maryssa Miller, its deep discount promotions on Twitter have been so successful that the company has had to deploy them sparingly. Under Armour selectively uses Twitter to promote flash sales and to get the word out as it makes forays into new categories such as basketball. The preponderance of players who are active on Twitter ensures exponential reach by association.

In terms of up and comers, Twitter-owned Vine, a micro-video platform that is being called a mashup of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, was cited most often as the "one to watch" in my conversations at the event.

Read Carol's other E tail West articles:

What Will It Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

Disney Store Makes Digital Magic

Prescient Points: A wrap-up of Carol's favorite moments from the show

This article also ran on Retail Wire. Check out the discussion.

Disney Store Makes Digital Magic

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

Carol Spieckerman covers eTail West

How can a beloved and iconic brand maintain an emotional connection with its customers, even as it powers through an ambitious omni-channel transformation? In her presentation at eTail West, Disney Stores' VP of ecommerce and marketing, Elissa Margolis, outlined how Disney Store is driving a uniquely Disney experience across multiple touch points.

Elissa Margolis, VP Ecommerce & Marketing, Disney Stores  (LinkedIn image)

Elissa Margolis, VP Ecommerce & Marketing, Disney Stores

(LinkedIn image)

Thanks to its highly-developed licensing programs, the Disney brand is ubiquitous in retail. By comparison, its Disney Store division represents a smaller piece of the corporate pie, yet, according to Margolis, its customers view shopping in its stores as the next best thing to visiting one of its theme parks. With an eye on making its digital kingdom just as magical as its physical fiefdom, Disney began to build on a previous, functionality-focused redesign in 2010.

Disney Store's redesigned website

Disney Store's redesigned website

The "experience principles" and key considerations that guided the project from the onset included:

  • Don't let technology break the spell.
  • Convey Disney's specialty retail premise online.
  • Craft a distinctly Disney personality.
  • Make it about the guest.
  • Follow a "franchise-first" philosophy that emphasizes storytelling.

Through interviews with guests and visits to their homes, Disney gained a number of insights. They learned that some moms are driven by efficiency and a desire to check items off of lists, while others are motivated by their deep connection with Disney and a desire for their kids to enjoy experiences like their own. Changes that had initially been reduced in priority, such as the ability to sort items by color in non-apparel categories, were determined to be important to customers.

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Additional changes focused on aesthetics and content, including emphasizing lifestyle photography, enhancing zoom features, and even evolving copy to correspond with how a "cast member" (store associate) would speak to a guest. For example, the phrase "product details" was changed to "the magic is in the details."

To replicate the anticipation associated with a Disney Store visit, a new feature allows guests to record personalized videos for gift-giving occasions. Gift recipients first receive an e-mail confirming that something special is on the way, and then a personal URL included inside of their gift card takes them to the gift giver's video message. Customer feedback was also heeded regarding its surprise-spoiling gift packaging, which featured character art on the outside. Gifts are now sent in plain brown boxes.

At checkout, its confirmation order page pulls up content that can transport customers to Disney's network of sister sites and to information on upcoming events, all of which can be shared across social networks. In a complementary strategy, Disney Store associates are encouraged to facilitate online purchases for guests, which can then be shipped to guests' homes.

Disney Store is seeing double-digit growth and increases in guest engagement in the wake of its digital transformation. At the top of Ms. Margolis's list of takeaways is to go beyond the obvious goal of driving conversions and develop and adhere to user experience principles instead.

Read Carol's other E tail West articles:

What Will It Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

Retailers Stretch Social Media Strategies

Prescient Points: A wrap-up of Carol's favorite moments from the show

What Will it Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

The eye-popping statistics that permeated this month’s eTail West event made one thing clear: growth in mobile usage and mobile transactions has exceeded just about everyone's expectations. That’s cause for celebration for companies like online travel agency hotwire.com whose head of mobile, Melissa Matross, spoke about how the company has “leaned into the mobile web” from the beginning. Yet many companies are only now discovering unique challenges as their customers pursue all things mobile at escalating rates.

The dizzying array of devices that have entered the mobile ecosystem are bringing unprecedented complexity to the design process in particular. Responsive design is gaining favor with many marketers as it allows them to instantly adapt websites to device differences and resolve compatibility issues. Dell views responsive design as a mandate, since, according to its director of global mobile, Brandon McGee, designing specific applications for all of its business units in 160 countries and across all mobile devices is “impossible and not scalable.”

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Domenic Venneri, lead designer for street wear brand Stussy, agrees. According to Venneri, responsive design offers Stussy’s web designers the ultimate freedom to do what they do best within optimized parameters.

Marketers are also tracking a closer behavioral alignment between desktops and tablets, even as the latter's status as a "mobile" device remains an area of contention. Disney VP Elissa Margolis referred to this synergy between desktop and tablets as a "fat finger" sensibility. Mr. McGee cited it as a reason why companies can get away with using "slightly optimized" versions of their websites for tablets.

According to Tom Leighton, CEO of the cloud platform Akamai, mobile users expect sites to load in five seconds or less and the 30 fastest internet sites load in only two. By contrast, the top 30 mobile sites clock in at a sluggish average of nine seconds, a rate that compares with where traditional websites were in 2001. He cited several reasons, but emphasized that mobile is operating off of an infrastructure that was built for transmitting voices rather than bandwidth-hungry, multi-media content.

Unfortunately, shoppers' expectations have not dialed down accordingly. Mr. Leighton cautioned that abandonment rates escalate with every second, with four-five seconds marking a precipitous drop-off. Adding to the pressure, shoppers increasingly expect mobile sites to offer the rich experiences and full functionality that they've grown accustomed to on their desktops.

Dave Borrowman, senior director of product management at Gap, summed up the challenge by saying the mobile experience can no longer be reduced; it must be optimized.

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Marketers are pursuing a variety of strategies for mitigating mobile pain points, including adding bigger response buttons and text fields, providing optimized keyboards for numeric entries and ensuring that, as they move between devices, visitors' shopping experiences pick up where they left off.

Read Carol's other E tail West articles:

Retailers Stretch Social Media Strategies

Disney Store Makes Digital Magic.

Prescient Points from E tail West. Wrap-up of Carol's favorite moments from the show.

Retail Wire ran an edited version of this article. Check out the discussion.