A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Living Up to Customer Expectations at Every Channel

Guest blog by Oren Levy

In years past, traditional shoppers may have been loyal to a certain channel, but today’s consumer easily transitions from one shopping channel to another. Many shoppers choose to check prices online or via their smartphone and then pick up their purchase in a brick-and-mortar store. But the opposite is also true – shoppers may see something they like in a physical store but only complete the purchase online or via their mobile phone.

Furthermore, due to the blurring of boundaries between the online and offline channels, returns have become a key issue for both retailers and customers. Shoppers expect to be able to return goods at all of the retailers’ channels regardless of where the purchase was made.

What Motivates Today’s Omni-Channel Shoppers?

According to a 2014 study titled “BOPIS and BISBO Will Propel Retail into Orbit,” consumers are driven primarily by convenience, price and incentives. The study showed that 63% of shoppers buy online and pick up in-store at least a few times a year. Among the respondents, 82% stated that they would consider shopping this way if they received a $10 rebate on a $50 item or prepaid reward cards. Prepaid reward cards branded with the store’s name alongside a special offer actually drive double-digit spending in-store.

Improved digital experiences, particularly in mobile, have become a significant deciding factor for purchasing online. But many shoppers still enjoy visiting physical stores, which increasingly play the role of showrooms for web-only shoppers. Buyers can browse, check out a color or try something on.

Retailers Roll with the Punches

It wasn’t all that long ago that retailers were able to draw a clear line between online and offline operations; each sector was operated separately. But this type of separation no longer meets the requirements of today’s consumers, who demand immediate gratification. A recent study indicates that an overwhelming 70% of retailers said they have adopted an omni-channel strategy to link shoppers’ in-store experiences with e-commerce, mobile and social media platforms.

This kind of basic rethinking and the subsequent restructuring can be costly. But according to industry analyst firm eMarketer, by stepping up omni-channel efforts, retailers can ultimately reduce costs. Allowing shoppers to return online purchases in-store, and enabling them to use the store as a delivery hub for items purchased online can actually result in savings.

Macy’s recent announcement about the merging of its online and brick-and-mortar merchandising teams is a prime example of this kind of metamorphosis. Macy’s chairman and CEO Terry J. Lundgren stated, “Our business is rapidly evolving in response to changes in the way customers are shopping across stores, desktops, tablets and smartphones. We must continue to invest in our business to focus on where the customer is headed—to prepare for what’s next.”

Macy’s declared that it will create “one unified merchandising and marketing organization—a hybrid of store and online buying.” This new direction includes combining the retailer’s merchandising and marketing teams into single units, instead of having separate teams buying and marketing for the web and stores. As a result of the new visibility into companywide inventory in stores and distribution centers, Macy’s is also testing same-day delivery of online orders.

Other leading retailers whose consolidation centers have been traditionally separated by channel, including Home Depot, are also merging facilities. Target says that it is integrating two different channels to streamline operations, and it has reduced the cost of returns by leveraging return-to-store.

Managing Returns on Multiple Platforms

Returns are an inevitable component of the purchasing cycle. Rapid and seamless returns processing is no less important than a gratifying initial purchase transaction. Today’s market weighs in favor of the customer due to multiple available commerce options and social sharing. Many dissatisfied purchasers will go straight to Facebook or Twitter to express annoyance with a product. The very fact that a consumer chooses to return a purchased article signifies dissatisfaction. Therefore, the return process is often the last chance for a retailer to appease the buyer and recover customer loyalty.

Although returns often occur via a different channel than the original sale, today’s consumers expect retailers to have immediate access to every transaction, no matter where it took place. Due to the fact that many buyers do not bother to keep receipts, the retailer must also have the ability to locate the original transaction by searching for the customer’s name or other identifying data.

The rise of e-commerce has been accompanied by a surge in returns, forcing retailers to change the way they are handled. Returns have grown particularly in the areas of apparel, furniture and other items that people prefer to experience in person. It is not uncommon for customers to purchase several similar items with the intention of keeping only one of them. Many e-commerce retailers have started offering returns via parcel, and they often provide a return shipping label in the box. Return forms included in the supply package feature bar codes enabling rapid transaction call-ups.

