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Top 3 Driving Forces Behind Social Media’s Role in Retail Success

Guest Blog by Aneesh Reddy

Social media is entering an unusual phase in its life as a form of communication and potential business tactic. While marketers have been using social media for more than a decade and there is a growing array of diverging social media networks, its dynamics still change regularly, and what we come to learn about the field is still somewhat yet to be determined.

On the other hand, retailers have enough information about social media to take actionable measures that drive better customer engagement, improve satisfaction, increase loyalty, build purchase frequency and boost size of retail baskets. Social media serves as one of the most flexible ways to leverage classic marketing message strategies, including upselling, cross-selling and bundling for customers. Its speed and capability to create a prolific volume of communication remain unmatched. The Q4 2013 Social Media Intelligence Report from Adobe clearly demonstrates that website traffic by retail customers driven by social media use is rising across all major networks and that revenue per visit (RPV) from customers is on the rise in all networks, too.

In other words: Retail works. Well.

But what’s the actual reason behind social media’s role in retail success? Like most market dynamics, the forces driving social media’s connection to retail prosperity are multi-faceted and complex yet explainable. Furthermore, understanding those dynamics drives ROI for both short-term campaigns and long-term planning.

Force #1: Big Data
The amount of information yielded to companies in real-time through social media outpaces almost any other method of data collection. One of the biggest potential impacts social media brings to the table is its ability to both gather and unpack data. Given that customers may not have initially provided 100% of information in-store, on the phone or during an initial e-commerce transaction, social media can provide tremendous amounts of help in completing the picture of customers. Social media trumps previous electronic information-gathering methods such as email in that it creates a social realm that allows customers to engage the brand in a more comfortable digital environment. This leads to wave after wave of data for retail marketers and business development specialists, all of which requires analysis.

This need has opened up an extended B2B market, as solutions that provide customer insight have become a key part of the marketing toolbox. Those same solutions are then used to take immediate and impactful steps on performance.

Force #2: The Omni-Channel Exchange
Using multiple channels simply to gather information is not the only way to utilize the multi-dimensional communication network available to companies. Social media’s role in the larger ecosystem of customer communication makes it a cornerstone of what we might call “the omni-channel universe.”

In the omni-channel universe, customers can interact and engage, send and receive, and generally have a complete customer communication experience. Congruently, brands can engage customers on an open platform, monitor loyalty and customer churn, make timely offers and couple marketing channels to build better campaigns.

Social media is an excellent route to either establishing (hunting) or enhancing (harvesting) these campaigns, both of which are essential to better sales performance. Social media also allows for real-time customer feedback both positive and negative, and in combination with feedback from other channels, builds a richer and more textured set of customer touch points. Conversely, brands are capable of equally involved, high-speed engagement with customers, leading to better understanding and stronger relationships with the most important stakeholders of your business.

Force #3: Engagement in Over-Drive
Social media’s real differentiator as a potential retail business game-changer is in its ability to drive engagement tactics that haven’t previously existed. While customer feedback has been gathered for a long time via various innovative methodologies such as mystery shopping and surveys, social media allows for that feedback to be immediate. This same effect is at play in advanced gamification: check-ins, picture capabilities and comments on different social media channels open the door to a new world for retailers looking for inventive marketing tactics. Social media combined with in-store activity leads to fascinating instant offers tethered to movement as complex as in-store footfall and general purchase frequency. As social media and measurement tools simultaneously evolve, their complementary interaction becomes ever more powerful.

Implications for the Future
As social media continues to grow, shape and evolve, several major trends will likely occur. The popularity of certain networks will rise and fall according to user preference evolution, demographic and psychographic shifts, and other unforeseen variables. Retail brands will continue to provide real-time feedback, shortening the window between initial customer feedback and brand response. Brands will continue to investigate more and more powerful ways to engage the audience. Most importantly, social media use will continue to grow and continue to be effective.

Aneesh Reddy is Co-founder & CEO, Capillary Technologies

The ABC’s of Retail Safety: Keeping Kids Protected at the Store

Guest blog by Paul Giampavolo

More than 75 percent of shopping trips are taken by women, which means there’s a good chance that when many of them enter your establishment, they’re going to be accompanied by children.

