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Are you ready for the “Third Wave of Social in Retail”?

Guest Blog By Mike Heffring

2013 is shaping up to be a tipping point for the retail industry on Facebook, according to insights Expion has uncovered in its F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report*. In the first half of the year (H1) retail brands experienced the greatest decline in key metrics since 2011, including total volume, fan engagement, and the lowest new fan acquisition growth rate since 2011.

In addition, H1 was the first six month period where the company posts trends didn’t mirror engagement and volume trends – showing that brands are publishing less effective content than before.

Brand behavior on Facebook is still relatively new, and has come in waves, as the charts above illustrate. These waves have been clearly defined:

Wave 1 – More Likes Please. In the growth phase, brands focused on building up their fan base by getting everyone to “like” their brand page. The rapid rise in fan base early on is now starting to taper off, shown by “Lifetime Total Fans” above. Once critical fan mass had been reached, brands turned to strategies to engage their fan base.

Wave 2 – Engage with My Brand: Once fans bases were solidly established, brands looked to increase the number and type of posts they shared to increase fan engagement, measured by likes, comments and shares.  The total number of posts in this 2012 time period increased by 60 percent, as highlighted in Total Company Posts above.

Now there’s another wave upon us…

Wave 3 – My Brand as a Social Channel.  As engagement has dropped off in the last six months we believe we are now entering the third wave of social.  Brand marketing on Facebook has matured as more and more companies are focused on creating a unique social channel by not just by pushing out content, but creating a brand narrative with targeted campaigns in near/real time.

How can brands successfully navigate this third wave?

  1. Replace one-off posts with social campaigns.  On average, retailers are posting 50 times a month – and some as much as 150 times. Retailers should group posts into campaigns around categories – new product launches or seasons, entertainment and pop-culture tie-ins, and ties to larger advertising or marketing campaigns. These posts can then be tagged to a specific campaign and tracked.
  2. Develop a clear social persona for your brand: The best performing brands (Tiffany’s, Victoria’s Secret, Walmart, Bath& Body Works and Coach) have figured out what type of content is most appealing to their fans. Engaging content tends to be highly relevant (Tiffany’s designers and Victoria’s Secret “Angels”) and conversational (Q&As) in nature with strong visuals, rather than pure product and sale/promotion oriented.
  3. Turn best posts into everyday posts: Every brand can deliver or two great posts, but most aren’t learning from and replicating their success for the other 80 percent of underperforming posts. Learn from what works. The technology now exists to repurpose successful posts across brands, locations and countries in real time, and to quickly create related new posts that will drive higher performance.

Despite overall lower engagement by retailers on Facebook in H1, 50 percent of retailers did improve their brand engagement in the past six months, showcasing that indeed there is still room to grow.  By embracing social’s third wave, retailers, and brands in general, can continue to move from high quantity strategies to a high quality one.

About Expion’s F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report*

Expion F.A.V.E. 50 Social Retail Report analyzes the Facebook presence of the top 50 U.S .retail brands1 during the first half (H1) of 2013. Expion leveraged its social media and marketing insights software to unearth key social trends in the industry, as well as winners and losers across brands, posts and post types in both engagement and volume. Over 16,000 posts were analyzed.

Mike Heffring is Expion’s CMO

Connected Classrooms Mean Changes for Retailers During Back-to-School

Guest Blog By Jon Stine

Technology adoption rates in schools and at home are growing significantly and back-to-school shoppers need products that can engage with the connected classroom. For example, laptops and iPads are no longer just optional tools for education; they are increasingly essential for classroom and homework success. Combine this with the fact that parents of elementary children are the most technologically savvy generation of parents ever. They’ve never known life without cell phones, barely knew life without ubiquitous WiFi and were the early adopters of smartphones and tablets. Technology has always been a part of their life, and it will be a normative part of their children’s life.

Internet search engines such as Google and Wikipedia have replaced the printed and bound encyclopedia, and YouTube serves as a remarkable repository of historical and explanatory information. We see the tremendous benefits the student can gain from digital connections in the classroom and at home and retailers that wish to remain relevant in this new era in education need to evolve their inventory.

