Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category.

What’s Hot in Social Media: April 2012

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It’s the end of April which can mean only one thing…our monthly round-up of what’s been causing a stir in the world of social media.

Movers and shakers

A couple of the giants of digital made some interesting moves in April, with Facebook buying Instagram for a sweet $1 billion and Google turning up the heat in the cloud wars with the launch of Google Drive.

April also saw blogging platform Tumblr release access to a real-time fire hose in collaboration with Gnip. Founded in 2007, Tumblr is particularly popular in the fashion and arts industries and now has about 46.2 million blogs. Access to the firehose – which is still currently exclusive to Gnip – will include all of Tumblr’s public data, which will mean access to analytics and brand monitoring opportunities.

Retail - trying on clothes virtually

Meanwhile, whilst we’re on the topic of fashion - John Lewis has been experimenting with virtual mirrors at its flagship store on Oxford street. Users can ‘try on’ outfits from a range of more than 500 garments without having to get changed. These can then be added to a virtual collection and shared via Twitter or Facebook.

Innovative Facebook marketing

Elsewhere on the internet, Volkswagen created a flipbook effect in a Facebook gallery for their Amarok. With over 200 photos to click through, this was a really innovative use of Facebook functionality - which only costs as much as the photos.

What have I missed? If you’ve seen anything hot this month, please do share it below!

The Chinese take on Pinterest

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New Chinese social media sites have long been inspired by popular sites and trends from the West, such as Facebook’s distant cousin Renren and Twitter’s brother Sina Weibo.  It is no surprise then that they have embraced Pinterest with both arms.

Rather than just creating direct clones of the site, they have been inspired by the image-heavy, ‘waterfall-like’ layout (the Chinese describe the dynamic grid as ‘Pubuliu’, meaning ‘waterfall stream’), creating new sites that use this layout but add different features or use it in different ways to Pinterest. We’ve found over 30 Chinese Pinterest variants (and we reckon the number is growing); here are a selection of the most interesting ones.

Chinese pinterest sites
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General interest sites

Huaban (meaning ‘Petal’) and Pinfun (no translation needed; even the logo looks familiar)

These sites closely emulate Pinterest , with users collecting, pinning and sharing images, video clips (Huaban) and gif files (Pinfun) of interest.  However, the content is mainly related to Chinese culture, such as upcoming Chinese festivity, popular Chinese stars, food and scenery in China.  Pinfun also has a link called ‘Pandora’, linking merchandise images to the online shopping website Taobao.

Food-specific sites

Meishixing (meaning ‘Gourmet Journey’) and LSKong (‘Lingshi’ means ‘Snacks’; ‘Kong’ means ‘Control’)

Meishixing allows users to share pictures of restaurant dishes they’ve eaten and liked, and ones that make them drool.  Click on the images and the restaurant name and its Google Map location are displayed.  Foodies can browse images according to cities in China; so far there are 38, and likely to increase.  LSKong focuses on snacks, finger food, tea, wine and Chinese medicinal drinks.  What makes LSKong different is its focus on each user’s profile page.  Like Facebook’s profile timeline feature, user’s ID page displays pictures and comments on their snacks; this invites other nibblers to comment on your discoveries too.

Fashion-based sites

Faxian

Early in March 2012 Alibaba Group launched their social shopping website Faxian (meaning ‘Discovery’) beta version.  Specifically targeted at female users, the site allows fashionistas to share and comment on items on virtual pin boards.  By clicking on images it also allows users to purchase items on Taobao.

Mogujie (meaning ‘Mushroom Street’)

Finally, we should look at the growing success of Mogujie (meaning ‘Mushroom Street’), launched in 2010.  The founder Chen Qi developed the concept of combining online shopping and web forums in 2008 by first experimenting with a cosmetics community website his wife was using.  He discovered that users are often unsure of what to buy and which products are stylish, or suitable to them.   Mogujie was already popular amongst females aged 18 to 25 (hence the site’s cutesy mushroom mascot), but when the site incorporated Pinterest’s visually attractive, image-heavy ‘waterfall’ layout, its number of daily visitors soared.  Since last December there were 400,000 registered fashionistas, and 120,000 daily visitors.

Mogujie has a rigorous user registration process; not only do you have to register your name and date of birth, you can add details of your height, weight, skin condition, shoe size and vital statistics. Like LSKong’s focus on profile pages, popular users become models showing everyone what and how they dress (like the UK site What I Wore Today), and provide fashion guidance to her followers.  There are pages dedicated to fashion brands, such as Topshop, Zara and H&M, and the items all link to the relevant pages on Taobao.