Return Data Helps to Keep Customers Happy

Return data enables retailers to track returns by channel in order to identify problems. For example, if a certain item sold via ecommerce is returned more often than the same item when it is purchased in a brick-and-mortar store, the problem may lie with the way the product is being presented on the website.

Return data also helps retailers to flag “serial returners.” Return reports enable the discovery of customers that are abusing return policies so that future returns from them can be denied.

Multi-channel sales and returns are crucial elements in a constantly evolving retail experience. Customer loyalty depends increasingly on the retailer’s ability to seamlessly glide from one channel to another and back again without any hiccups. The bar is set pretty high, so the retail journey promises to be exciting, eventful and maybe even bumpy in the foreseeable future.

Oren Levy is CEO of Zooz

Social Media Strategies for Small Business Owners

Ad revenue from social networks in the U.S. is expected to climb from $7.32 billion 2014 to an astonishing $14.40 billion by 2017, eMarker projects. How is this possible? According to AddShoppers research, social network users spend 8.2 percent more than other online shoppers. So the trick to making more social sales is converting followers into buyers—something Internet Retailer Managing Editor Zak Stambor says is getting harder to do.

Businesses face the challenge of gaining visibility on popular platforms such as Facebook, as they navigate the ever-changing restrictions of social platforms. Stambor recommends buying more ads to solve this problem, but if there’s a cap on your advertising budget, there other creative, cost-efficient methods you can use to attract more followers and turn them into buyers. Here are just a few:

Make the Most of Analytics

Since 2012, New Orleans restaurant start-up Dinner Lab has leveraged analytics data collected from customers about their dining experience, to expand to 19 locations around the country, reports Entrepreneur’s Catherine Clifford. Success stories like this lead Forbes commentator Mark Sunday to identify big data analytics as today’s biggest enterprise accelerator. Retailers can put analytics to good use by collecting data such as how many customers enter the store at a given time, where they go, and what percentage of them make purchases. Stores can use this information to adjust their staffing schedule to meet peak demand times and to make shoppers customized offers on their smartphones, suggests New York Times business writer Eilene Zimmerman.

Use Graphics to Connect with Customers

Last spring, Socialbakers studied which posts get the most likes, comments, and shares on Facebook, and results showed that among the top 10 percent of the most engaging posts, 87 percent were photos. Photos performed even more powerfully on Pinterest, with the average shopper from that platform spending 77 percent more than their Facebook counterparts.

Nordstrom pioneered promotional applications of this phenomenon by featuring their most popular items on Pinterest and highlighting them with a special tag in stores. Nordstrom’s Pinterest success has led retailers such as Target to pursue Pinterest marketing, a strategy any small business can deploy.

Leverage the Power of Video

Last summer YouTube sought to attract more advertisers by acquiring Directr, an app designed to streamline small business marketing video production. Forrester sees video as the next big trend in online marketing, with spending projected to nearly double from $19.8 billion in 2014 to $37.6 billion in 2019 to account for 55 percent of all online display advertising revenue.

Shopify content consultant Dan Wang says one of the best ways small businesses can leverage video is by creating instructional videos that address common questions of your target market. For instance, he cites the example of Performance Bicycle, which offers cyclists practical tips such as how to dress for biking in cold weather. Stretch small budgets by improving the quality of your videos with greenscreen stock footage.

Test Your Results

Whichever social media marketing strategies you use, split-testing your results will help make sure you get the best return on your investment. Social Media Examiner writer Emeric Ernoult recommends testing your audience’s interests, gender, age range, and language, along with the effectiveness of your landing pages.

HR in Retail: Trends that are worth keeping up with

Guest Blog By Chris Wakely

With the retail industry poised for rapid growth over the next several years, HR teams need to accommodate and update policies in order to engage and retain both new and old employees. An added challenge is that millennials are inching their way to being the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, so many emerging trends are adapted to the needs and skills of these young workers. Let’s take a look at some HR trends in retail that are worth keeping up with.