Impact of digital revolution on back-to-school retail

The National Retail Federation estimates that 55 percent of families with school-age children anticipate purchasing personal electronics during this year’s back-to-school shopping – that is 1 in 2 shoppers. This year, the Back-to-School shopping period will see an increased demand for digital technology, and not just for the college-bound students. Now, we see younger students venturing off from the “family” computer or school computer labs, to needing their own personal digital technology at nearly every grade to be successful in the classroom. For retailers, this means an important evolution.

How retailers can respond

  • Smaller retailers need to add to their traditional back-to-school supplies of crayons and paper notebooks with more fun decorative computer accessories, such as thumb drives and creative laptop/mobile phone covers, or backpacks/clothes that hold that technology.
  • Superstores and consumer electronic stores need to work with schools/parents to offer more educational school systems and educators to create appropriate and secure digital back-to-school technology offerings for parents to buy. Apple and Best Buy are examples of companies using this approach.
  • Fashion stores need to remember technology is in every aspect of students’ lives including clothes and fashion accessories. Purses, backpacks; cell phone/laptop covers are big trends in back to school.
  • Retail store managers could personalize the back-to-school aisle by working more closely with local schools on making supply lists available on their website or in a pre-boxed bundle, allowing parents to just click online and get everything on their list.
  • For in-store shoppers, retailers could offer list print-outs on the back-to-school aisle, and/or pre-packaged bundles that kids can simple slip into their backpacks.

Targeting your back-to-school shoppers

Although young men and teens will select products based on cool looks and features, when it comes to digital tools for the K-12 back-to-school set, Moms still have a significant influence on purchasing decisions. Moms are the family’s chief purchasing officer and their decisions are made based on safety, security, and replacement-repair options for the technology. Women also have the highest rate of digital content consumption such as Internet-based video, digital imagery, and social media.

Retailers also need to engaged in all aspects of the omni-channel including digital commerce when targeting moms or they may be left behind. Moms start their back-to-school shopping by doing their research online and then bring their children into the store to gain agreement once the purchasing decision has been made. In a Cisco Study, entitled, Catch and Keep Digital Shoppers, we found that 65 percent of U.S. shoppers regularly research products and services online—and another 17 percent express a desire to do so.

The back-to-school shopping season is second only to the holiday shopping season, so it is important that retailers respond to the latest trends in education. To capture shoppers, retailers need to adjust their marketing and their inventory to meet the needs of the digital student in the connected classroom. There are limitless opportunities for learning, the new technology for education brings new opportunities for smart retailers.

 Jon Stine is Director Retail, Cisco Consulting Services

What To Know About Sales Tax Holidays

Guest Blog by Will Frei

Every year, there are periods of time in certain states where governments will waive the sales tax on purchases to help propel growth of a certain sector or industry.

Now these sales tax holidays are a bargain for shoppers. These “holidays” mean tax-relief on items like back to school supplies, energy saving products, disaster preparedness items, and even firearms.

For retailers, sales tax holidays can be both a positive and negative thing. For one, these holidays can generate increases in sales. Yet they also mean the added stress of managing different tax rules and rates for a portion of their inventories. The stress grows exponentially for businesses that have to manage these holidays in multiple states. In 2012 alone, there were over 2,000 state sales tax holiday rules in the U.S. for retailers to keep straight.

There are 4 things that businesses have to be aware about when it comes to sales tax holidays:

  • Rate: During a sales tax holiday, the rate of tax will be lowered or may even completely disappear. Business owners need to be aware of what exactly is happening.
  • Exceptions: Many sales tax holidays have exceptions based on things like coupons, layaways.
  • Dates: When is the holiday happening, when do you need to adjust and adjust back.
  • Changes: States are changing rules from year to year, some keep changing up until the very last minute.

Businesses selling any applicable items during a sales tax holiday need to adjust their sales tax rates accordingly, taking into account various exceptions and local tax rates. This can be a massive headache, especially if you need to keep track of holidays in multiple states. To help ease the pain, below is a list of 2013 sales tax holidays in the U.S.  as well as sales tax holidays what have been “celebrated” in the past that may return this year as well.

Sales tax holidays already announced

Past sales tax holidays that may return this year

 Will Frei is Social Media Manager at Avalara.