Mogujie is also not only about materialism.  During the Chinese Valentine’s Day (the 7th day in July according to the lunar calendar), the site set up a forum for single ladies spilling out their singleton woes, which became hugely popular and only adds to the site’s financial success.

Chen Qi is quick to point out that apart from the ‘waterfall’ layout, Mogujie is different from Pinterest in content and community management style. It is still early stages to decide which of the few Chinese Pinterest variants are here to stay, but we know that to copy like for like will not be sustainable.

Social media, perfect information and whether the best products will always win

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There is a concept in macroeconomics called ‘perfect information‘. In brief (and apologies for missing many details of the theory and debate for a non-specialist audience), this would say that if all consumers know all things, about all products, at all times, then they will choose the best one for them. Taken to its conclusion, this theory would say that the best products would get the highest sales; and conversely the worst products would get no sales. The best products would survive, because they are the best.

Traditionally, in any purchase, the consumer does not have perfect information at all. Buying a TV, for example, there was no way that they can know all things about all products. Their selection was immediately reduced to the ones a particular store had chosen to stock (so they were not even exposed to all products), they got most of their information from either what the manufacturer or the salesperson chooses to highlight (and so they were in control of the information that is known) and, critically, they did not know about future products that might be just about to come out. The power in this sales relationship lies with the manufacturer and the salesperson, and not the consumer.

Of course, there have been many ways that this ‘information asymmetry‘ can be rebalanced. Organisations such as Which? in the UK have long published detailed reviews and analyses of products. As competition in the market grows, consumers have access to more stores in their towns and online that stock more products for them to compare against. But they are still limited by the products they are able to find (and then buy) and in most cases by the information the manufacturers and salespeople choose to release about their product.

Social media has changed this, or at least many would say has the potential to change this. Reviews, the ability to find other people with a product, and the ability to share images, videos and discussions have flooded the market with information from consumers and for consumers. The manufacturers and salespeople have lost some of their advantage and the information asymmetry is yet again rebalanced a little.

But, will all this extra information flooding the market lead to consumers knowing about all products that exist, knowing all information about these, and having this information to hand when they want it? Will social media lead to perfect information in the consumer market?

It is tempting to claim that it will do. Tempting to claim that social media is bringing a revolution in consumer information that will put consumers on an equal footing with manufacturers, salespeople (and marketers). Tempting to claim that social media will lead to only the best products surviving in the market. But this is unlikely to be the case.

What is happening is actually confusing the picture even more than it was before. In the traditional example above, it was clear that the manufacturer and salesperson had more information than the consumer, and everybody knew that. Social media has not led to perfect information, but rather has made things less clear.

Now the consumer does have more information, that is clear and is evidenced in their changing purchasing behaviour. It is marked in some markets (notably hotels with the likes of Tripadvisor) than others, but this extra information is coming and is changing markets. However, this information is not perfect - the consumer still does not know everything about every product - social media is creating two bigger issues with this information:

  1. Access to information. The real challenge with all this extra information in the market is the ability for consumers to search for, sort through and find the information they want. As more and more information is out there, tools and organisations that facilitate this will become more important and more valuable.
  2. Information accuracy. The problem with many reviews and other information in social media is that there is no way that we can 100% assure its accuracy. Often this doesn’t matter - we use it to help inform a decision and use our best judgement to decide on the accuracy. But perfect information relies on the information we have about a product being accurate. As has been seen (again with many Tripadvisor reviews), this cannot be relied upon.

So social media is certainly flooding the market with information. It is definitely rebalancing the information asymmetry between the manufactures / salespeople and the consumer. And it is evidently changing consumer behaviour and making brands change and behave differently too.

But is social media leading to perfect information? No. It is muddying the waters. Perhaps the biggest danger (or advantage - depending on the point of view you are looking at this from) is that social media is leading consumers to think they have all the information and are making the best choices of the best products because of this. When in reality they may be getting closer to this state, but they are not there yet and will probably never get there.

Creating engaging content: US department stores Barneys vs Saks in social media

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They’re two of the most iconic department stores in New York, but just how well are Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys using social media? We used Social Bakers to take a look at these two US retail giants and see whether they are making the most of their brands online.

Despite being a mere ten minute walk down the street from each other, Barneys and Saks are already miles apart when it comes to Facebook fans. Whilst Saks has a healthy 288,000 fans, Barney’s has almost half with 162,000.

But as we all know, it’s not just about how many ‘likes’ you’ve got but what you do with them that counts. In the battle of the department stores, who is really engaging with their customers in social media?