The integration of mobile devices

As millennials begin to dominate the workforce, these young employees bring a comfort level with technology that isn’t always found in older generations. This provides plenty of opportunities for HR to adapt to the skill set of their employees. People are accustomed to being able to access information easily and instantly, so utilizing mobile is one way to make HR policies compatible with employees’ everyday lives.

Retail companies can take advantage of this by making benefits information available anytime and anywhere online or through specialized apps. These apps can range from reimbursement information, where they can claim back a variety of benefit expenses from an allowance, to checking how much vacation they have accrued and more. Employees can also use mobile during shifts to communicate without walking across the store through a messaging app.

Boosting incentive and rewards programs

Another growing trend in retail HR is the use of incentive and rewards programs to engage and motivate employees. Traditional programs, like commission structures and sales goals, can be used to motivate employees to succeed in sales and customer service. It is common practice to recognize employees with the highest sales numbers, but rewards can bring focus to other areas as well.  Take ‘Employee of the Month’ one step further and offer a reward to the employee that received the most positive feedback!

Benefits and rewards packages for retail employees are also becoming commonplace in the retail industry, given that the number of full-time retail employees continues to grow. Offering benefits and rewards programs can have a tremendous impact on how valued an employee feels. Increase in salary is an obvious benefit, but offering health insurance or paid time off can be equally as impactful. These types of benefits are taking precedence over pay raises to many employees, according to a study by Monster Insights.

Getting creative with HR activities

Taking a non-traditional approach to HR can boost engagement at both the store and company-wide level. Take training programs, for example. First impressions can dictate how a person thinks about someone permanently, and that applies to the first day at a new job. Consider using entertaining training tactics to maintain interest and excitement. Gamification is a great way for employees to practice real-world situations before they have to experience them with customers.  If your store has a confusing layout or elaborate stockroom, augmented reality can train employees to navigate the space. HR can also use gamification to evaluate an employee’s progress during the training period, with contests and puzzles testing their performance. Gamification engages employees by tapping into competitive nature, so it can motivate employees to continue improving.

A common thread: customization is key

What do all of these emerging trends have in common? They focus on customizing policies to fit the employees’ needs. Another opportunity to customize HR programs is by taking a “glocal” approach. In other words, retail companies should think globally but act locally by tailoring programs based on laws and regulations of each specific region. This “glocal” approach can be applied to company culture as well. It is important for retail employees to identify with the company as a whole, but individual store culture is arguably more important to employee happiness. This culture can be achieved through the previously mentioned rewards programs, or through games and team activities. Launching a team challenge within a store’s staff helps build positive team culture, and it creates a more enjoyable work environment overall.

As the retail industry grows rapidly, time and resources shouldn’t have to be dedicated to replacing high-turnover employees. Retailers can follow these HR trends to promote a happy and engaged workforce, resulting in higher employee retention and ultimately, a healthier business.

Chris Wakely is Senior Vice President at Thomsons Online Benefits

The Reality of Using Spreadsheets to Run Your Business

 Guest blog by Brandon Levey

Even as technology becomes more accessible and consumers demand faster service, many retailers are reluctant to adopt the solutions they need to grow successfully. Instead, they rely on manual spreadsheet tracking to maintain inventory, orders and other important information. But as a business grows to multiple sales channels, manual systems won’t be enough to support a scaling company.

Here are four reasons why spreadsheets are detrimental to a business:

Drains time

Ventana Research published a study in 2013 that uncovered some of the biggest challenges and dependencies businesses have with spreadsheets. Although it wasn’t surprising to see people reported how time consuming and tedious spreadsheets are for them, it was alarming to know that not many people have adapted new technologies.

In the study, it was stated that “users underestimate the impact of spreadsheet problems on their productivity because they tend to overlook the myriad little issues that constantly crop up.”

The research group also uncovered that people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheets. This makes it very difficult for retailers to gain momentum in an extremely saturated market. Everyone has intentions of building a successful retail business, but only the few that build the right foundation will gain the momentum to succeed.