Big Data Continues to Pose Big Questions for Retail Supply Chains

Guest Blog By Bryan Nella

A piece recently published by Practical Ecommerce discussed 5 Ways Big Data Can Help Retail Supply Chains. According to the article, those are:

  1. Real-time delivery management
  2. Improved order picking
  3. Better vendor management
  4. Automated product sourcing
  5. Personalized or segmented supply chain

For example, one suggestion states, “Big data analytics solutions enable real-time management by reviewing vendor performance against a set of key performance indicators. These KPIs include vendor profitability, on-time service, and customer feedback and complaints.”

Considering that supply chains occur outside the four walls of the organization and much of that data resides externally, as well, retailers need as much insight and information as possible in order to make better decisions and improve performance. This makes a lot of sense.

A second noteworthy read on the topic is the July 2 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, Big Data Hasn’t Changed Everything: Technology has a long way to go in mapping the variables of human life.” The piece, written by Philip Delves Broughton, author of “The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters about the Business of Life,” notes the risks that come along with big data. Broughton says, “It’s one thing for the NSA’s quants or scientists at the Large Hadron Collider or genome sequencers to talk about big data…. But it’s quite another thing when you start to hear how big data is going to upend everything…. Ethics, morality, civil liberties, everything risks being thrown under the big-data bus, unless we are exceedingly careful.”

As an example, Broughton points to the financial services industry in the 1980s moving to digital exchanges and automated, free-flowing processes that made information faster, easier to consume and more actionable. Boundaries eroded. New opportunities arose. With those trading opportunities, risk became an afterthought. Fast forward 25 years and we know the rest.

So what does this mean for big data in retail? Retail is very much a people business. From selling to individual consumers in-store to the other end of the supply chain, where seamstresses toil in factories in Asia creating our garments. Do we want big data deciding what to sell to who, or what factory to source from, when there’s so much more of a personal aspect to the business?

Broughton makes the point that big data poses big risk if not used the right ways. The article in Practical Ecommerce, on the other hand, provides an optimistic outlook on the potential that exists for retailers in leveraging big data. It’s perhaps unlikely there will ever become a day when a retail supply chain runs on autopilot, fielding demand signals and auto-filling them with optimal production paths. But envision a day when retail organizations can make well informed data-driven decisions and directly measure the results of these decisions. Executives (real humans) can be empowered with answers to questions such as:

  1. Is your supply chain performing to the optimal plan?
  2. What is the financial impact of sub-optimal performance?
  3. Where are the bottlenecks in your supply chain?
  4. Are your partners meeting their performance goals?
  5. Is data quality good enough to derive meaningful conclusions?

A prerequisite to this means have a reliable data source to begin with. There is an argument being made in the industry today that unless retailers can ensure data accuracy, big data goes nowhere. However, at the same time, if questions exist regarding inventory then you cannot begin to determine your accuracy levels. Visibility is the prerequisite to accuracy. With visibility we will then see major growth trends in ‘big data’. A lot of this will come from unstructured data – and this will require an entirely new level of analytics, especially around predictive support.

The science is changing rapidly and, if done with caution and planning, there exists a wide range of adoption opportunities in retail. But few retailers today have the ability to capture accurate, rich data from their supply chains. This is one of the main reasons why the world of big data and business intelligence is still in its infancy stages within the retail sector.

Bryan Nella is Director of Corporate Communications for GT Nexus, the world’s largest cloud-based supply chain network. Nella has more than 12 years of experience distilling complex solutions into simplified concepts within the enterprise software and extra-enterprise software space. To learn more, visit www.gtnexus.com.

Why the Baby Matters Recall Matters

Common Questions Retailers Face when Defunct Companies Issue Recalls

Guest Blog by Mike Rozembajgier

When the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a settlement with Baby Matters LLC this month over an alleged defect in the Nap Nanny, a portable baby recliner, retailers were put in an unusual position. Although the CPSC originally sought an order requiring the company to notify consumers of the defect and provide them with a full refund, Baby Matters had since gone out of business, leaving retailers without the process and funds normally available for providing customers’ refunds of the product.

A situation like this can be complicated, as manufacturers are normally required to bear the responsibility and expense of a product recall.  As a result, retailers may be unsure how taking on the responsibility of a recall like this could affect their own brands and bottom lines.