If we take a look at the ‘talking about this’ numbers for the two pages, Barney’s has 3,610 whilst Saks has 3,607, despite the greater number of fans. This suggests that Barneys must have a well thought-out content strategy which engages its audience much more effectively than Saks.

So what is this content strategy and how could Saks learn from it?

Think about when you post your content

First of all, looking at the data from Social Bakers, Barneys gets its best rate of engagement between 8-9am in the morning, whereas Saks gets a good (but not as high) rate around lunchtime.

Barneys also has a nice increase in engagement at around 9pm, whereas engagement on the Saks page has generally tailed off by this time.

This suggests that Barneys are making the most of those pre- and post-work Facebookers by posting earlier in the morning and later in the day. As we all know, social media never sleeps, but it looks like Saks may not have got to grips with this fact as strongly as Barneys has. Even if your staff work 9-5, they should be using the right tools to ensure that the page is pushing out content at the best times for your audience.

Think about what type of content you post

Interestingly, it looks like Barneys almost exclusively post links on their Facebook page. They create a strong call-to-action by posting links to great items in their stores with short, punchy copy such as “Flirty. Feminine. Floral”. It invites the fan to read, agree and hit those ‘like’ buttons, leading to an engagement rate of 0.06% on links compared to Saks’ 0.03% rate.

In contrast, Saks Fifth Avenue posts more varied types of content. Their main focus appears to be photos which are often posted using their ‘Involver’ fanpage tool. These photos don’t appear very big on their timeline, but still seem to get their highest rate of engagement with content on the page with 0.06% of fans interacting with these. However, they still do not manage to outstrip Barneys with any types of content.

It may be that Saks need to look at how their audience is responding to their content. Community management requires constant analysis of how your posts are going down with your audience – if something works well, it makes sense to experiment with posting it more often. Similarly, if something is not working for your fans, it may be worth looking at changing your approach or posting more infrequently.

Keep it short and simple

It is worth taking a moment to look at Barneys’ impressive 0.14% engagement rate on their status updates. Both pages post status updates, so why are fans interacting with Barneys more than with Saks? Have a read of the following updates and think about which one you are more likely to like or comment on…

It’s important to remember that Facebook fans have a notoriously short attention spans, so instead of asking them to try and figure out the sentence and fill in multiple blanks, Saks should be asking more short, simple questions like the one from Barneys.

Social media cases study: Tesco and social shopping platform Foodie.fm

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You may’ve heard that supermarket behemoth Tesco has signed up for Foodie.fm - a service which has been dubbed by its backers as “the Facebook for grocers”.

Launched by technology firm Digital Foodie, Foodie.fm claims to be the first social network to offer a social shopping platform for grocers via a fully integrated checkout with www.tesco.com.

Having purchased social media company BzzAgent back in May last year,Tesco is certainly not shy about using social media as part of its wider business strategy, and their partnership with Foodie.fm looks like another way of embracing multichannel more effectively.

Foodie.fm, available as free app on iPhone, Android and Nokia applications, as well as via the Web and Facebook, enables users to make friends with other food lovers and to swap cooking tips and recipes. Visitors can create an editable shopping list, based around a meal, by clicking on photos of recipes. For example, if a user was to click on the recipe for beef burgers, the shopping list would consist of  mince meat, onions, salt, etc.

The Foodie.fm site then checks availability with Tesco before the order is placed, the customer pays and delivery is arranged.

At the core of Foodie.fm is a recommendation system that learns from a user’s eating and purchasing habits, and suggests recipes and groceries that match his or her ‘taste profile’. The system takes into account personal preferences like food allergies or intolerance, as well as any budgetary restrictions. This enables users to personalise their profile and allows the site to suggest recipes and groceries to match customer profiles. It is this customised shopping list that will help the consumer plan and budget for a week, or even month’s worth of meals, and the shopping that is needed for it, in one go.

Until now, food retailers and consumer packaged goods were somewhat sheltered from the toughening economy, with 40% of people spending more on groceries than 3 months ago (according to Deloitte) - a result not just determined by inflation, but the fact that the tough current economy means that people spending are more time at home cooking for themselves rather than eating out in bars and restaurants.

However, as Deloitte has pointed out in their recent Consumer Review,  40% of the value of all transactions in non-food retail are now digitally influenced, and it’s hard to believe this influence will not impact food and consumer packaged goods too moving forward.

With this in mind, food retailers would do well to explore options like Tesco’s partnership with Foodie.fm. Given the rise of the connected customer, retailers should look at strategies for integrating social and multichannel into their offering, and should look at ways at becoming an agile and fully engaged social business.