Limited scalability

Spreadsheets have long been used because of their easy onboarding and setup. At first, looking at this as a solution makes sense; it’s customizable, doesn’t require heavy training, and is typically setup with your other basic office tools. However, as a business grows and hires more people accessing the same documents, it becomes clear that spreadsheets won’t cut it.

Manual inventory and order tracking is not scalable. As retail businesses expand business owners must put automated systems into place that will help provide more stability and streamlined operations. Without automated systems, staying ahead of customer demand and available inventory becomes a distant dream.

Prone to human errors

Human error is inevitable when using spreadsheets. With the amount of detailed formulas and multiple team members updating the documents, it’s not only difficult to manage, but if something goes wrong – it’s nearly impossible to find the error.

Solutions that have flexibility to integrate, centralize and simplify any part of your business need to be taken more seriously as staples for a growing retail business. Errors in inventory and order tracking lead to poor customer satisfaction and decreased repeat business. Sometimes business owners think being heads down every hour of the day, pumping in manual work is how you get to the next level. The problem is this leaves no opportunity to pop your head up and realize – there’s a better way!

Lack of real-time automation

One-time transactions used to be easy to track in a brick and mortar location, but as retailers are encouraged to expand online and offline channels, automating orders and shipping is a must.

The ability to track products such as quantities, location and more, is key in scaling a business. If a business’ foundational processes like inventory management are broken, it becomes very difficult to find new opportunities for growth. These pain points extend beyond tracking product location and amounts, affecting customer satisfaction, sales insight, and business growth. It’s a lot like maintaining personal health or a car. Cosmetics and flash are good to draw attention, but if the stability and strength of its core functions falter, those other things just don’t matter.

Other statistics we can use from the study:

  • Nearly 72% of participants said that their most important spreadsheets are the ones they share with others.
  • On average people spend about 12 hours per month consolidating, modifying and correcting the spreadsheets. (That’s about a day and a half per month – or about 5 to 10 percent of their time – just maintaining these spreadsheets.)
  • Those who spend all or most of their time working with spreadsheets spend 18.1 hours per month maintaining just one spreadsheet
  • Even casual users, those that spend less than one-fourth their time, must devote about one day (8.6 hours) per month on this spreadsheet.
  • More than half of users (56%) say that combining spreadsheets is a time-consuming chore.

Brandon Levey is the creator of Stitch Labs.

Five Simple Steps for Distinguishing the Deals from the Duds

Guest Blog By Phong Vu

Many consumers see a retailer’s marked down price versus the original selling price and believe they’re saving a lot, but it literally pays to know what the numbers behind the deals mean.

Some retailers have been accused of showing inflated retail prices to make their deals look better. More often than not, they are showing the actual manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), but no one actually sells that product at that number. These five simple steps can help you uncover the deals from the duds.

Step 1: Look at the retail price relative to the store price. If it’s below retail, than this is your first signal that it may actually be a good deal.

Step 2: Do a price comparison on the product. Sites like Google Shopping and PriceGrabber provide an easy way for you see what products are selling for at multiple retailers. More often than not, most retailers have pricing that is similar (even if they are all below retail).

Step 3: Check out Amazon (if you’re not already there) and check the price point on their site. They are almost always competitive.  When you see a product well below Amazon price, it’s usually a pretty good deal.

Step 4: Once you have a sense for what most retailers are selling the product for, look for coupons on sites like DealScience.com that can help you uncover additional ways to save. It’s quite common for stores like Kohl’s and Macy’s to issue coupon codes on specific categories of products. You may be able to snag another 20 percent off of something that is already marked down.

Step 5: Remember to compare the “out the door” price, which includes shipping and tax. This will help you determine how to get to the best available price for a particular item.

Phong Vu is CEO of DealScience.com

The New Standard for Supplier Responsibility

Guest Blog by Christian Lanng

Supply chains – often involving many vendors and complex relationships – have always been a logistical challenge. As business evolves in our modern, mobile world, and enterprises are doing more global transactions than ever before, it is also becoming a collaboration, communication and accountability challenge.