My company, ExpertRECALL, has handled thousands of recalls and identified the most common questions and concerns about handling a product recall involving a defunct company. They include:

  • Are their rules for handling a product recall as a retailer? There is no clear cut rule that says retailers are responsible for compensating the consumer if the manufacturer goes out of business. However, when a retailer does decide to take the matter into its own hands, best practices in recall management apply in order to remove the affected product from the market quickly and efficiently. Retailers have access to a variety of data such as shopping records, frequent shopper card programs and sales receipts that can help identify who purchased the recalled product and when. If the product poses a health hazard to customers, a retailer could also develop and distribute press releases and utilize social media. Retailers can also choose the remedy that is most appropriate, such as a gift card or a coupon.  In the case of the Baby Matters recall, the CSPC has pointed consumers who bought a Nap Nanny at one of four retailers to contact the retailer for information on receiving a refund.
  • What can a retailer do to be prepared for this situation? Most importantly, retailers can minimize the risk of exposure by carefully selecting product suppliers. Retailers should only do business with manufacturers that have insured against this risk and are prepared to fulfill any recall responsibilities even if they declare bankruptcy or go out of business. In addition, communicating continuously and effectively with your suppliers is critical so that you are aware of the latest product developments and recalls. Make sure to effectively train all employees on how to handle potential recall situations and ensure that they understand their obligations under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).
  • What are the risks to my company’s brand or reputation? The recall of a children’s product is a sensitive situation and one with which retailers may not want to associate. However, the recall of a product that cannot be handled by its manufacturer presents a unique opportunity for retailers to step up and elevate themselves in the minds of their customers. Parents may view a retailer who refuses to get involved as negligent and uncaring. But a retailer that takes on the responsibility of a product recall can construct a new message: “we genuinely care about the health and safety of our customers and those who use the products we sell.” A product recall can seem like it will only bring headaches and damage a brand, but a retailer can use the opportunity to build a better relationship with its consumers.

Recalls can – and should – be viewed as an opportunity, as opposed to a setback. Understanding federal guidelines, as well as preparing for a recall and understanding the risks and rewards, can ensure that retailers are never taken by surprise. While these circumstances are somewhat unusual, it appears as though the CPSC will turn to the retailer to conduct a recall, when the situation warrants. Overall, accepting responsibility is not just in the best interest of the public health, but can be in the best interest of the retailer as well.

Mike Rozembajgier is Vice President of Recalls for Stericycle ExpertRECALL (@ExpertRECALL). Rozembajgier is responsible for all aspects of recall service offerings, including development of strategic recall business initiatives and product enhancements. In addition to more than 10 years in the healthcare industry, his experience includes management positions at Guidant Corp. (now Boston Scientific) and Deloitte in the Strategic Consulting practice.

Retail Success Still Depends on Core Principles

Guest Blog by Joel Alden and Adam Pressman

A.T. Kearney’s Achieving Excellence in Retail Operations (AERO) study uncovers insights into how retailers worldwide can improve their operations.  With more than 100 questions, the survey probes the strategy, tactics and execution of retailers in more than 20 countries.  It covers multiple sectors, including apparel, health and personal care, mass-market and hypermarket, electronics, food and grocery, and cash and carry. The framework of the study provides the means by which to look at every aspect of operations – areas that enhance store value such as store technology, operating-expense control and real estate life-cycle management; aspects that drive store value such as store business planning, channel strategy and voice of the customer; and facets that deliver core store value such as merchandising, supply chain interfaces and field leadership.

As we were setting out to do research on our 2013 study, we were aware of the huge changes that had occurred just since our previous study, in 2010. Three years ago, we did not ask retailers anything about social networking. We covered far fewer options for deploying technologies to customers—and for getting information back from them. And although we asked about multiple channels, the notion of integrated channel retailing was at best a distant mirage. But look what happened with our results in 2013: Despite the changes, the AERO study demonstrates the importance of many traditional core principles of retailing. It confirms that running a successful retail operation is all about people: employees, customers, and the interactions between them. One of the biggest secrets to success is the simple notion of engagement: listening to your staff and your customers. Another is cutting back on administrative burdens to get managers out in the field. And although the new wealth of technologies and available data is a great boon, often the most productive uses of it are in addressing familiar challenges such as managing shrink and out-of-stocks.

