Archive for the 'Social networking' Category

Are social media driving the speed of trends?

The short answer to my own headline question (above) is “yes,” but there is a lot more to this issue. Here’s my comment from a recent RetailWire panel discussion:

Social media may be a factor in fashion trends going Aeand moving faster. But the influence of “fast fashion” retailers (Zara, Forever 21 and others) can’t be understated. They mastered their supply chain in order to bring new goods to the selling floor a lot faster, and in order to react to early test orders in a big way. Most traditional retailers built their logistics around long lead times, especially on private-brand goods, and are scrambling to catch up.

The idea of “speed to market” requires a change in mindset — affecting supply chain management, the willingness to chase big ideas, and the ability of retailers’ vendors to move just as fast.

What can retailers learn from the United fiasco?

Like everybody else, RetailWire panelists enjoyed a chance to speak out about the well-reported United Airlines incident, in which an overbooked passenger was dragged off the plane. The question I try to answer, below, is “What can retailers learn from this?”:

Consumers have choices of retailers, just as they (often) have choices of airlines and other service providers. One of the lessons that any customer-facing business ought to take away from the United fiasco is the need to empower employees to look past the policy manual when it’s time to exercise some good judgment. (In the case of United, it would have been easier to seek volunteers for rebooking instead of working from a mandatory list.) Policies are meant to protect a retailer’s assets and to manage risk, but they shouldn’t turn into a roadblock to common sense.

And the second lesson learned: If your company hasn’t learned the power of viral social networking by now, you’d better get your communications act together fast. Above all, don’t blame the consumer for your own missteps.

Starbucks’ holiday cup causes a minor stir

Amazing that Starbucks’ redesign of its holiday cup (solid red plus its green logo) stirred up controversy, at least for a few days. But RetailWire panelists joined the fray:

Starbucks’ mistake (if it was one) was in redesigning its cups to eliminate winter motifs, but these were not Christmas-specific in the first place. So it’s a stretch to look for signs of the “war on Christmas” in this case. Retailers do need to be sensitive to those customers who celebrate other holidays in December (mostly in terms of their product offerings) but I see very little evidence of an “anti-Christmas” feeling out there. Most retailers don’t shy away from either secular messaging (red and green decor) or “Merry Christmas” graphics throughout their stores and in their sale circulars.

The so-called “war on Christmas” is an example of reverse political correctness run amok.

What does Gen Y expect from its advertisers?

A recent RetailWire discussion centered on Millennials and their “cynical” view of marketing in general. I’m not certain whether it’s fair to call it cynicism — since a lot of Gen Y opinions are wrapped in idealism, too — but it’s clear from the data that younger consumers view brands with a jaundiced eye. Here’s my opinion:

I believe that Millennials are more media-savvy than their parents and grandparents, and more likely to form collective opinions through social networking, review sites and other word-of-mouth. There is plenty of data to support this, not just the numbers reported in the article. While there has always been a degree of cynicism about marketing in popular culture, it is probably reaching an apex with Gen Y.

As to “trustworthiness,” I think that is the most critical value across all generations, not just among Millennials. The idea may have multiple definitions, however, ranging from the perception of value (a combination of price and quality) to the desire to deal with companies with a social conscience.

Santa came late this year

As if any retailer needs more bad publicity around Christmastime, there was plenty of anectodal evidence that stores and websites failed to meet their promise of “by Christmas” delivery. There is plenty of fault to share — and plenty of fingerpointing going on — between the e-commerce sites and the carriers like UPS and FedEx. (And plenty of time to figure out what happened.) While most RetailWire panelists essentially felt that the problem was overblown, I am hearing it turning into a “social networking” problem and I see a bigger narrative at play:

Without getting too deep here, I think the stories of missed deliveries are part of a larger narrative about the failure of our institutions to execute well. Setting aside your point of view about our government, it’s hard to ignore the fact that some of the most trusted brands in America — UPS, FedEx, Amazon, Target and others — have shaken their customers’ faith in their ability to do their fundamental jobs. Whether it’s delivering a package as promised, or protecting your credit card data, this has been a tough couple of weeks — and not just for e-commerce.

Brand challenges: New media, new distribution channels

From a recent RetailWire discussion about brand management, my comment is below. The topic focused on whether brands (vs. private label) still have a significant role to play in today’s retail landscape and — if so — how they can adapt their strategies in order to thrive. Here’s my perspecctive:

There is no doubt that social-networking tools can reach consumers who are unplugged from conventional media. Perhaps they don’t read the printed newspaper, or perhaps they watch TV on demand while skipping through the commercials. In any case, any brand needs to figure out how to reach this growing customer base in new ways.

Beyond the marketing question looms the question of distribution. Have you chosen the right stores to carry your brand? Is it a mass-market product that demands the widest possible distribution, or a brand with more high-end appeal and limited availability? Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to partner with retailers who have also figured out how to move their customers from satisfaction to loyalty.

Word-of-mouth marketing meets the 21st century

Here’s a RetailWire comment from a recent panel discussion about “word of mouth” marketing. The issue is whether retailers need to be more tuned into what their customers are saying about them, as technology migrates from the back fence to the smartphone. My opinion:

Assuming the integrity of reviews posted online, there is no doubt that sites like Yelp! and TripAdvisor have taken the idea of “word of mouth” to a completely different level. It’s true that the user of these sites misses the face-to-face aspect of personal conversations with friends and family, but these sites are powerful points of reference for consumers’ decision-making.

As TripAdvisor in particular evolves from a pure review site to an e-commerce site for hotel booking, it can build upon the sort of data mining and engagement models that companies like Amazon have already mastered.