While the process of managing a supply chain is getting more complex, the environmental consequences, labor considerations and sustainability of supply chains is also under extreme scrutiny. These challenges can all be rolled into the concept of supplier responsibility; how responsible is an enterprise when choosing suppliers and how socially responsible are those suppliers when creating their products or services?

Supplier responsibility is especially important when scaling for large orders and quick ramp-up, such as is the case now for Apple as they start selling their new watch and updated laptops. In fact, while Apple’s approach to suppliers has been interesting with the Apple Watch – they are relying heavily on just two suppliers – Apple is a great example of how companies can excel when it comes to supplier responsibility.

To do business with Apple, every supplier must agree to meet the standards that the company has established in their Supplier Code of Conduct and their Supplier Responsibility Standards. These contain more than 100 pages of comprehensive requirements in 20 key areas, including labor and human rights, health and safety, environment, management systems, and ethics. Apple also regularly audits suppliers to ensure compliance to these standards. Apple believes in forming strong relationships with their suppliers, which they do by visiting their suppliers’ facilities regularly. In 2014 they performed 633 audits in 19 countries and trained 2.3 million workers on their rights.

Another company that is a good example of supplier responsibility is Chipotle, which suspended a supplier that was not in compliance with the company’s animal welfare standards. They were unable to find a new supplier that stood up to their standards, so they removed pork from their menu at a financial loss to the company.

Of course, supplier centric practices are not always about cutting costs but rather about building long-term partnerships, creating value, and delivering the best products to your customers.

As the world’s biggest enterprises set the bar for supplier responsibility, here are four things to consider to make sure that your company is keeping up:

  • Sustainability and Embracing the Circular Economy – The term Circular Economy refers to the concept of doing less with more and considering the impact of business on the environment. Make sure not only that your company uses sustainable materials and does its best to limit its emissions into the environment, but take the time to assess whether your suppliers hold themselves to the same standard.
  • Health, Safety and Human Rights – Ensure safe and healthy working conditions throughout your supply chain and invest in some training to make sure that you and your employees are steering clear of any labor and human rights violations. If you are working with global suppliers, take the time to learn the different labor regulations of each country and assess your suppliers accordingly.
  • Diversification – There are many benefits to supplier diversification. First of all, it helps protect your enterprise against supplier hurdles, such as port closures or material shortages. Also, spreading the work among a few different suppliers helps companies avoid putting too much pressure on any one supplier for quick ramp-up. It is usually during these high-stress periods of time that regulation and compliance are compromised, so take extra care to make sure that is not the case.
  • Digitalization – Conducting your business transactions digitally encourages responsible record keeping and accountability. When working with many suppliers, it’s a good idea to make sure that every transaction, contract and audit is in writing and saved digitally, preferably on the cloud, for future reference.

Companies that want to work with the best suppliers in order to make the best products need to consider supplier responsibility as part of their business strategy and take the first steps to ensure that they are aware of their supplier practices.

Christian Lanng is Tradeshift CEO

Why Retailers are Turning to In-store Trade-in

Guest Blog By Jeff Trachsel

With the prevalence of online shopping and increase in showrooming, one of the biggest challenges facing today’s brick-and-mortar retailers is how to drive in-store traffic and sales. With so many online and in-store options, sensible consumers have an abundance of options when it comes to purchasing the newest consumer electronics.

Five years ago, the average consumer knew little about trading in used electronics for cash or store gift cards. Today, awareness of trade-in is much higher and continuing to grow. Because of this opportunity, many big box and niche retailers are already leveraging in-store electronics trade-in programs. In fact, according to NPD Group, smartphone trade-in is “one of the most dynamic, leading tools that carriers and retailers use to drive new device sales.”

Providing valued customers with the convenience to sell used smartphones, tablets, laptops and video games for store value can result in a huge return for retailers – not only providing increased store traffic, but also an upsurge in customer loyalty and in-store spending.