Sure, it is both fun and important to look at new technologies and the insights you can gain from them. Yes, there is some value in the gee-whiz imaginings of a Jetsons-like retail future. But when you dig deep into what actually generates profits for today’s most successful retail companies, it turns out that they’re simply good at what great retailers have always been good at: the nuts and bolts of operations. They identify the right metrics, analyze them appropriately, and act intelligently (Measure, Analyze and Act). They support field leadership with tools and processes to improve their decision making. They rely on, and seek insights from, front-line staff. And they view technology as neither a threat nor a toy, but as a tool that better enables them to achieve ancient ambitions such as customer insight and engagement, operations efficiency, and customer service.

One critical area where the Measure, Analyze and Act approach plays a huge role is in out-of-stock performance.  We found that leading retailers used this principal to improve operational performance, for example reducing the percentage of out-of-stocks. Respondents who set in-stock goals at the stock-keeping unit (SKU) level, rather than by store, category, or subcategory, performed 47 percent better on this key operational issue.  Why? Because they know when an important SKU is out of stock. When you aggregate out-of-stocks to the store level, you may not know that you’re missing a particularly high-volume or high-margin SKU, so your overall out-of-stock performance will seem better than it really is.  By measuring in greater detail, leaders are better able to identify and address problems.

In a sense, then, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In an information-soaked environment, amid the emergence of multiple retail channels, it’s important to understand how to take advantage of the changes. But it’s equally important to keep a hand on the pulse of core principles: people, customers, and physical store layouts.

Fifty years ago, some of today’s retail technologies would have been inconceivable. To think that most homes would have a computer through which you could search for, examine, and purchase items without ever having to go to the store… and yet similar alternatives actually did exist. Substitute the word “catalog” for “computer.” And yet over all of these years, shoppers have preferred the in-person store experience.

We can’t predict what technologies will be available in 50 years—or even five years. As options proliferate, bricks-and-mortar stores may indeed play a smaller role. But at heart, retail is a people business, with traditional principles that center on maximizing the value of human interactions. As always, retailers should seek to improve analytics to drive better performance, support field leaders to reduce their administrative burdens, highlight the value of their front-line staff, and achieve meaningful goals. Despite the latest inventions—or even because of them—the funda­mental principles represent the soundest road to success.

The A.T. Kearney Achieving Excellence in Retail Operations (AERO) examines the insights from the A.T. Kearney 2013 AERO survey to show how retailers are turning great operations into profits. To download the full AERO report, go to www.atkearney.com/AERO.

Joel Alden is a partner with A.T. Kearney and is the co-leader of the AERO Study. He is based in Toronto and can be reached at joel.alden@atkearney.com. Adam Pressman is a principal with A.T. Kearney and is a co-leader of the AERO Study. He is based in Chicago and can be reached at adam.pressman@atkearney.com.

Are the Retailers Scrambling to Capture Multichannel Data Forgetting the Biggest Channel?

Guest Blog By Ralph Crabtree

Thanks to clickstream data, SMS records, social media chatter, and other “digital breadcrumbs,” today’s retailers understand a lot about the behavior of their online and mobile customers. How many people visited my website? What items did shoppers view but not buy? Which ads did they respond to? How long did they browse? Answers to questions such as these help businesses improve their marketing, pricing, promotional and customer service strategies. But in a multichannel world where a typical consumer might view shoes online, research prices on a mobile device and buy at the mall, many retailers have a huge analytic blind spot: they don’t know much about how shoppers behave when they are in an actual store.

Retailers that leave out brick and mortar behavioral intelligence do so at their own peril. According to a Forrester Research analyst recently quoted in The New York Times, “well over 90 percent of sales still happen in physical stores.” Closing the “insight gap” that exists between their brick and mortar and digital sales channels is a business imperative, but where to start? First, retailers must identify what types of in-store data need to be captured so that they can ask (and answer) the kinds of questions that are already part of routine analysis in online and mobile environments. For example: How many people came into my store? What are they doing while they shop? What products do they look at? What products do they buy? Here are four data categories absolutely critical to gaining more detailed and accurate in-store intelligence:

  • Transactional Data (Online parallel: Ecommerce Data) – In order to track sales, returns, and inventory levels, most brick and mortar retailers already have point of sale (POS) data capture systems installed at registers. These systems provide vital information about what items customers are buying, which stores are bringing in the most revenue, and more. POS data alone is not enough, however, as the picture that it delivers of a customer’s shopping experience is oftentimes incomplete. For example, POS data can tell a retailer that customer X purchased a specific style, size and brand of shoes using a credit card. It cannot reveal that the customer also looked at the Ralph Lauren display for 10 minutes and wanted to buy a pair of jeans, but didn’t because her size was out of stock. (Or that customer Y didn’t buy anything at all.)
  • Traffic Data (Online parallel: Site visits) – Keeping an accurate, ongoing, real-time count of in store traffic, also known as people counting, is essential in brick and mortar environments, for several reasons: 1) Traffic counts help retailers measure sales conversions. How many store visitors turn into buyers? 20 percent? 30 percent? How much did they buy? This is valuable insight. For example, a low conversion rate could signal that a location’s product mix, service levels or pricing need to be adjusted. 2) People counts also help retailers manage their workforce more effectively in real time. Based on the number of visitors walking through the door and average shopping time, technology can predict how many checkouts will be needed. The store manager can then beef up staff at registers or send more associates to the sales floor. 3) Finally, by analyzing store traffic against conversions over time, retailers can begin to see important patterns both within and across locations. For example: Why is the conversion rate higher in some stores as opposed to others? How are seasonal events and marketing promotions changing the patterns? Why have conversion rates gone down instead of up over the last 12 months?
  • Queue Data (Online parallel: Order Processing Data) – How many people are waiting in line at registers? How long are they waiting? How fast are sales staff processing transactions?  Today’s busy consumers hate to wait, and data related to queue times, as well as customer actions in the queue is critically important for retailers that want to optimize service (i.e., all retailers). Research studies have shown that the amount of time a customer waits in line has a lasting impact on their positive or negative perceptions of an in store shopping experience. By tracking queue data, stores can adjust staffing and speed wait times in real time, better forecast workforce needs over time, and even communicate wait time estimates to customers, who appreciate being told what to expect.
  • In-Store Behavior Data (Online parallel: Clickstream Data) – Data about what customers actually do once they pass through the front door is the Holy Grail, but it’s also the trickiest to capture in a brick and mortar environment. Retailers want to know things like how shoppers move through their store, what displays they stop at, and what items they touch and try. Online channels have an advantage here, because in the digital world, retailers can track “clicks,” collecting highly granular data about what products consumers look at, put in and then discard from their shopping carts, check back on, etc. This kind of data enables highly personal targeting—as anyone who has had an online ad for a handbag that they recently viewed on a retail site “follow” them around the Web knows. While tracking behavior in real world locations is a bit more challenging, with new technologies, it can be done. There’s no excuse for being blind when it comes to the retail world’s biggest and most profitable channel.

Ralph Crabtree is CTO of Brickstream

Facebook Marketing – Striking a Balance between Quality and Quantity

Guest Blog By Mike Heffring

You can’t win if you don’t play. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take…

No matter how you phrase it, this adage reigns true in all aspects of marketing, especially when talking about the ever-changing social media sphere. Many companies today still feel like social content cannot be mapped to ROI, so they don’t take the risk. But companies who have a strong grasp on what drives social success have proven that this is simply not true. Expion analyzed the Facebook strategies of 10 retailers to find out which brands are winning when it comes to the Facebook marketing game and which are sitting on the sidelines.

In the analysis we looked at a few key metrics including:

  • Total Fan Actions: This represents the total number of fan actions (the sum of comments, likes and shares) generated by each brand in Q1 to show which retailers were creating the most fan engagement in terms of sheer volume.
  • Fan Actions per Post: This shows the average number of fan actions generated by each Facebook post that the retail brands published in Q1. It demonstrates how effective each individual post.

A Quantity Approach – Walmart and Victoria’s Secret

While Burberry may have generated the most fan actions per post, it’s really Victoria’s Secret and Walmart that are winning amongst the brands measured. Each brand generated over 5 million fan actions on Facebook during Q1, which is more than double what Burberry produced,  and they won by repeating what works – over and over again. Both brands publish content on a frequent basis, and while it may seem like they are choosing quantity over quality, it’s a strategy that proves to be effective in terms of overall reach and engagement.

Victoria’s Secret published 220 posts in Q1 and found that “showing skin,” or posting pictures of their models, and featuring promotional items centered around Valentine’s Day generated the greatest engagement with their fans. Walmart published 413 posts and over 70 percent of them were timely, focusing on holidays and current events such as Dr. Seuss’s birthday, Easter, Game Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day. The remainder of Walmart’s content included humorous photos of cats and dogs, a proven social winner, with engaging captions that sparked social conversations.