Increased spending

Exchanging used consumer electronics for store credit is an effective way to boost in-store spending and increase margins. Device trade-in accelerates the consumer upgrade cycle by instantly allowing consumers to purchase devices more frequently and for less, thereby driving more new device sales. Retailers also benefit from the gift card multiple: Consumers buying with a gift card can spend up to five times the average purchase price, depending on the initial card value. And when consumers get paid for their unused items, spending tends to be directed toward higher margin “wants” versus “needs.”

Bolstered customer loyalty

According to the NPD Group’s Connected Intelligence report and its survey of smartphone consumers, nearly 62 percent of respondents are willing to switch retailers for a better trade-in offer. The following graphic depicts the data and customer willingness to switch, both for retailers and carriers.

Due to the widespread popularity of using smartphone trade-ins to fund upgrades, consumers are searching for the best deal they can get with the most convenient experience. Offering trade-in not only provides customers with a personalized, one-to-one exchange with a sales associate, but also gives customers the positive feeling of being paid back by their favored retailer.

Incremental in-store traffic

With the growing awareness of trade-in, consumers are now on the lookout for the right combination of convenience and value. With special trade-in offers and promotions, retailers can cut through the clutter and attract both loyal and new customers to brick-and-mortar locations. This is especially true around new device launches, when consumer awareness and interest is especially high. In addition, online channels can successfully drive foot traffic into brick-and-mortar stores, effectively reversing the showrooming trend. Highlighting retail-only trade-in offers and promotions through online channels such as social media and email marketing enhances in-store promotions and motivates shopping behavior.


In a time when the retail experience must innovate to remain relevant, in-store consumer electronics trade-in programs offer the boost retailers need. As a personalized experience that immediately pays the customer back for used products, trade-in can serve as a critical tool to drive foot traffic, increase sales and enhance customer loyalty.

Jeff Trachsel is CMO at NextWorth Solutions, Inc.

Creating Visibility across the Retail Value Chain with the Internet of Things

Guest Blog by Matt Davis

Demand volatility is the number one risk for retailers and consumer product manufacturers with 83% stating that is a concern. Visibility to risk is the challenge for 2015.

SCM World’s 2014 CSCO study asked respondents about their companies’ visibility of potential risks across the retail and consumer value chain. Each respondent was asked to rate visibility within its operations and then further into the supply base and demand channel.

Layering visibility for each of these industries together provides insight into where companies in the consumer value chain have good visibility. As the figure below shows, manufacturers across the board say they have better visibility into their operations than retailers do for themselves and, with the exception of food and beverage, better visibility into the retail channel as well.

Visibility across the retail and consumer value chain (% of respondents with “good” visibility of potential risks at each level)
Some takeaways from the holistic view of the retail and consumer value chain:

  • Apparel and consumer electronics manufacturers have the best visibility into the tier-1 supply base. Both of the industries are challenged with extremely fickle demand and short product lifecycles. Look here for benchmarking opportunities on using processes like integrating suppliers into sales and operations planning and tiered supplier relationship management to create better visibility.
  • Retail is the premier source for consumer insight. There is much value to be gained for manufacturers when they can prove value in collaboration. But
don’t overlook electronics manufacturers as the #2 best source for visibility to consumers.
  • Visibility is a consistently discussed pain point for supply chain organizations and yet, according to this data, most executives feel like they have good visibility within their operations. The clear challenge for all layers of the consumer value chain is to find ways to improve external visibility.

A retail opportunity with the Internet of Things (IoT)

Cisco estimates that there will be 60 billion connected “things” in 2020. That is nearly 10 things for every human now on the planet. For the retail value chain, IoT is going to shake up demand and is already changing the purchase experience.