A Quality Approach – Zara and Burberry

Burberry and Zara have a completely different approach to Facebook engagement. They are focused on quality over quantity, and while each post is highly effective, there is a huge missed opportunity in terms of increasing their reach and frequency of engagement.

Zara posted a mere 11 times in Q1 so even though it’s individual posts are effective, and producing a healthy amount of fan actions per post, when looking at the total engagement it created on Facebook, it’s falling far behind. If Zara stepped up to bat more often and published content more frequently it could potentially capture a much higher share of voice on Facebook.

Burberry posted 54 times in Q1, which is a huge step up from Zara, but not enough to take on retail giants like Walmart and Victoria’s Secret. It has the highest number of fan actions per post, showing that the content its publishing is highly effective, but if it were to increase the frequency of posts by just a relatively small margin, it could create an incredibly powerful social voice and reach a much larger percentage of Facebook users.

Finding the Perfect Balance

While quality control is huge, as no one wants to be spammed by a brand, there is something to be said about creating a strong and impactful brand voice in the social media sphere. After analyzing these 10 different retailers we found that the brands who are taking a more subtle approach are missing the opportunity to capture the attention of Facebook users. Retail brands that want to implement a sound Facebook strategy need to find a balance between quality and quantity.  Victoria’s Secret is closest to this as they’ve created a balance between frequency and fan actions per post.

You don’t want to strike out, but you’ll never hit a home run unless you step up to the plate.

Mike Heffring is CMO at Expion

The High Price of Downtime to Retailers

Guest Blog By Matt Ferrari

No business can afford system downtime. One minute lost can equal loss of revenue, customers and more. For retailers, downtime is particularly troublesome – especially considering the importance of e-commerce, which requires round-the-clock uptime in today’s global economy.

Global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney estimates global e-commerce has grown 13 percent annually over the past five years. According to a new report from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), a U.K. online retail trade organization, global business-to-consumer e-commerce sales will top $1.25 trillion in 2013. On 2012’s Cyber Monday alone, online shoppers spent $1.465 billion. Mobile commerce, and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets adds new pressures to retailers’ need for an always-on business. Many smartphones are able to scan barcodes and QR codes, adding another feature to multi-channel shopping. In a study on the U.S. smartphone shopping behavior, ComScore found that 4 in every 5 smartphone users – 85.9 million in total – accessed retail content on their device during July 2012.

Perhaps the most obvious and damaging, cost of downtime to retailers is lost revenue associated with customer’s inability to transact during an outage. Target for example, has experienced multiple outages. The first crash was related to a huge surge in traffic when introducing the Missoni for Target apparel line. There were also at least two outages during last year’s holiday season, one of which (according to Rigor) lasted for about two and a half hours. The company used its Uptime Percentage Calculator (located on the Rigor homepage) to determine the outage represented a loss to Target of about $464,000.

It’s not just sales lost. While existing customers might be forgiving and wait for an outage to sort itself out, new customers are less patient. Outages impact brand perception as well, and retailers need all the help they can get to build and sustain their brands in competitive online space.

Today’s IT environments leverage virtualized infrastructures and cloud computing via private, public and hybrid models, making business continuity more complex, because applications and compute power are more fluid and dynamic. Any cloud model that’s not managed within a retailer’s own four walls is susceptible to the practices of a third party, lessening a retailer’s control over IT operations. This leads to missed opportunities in design, planning, testing and deployment of IT initiatives.

Another common misstep is implementing unique infrastructure for each application. This undermines efficiencies and increases the risk of failure and outage. Instead, companies need to take advantage of opportunities for repeatable infrastructure to drive economies of scale. Another point of failure is that for many organizations, planning and execution is non-iterative. IT must engage all stakeholders throughout the process and not just at the beginning, because requirements and expectations change. Retailers can minimize the impact of an outage through a solid disaster recovery plan. Too often, disaster recovery is an afterthought. Any time an application is built, IT departments should plan and build for that app’s disaster recovery by anticipating scenarios and defining requirements.