IoT is already permeating its way up and down the retail and consumer value chain. Existing IoT use cases include:

  • Food and beverage supply. Coca-Cola Freestyle vending machines are using device-monitoring technology to provide early warning on supply replenishment. Each machine can monitor consumption of its supply and automatically send requests for service replenishment. Consumption patterns can be analyzed at the individual machine level, across a bank of machines, at store level, at regional level and at the net sum to better predict future demand as part of forecasting.
  • Demand sensing and shaping. In 2014, Disney released a wearable device called the Magic Band to enhance customers’ experience at its parks. The band, which has an embedded RFID chip, can be used to access rides and your hotel room and as a means of payment throughout the park. Guests can log into a website, MyMagic+, to preload itineraries, store credit card information and even sync planned activities with other individuals and groups. In addition to better forecast accuracy and an improved personalized experience, Disney can welcome an additional 3,000 guests per day based on efficiencies related to Magic Band and MyMagic+.
  • Connected retail displays. British retailer Marks
& Spencer released a new room customization technology in its stores that enables consumers to sync their tablets to a showroom display. Using an app, a consumer can design his or her ideal room by loading dimensions and then selecting from furniture and color options. Choices update in real time on the showroom display and, when final selections are made, both the consumer and the store have itemized lists of planned purchases.

A digital path forward

Use these recommendations as a plan to enhance your visibility now and into 2020:

  • Tap into existing good visibility. Visibility is a hot buzzword in supply chain and yet the great majority feel like they have good visibility internally. Use
the data in the figure above as a guide to benchmarking opportunities for external visibility across the consumer value chain.
  • Solve the process constraint. It might be time
to revisit CPFR. While it fell out of favor between retailers and consumer products manufacturers, the same concept has re-emerged in the hi-tech value chain between device manufacturers and carriers. Advances in technology, analytics and a pointed focus on customer value have made CPFR more viable than it was 15 years ago.
  • Declare your role in the Internet of Things. The majority (51%) in retail and consumer products already agrees that IoT will be
both important and disruptive. Consider partnering with device manufacturing industries to see how they are using the data for improved visibility and analytics.

Matt Davis is Senior Vice President Research at SCM World

Social Media Contests: How to Engage Your Customers

No matter the product or service you offer, engaging customers is key to growing your business. Luckily, with the popularity of social media, reaching out to potential customers has never been easier. But what are the best ways to connect with your customers in such a saturated market? Interact with your customers with freebies, promos and contests to increase your traffic and create loyal customers.


The Twitterverse is an ever-changing hub of interaction. A simple way to engage your followers on this huge platform is by holding a Twitter contest. For example, you can post a picture on Twitter and then ask your followers to create a caption for it. Provide a hashtag for contestants to use in order to track responses, and then choose the winner based on the most creative caption. Another great Twitter contest is a “fast fingers” contest. You can ask a trivia question about your brand with the instructions that the first person to tweet the right answer wins. Again, provide a hashtag for participants so you can track responses.


Depending on the products or services your business offers, Instagram can be an invaluable means of promotion. From showcasing your products to capturing the biggest moments on your work sites, Instagram can make your brand more visible.

A great way to engage customers on this platform is to encourage them to take pictures of the services you provide. Have your customers go out to your stores or use your products and take pictures on their smartphones. Then, have them use a hashtag to connect with your company and reward some of the most creative pictures with a freebie or a VIP upgrade. You can reward customers randomly or hold a photo contest to get customers to submit the most creative uses of your products. Contests such as these not only get people thinking creatively about your product, but they also help customers feel connected to your brand.


One of the advantages of Facebook is that your posts aren’t limited to 140 characters like they are on Twitter. This means Facebook contests and posts can be somewhat more involved. You can have a series of posts spanning several weeks where you ask your followers for tips on different topics. For example, you can ask about the best ways to cut down on resource usage and how to live a greener lifestyle. Or, you can ask what you can do better as a brand (just be prepared to listen to the suggestions on this one). Or, you can ask what types of presents your fans like. Then, you can reward the most helpful, creative or honest tip with a prize. Not only do these contests and posts help you interact with your customers, but it also can give you ideas on how to run a better, cleaner and smarter business.

What’s Next?

You have now interacted with your customers and hopefully gathered their social media profiles and email addresses, which sets you up for future engagement and lead generation. Now you need some tools to help you manage all of this information.