Many outages could be prevented with the adoption of an Always-On Design Framework, which improves availability and reliability. This framework is premised on three key tenets: reusable components that are easy to deploy and support, interactivity with stakeholders to significantly reduce the risk of project failure, and architecting application infrastructure assuming a failure will occur. It closes the gap between application design and users’ needs. With an Always-On architecture, retailers can take advantage of reusable IT components in a service catalog that can be quickly provisioned. With faster delivery of services, enterprises can focus on other business strategies. They save weeks of time in development, provisioning and training, which boosts agility, cuts operational costs and achieves greater ROI.  The framework also promotes regular evaluation, validation and prioritization of applications and services. That, in turn, aligns expectations and capabilities early in the design process.

This framework will help retailers reduce outages and mitigate damage. The Always On Design Framework is detailed in HOSTING’s publication, the  “essential Guide to Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity.” The free publication can be downloaded from the Website: www.hosting.com. There is no question that retailers should be investing in online channels as eCommerce and mobile commerce continues its exponential growth. But these channels require highly-available, reliable IT systems. Outages of any length immediately affect the bottom line. Architecting with this proven framework can help plan and deliver an IT foundation that keeps retail always on.

Matt Ferrari, CTO at HOSTING

Shedding Light on Opposite Ends of the Retail Supply Chain

Guest Blog by Bryan Nella

On May 1, 2013, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Retailers Seek Plan to Prevent Disasters,” following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh that killed more than 400 inside. The article described a meeting in Eschborn, Germany that drew representatives from Wal-Mart, Gap, H&M and 30 other retailers and government agencies to develop a plan to prevent a repeat of the Bangladesh disaster. Separately, the European Union is also discussing bringing forth a trade action against Bangladesh and installing new measures to pressure local authorities to enforce stricter labor standards.

Another article in the Wall Street Journal showed protesters marching in the Bangladesh streets to demand the death sentence of the owner of the collapsed garment factory. Two very different worlds – the West and East – are reacting to the same challenge and although their perspectives may be diametrically different, the culprit in both instances may be the same.

In the West, brands and retailers race to meet consumer demand for fashionable yet inexpensive clothing. They turn to countries like Bangladesh that can provide them with low cost labor and a fast- growing garment workforce to fulfill orders rapidly. The goods are sufficient quality, the cost is low, and the speed of delivery works. The downside to sourcing here is the sometimes questionable workplace conditions and factory standards. Thousands of miles and the inability to walk the factory floor clouds the view of production.

In the East, in Bangladesh specifically, the garment industry has blossomed in recent years to become the number two worldwide exporter only trailing China. Because of the availability of jobs and the growing economy, Bangladesh has become a global supply chain hot spot. But with Bangladesh’s high ranking comes intense pressure to meet tight deadlines and keep cost levels down. In turn, safety and other standards can sometimes become secondary concerns. The view from the West is clouded: a brand places an order and after a number of weeks, the goods are shipped and arrive on store shelves, giving brands little insight into the reality of how the goods passed through in the production lifecycle.

However, factory workers expect more — they expect safe working conditions and standards to be upheld. At the same time, retailers share these expectations. The problem is the lack of visibility or accountability in the production lifecycle. Without visibility, no one can be held accountable to the sub-par safety and standards and enforcement cannot take place. Years ago, a retail executive could walk the floors of its factories to ensure practices were up to par, but this is no longer practical as factories are typically thousands of miles away, separating the retail executive by an ocean. With no eyes or ears on the ground, both ends of the supply chain suffer.

The culprit here is the lack of visibility and perhaps that’s where the solution begins. In today’s connected world where we can view satellite images or live streams of local highway traffic by logging onto the web, we should be able to turn the lights on in the global supply chain. Picture a retailer placing an order in an electronic portal that requires the supplier to include images of the fire escapes in all factories. Or a consumer goods company that uses an online platform to electronically monitor every party in the supply chain against denied party lists or unsafe factory databases to prevent unethical production. While today’s complex supply chains create challenges for ensuring safe and responsible production, technology can be the equalizer.

Cloud technology can put every factory anywhere on the planet on the grid. This means the retail executive can gain real-time visibility into the cutting, dying, sewing, packing and shipping processes happening at their factory across the ocean. This knowledge can prevent disasters like the Rana Plaza building collapse from happening. For trading partners in Bangladesh, this exposes their workplaces and holds them to higher standards. Cloud can allow everyone visibility into the working conditions taking place across the supply chain and nobody is kept in the dark.

Bryan Nella is Director of Corporate Communications at GT Nexus