A high-quality smartphone like the iPhone 6 should be first on your list. You need to be able to manage your marketing efforts from anywhere and at anytime. With the new 8-megapixel iSight camera, you can take pictures of your products and branding information and immediately post to keep your customers engaged at all times. Then, you will want to use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to organize all of your campaigns. Its pro services include 100 social profiles, 10 enhanced analytics reports and 10 team members to help you collaborate. Finally, manage your subscribers with a tool like MailChimp to keep all of your contacts in one place.

Vetting Bloggers’ Impact in the Beauty Business

Guest Blog By Shana Starr

Beauty blogging is a serious business. The space has grown so large and is so powerful many bloggers are now becoming “celebrities” and are receiving their own television shows and ad dollars from beauty companies around the world. The vast number of these bloggers is growing daily and for beauty companies, answering requests from bloggers for product and even sponsorship money has become a job on its own. Many savvy beauty PR contacts say they are becoming overwhelmed with requests. It seems like it would be easy to look up someone’s popularity and audience reach, but it can become a time consuming chore for beauty companies to navigate the heavy onslaught of product and sponsorship requests. We have created a strategy and tips for beauty companies to vet these requests to quickly determine if they will help the beauty brand grow or just be another free product shipped.

    1. First, you need to gauge how many people their blog or social media channels reach to ensure you’re sending product to those who have sites that will reach large audiences rather than only a handful of followers. If their number of followers isn’t available on their site, use an audience reach tool like StatShow.com or Quantcast to look up the bloggers’ number of website visitors, and check out their social pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, etc.) to see how many followers they have. If we still aren’t able to locate the number of followers, we kindly ask that they provide this number, and many bloggers are pleased to share. We currently recommend sending full product samples if they have over 10,000 followers on various platforms or if they represent a niche audience that we are trying to get in front of. For followers at less than 10,000, we suggest trial sample sizes.
    1. Next, check to make sure the blogger communicates openly and knows how to communicate on social media. We are always surprised at the wrong hashtag used or when a blogger is using a broken link. We also suggest to our beauty clients that they make sure the blogger communicates in an interesting, fun, and friendly manner that really gives their followers insight into why they are reviewing a product or working with a company.
    1. Is the blog visually pleasing or are there a ton of ads that break up the blog? If you are going to be sending them product, make sure you would want your brand on that page. This is an easy way to make sure your product aligns with the blogger’s look and feel.
    1. Look at past reviews and confirm that the blogger actually mentions the company’s name and even goes as far as to thank the company for sending them products. Look at previous posts and see if people are engaging in their comments and reviews. We suggest companies look through the blogger’s previous posts to see what they are covering (beauty, food, clothes, etc.) and if this aligns with our client’s brand. We also check out how many views they get to videos (if they post videos or have a YouTube), how many likes or comment each post gets, and frequency of posts. Basically, make sure they are putting in effort, dedicated to their blog, and their writing is professional.
    1. We review their policies and terms and conditions – do they ask for an unreasonable amount of product, do they require payment, or do they look like they are into reviewing a product or just want free products?
    1. Lastly, it’s important to keep track of what bloggers you are sending product to. When we see a great review that was shared by a blog with a large audience reach that our clients are happy about, we will gladly offer them more product for another review, thus growing the relationship and furthering our client’s reach. On the contrary, some bloggers will continue to ask for product but then never feature a review. Keeping a record of who the product was sent to, having a follow up system in place to track down the coverage, and keeping track of who covered the product is essential so you can weed out the bloggers looking for free product and thank those who have.

All of these suggestions help vet bloggers intentions and provide a way for companies to determine if they want to work with that blogger, give them trial-size products, or commit to becoming partners to grow their brand. Work up a numeric system to rate each blogger request so you can quickly give your clients recommendations. With a detailed system in place, you can build relationships with the most desirable bloggers that your clients want to connect with and further expand their reach. It will definitely help the process and create a faster workflow for reviews.

Shana Starr is Managing Partner at LFPR, LLC