The vast majority of us take great care to keep our stores safe, but when it comes to our most vulnerable customers, it’s always a good idea to go the extra mile. By implementing a few relatively minor but crucial steps, retail establishments can help ensure the well-being of their youngest customers.

Here are three tips to make your shopping environment safe and secure for children—and worry-free for parents.

Encourage shopping cart safety. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 16,000 children under the age of five fall out of shopping carts each year, resulting in thousands of injuries. Infant carriers falling from the cart account for as much as five percent of these incidents.

Customers should be discouraged from allowing their children to stand in shopping carts and climb or ride on the sides. Children should be secured with a seatbelt when riding in the seat, and should not be pushed in the cart by a sibling or another child.

Infant car seats should never be placed on top of a shopping cart seat. Though it may appear they were designed for that, this isn’t the case: car seat manufacturers have even warned against using their products on shopping carts. One option for retailers is offering docking stations: Safe- Dock is a universal infant carrier docking station that easily attaches to shopping carts and fits all infant carriers, safely securing babies to the cart and allowing parents to easily transition the carrier from the car to the cart.

Retailers can also ensure shopping cart safety by regularly checking the condition of the carts and quickly fixing any broken seat belts or replacing lost ones.

Keep bathrooms and changing tables clean, functioning and spill-free. Nobody likes a filthy bathroom, let alone a parent worried about their child getting sick from someone else’s germs. Make sure bathrooms are checked and cleaned regularly, and that there is an easy path to navigate when attempting to get there. Baby changing tables should also regularly be wiped down with disinfectant and checked for any cracks or broken parts.

Floor spills—in the bathroom or elsewhere—should be immediately wiped up or cordoned off with warning cones until they can be cleared. Employees should be made aware of where materials are located to clean up spills and debris.

If a spill or trip hazard cannot be immediately cleared, an employee should stay at the unsafe area while another obtains the proper help, cleaning materials or barriers to keep customers away.

Implement a Code Adam system. If your establishment hasn’t already, put into place a Code Adam system, a child safety program in the United States and Canada that is used when a child becomes lost or potentially abducted. The program—which trains employees on how to issue a special alert when a customer reports a missing child—is free and easy to use. You can read more about it here.

These measures don’t just offer an extra level of safety for children, they’re simply good customer service. If we want parents to continue seeing the value in shopping at our stores, we must help them to feel their children are in a safe and caring environment.

Paul Giampavolo is president of The Safe-Strap Company, and he is a leading expert on shopping cart safety and is chairman of the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) Shopping Cart Subcommittee.

Tips on How to Get Better Results with Scanners

Guest blog by Nicole Williams

Scanners are commonly found in offices where plenty of paperwork needs to be copied digitally for online sending, computer storing, or data manipulation. They are used to scan documents such as contracts, employee records, invoices, reports, and so forth. All these purposes have one thing in common: they need to have high-quality scans from the scanning machine.

High-quality scans possess the following characteristics:

-        Sharper images, which includes figures, lines, and messages

-        No discoloration in reference to the original photo

-        Clear and no blurs.

-        The image can be enlarged more than a little without compromising quality.

How does one achieve all these when scanning documents or pictures? The first thing that normally comes to mind is to purchase a scanner with new and sophisticated hardware and installed programs.

Having a very good machine alone is not always a guarantee that the resulting scans will be excellent, though. There are other factors as well that can influence the quality of the produced output. Users, for instance, can bungle a scan just as splendidly as a mediocre machine. Mishandling the scanner or not being careful before and during the scan procedure is going to affect the resulting image. So, here are some tips that will help minimize mistakes and improve the quality of your scans:

  1. Always clean the scanning bed before using. Check for smears, fingerprints, lint, and dust. These things can mar the digital image. Depending on how wide the blemish is, where, and over what colors or lines they appear over, it could be difficult to digitally remove them without compromising the color or sharpness of the entire picture.
  2. Don’t leave the scanner open when not in use. That’s what invites grease and dirt on the flatbed. More importantly, you don’t want the scanner screen to get scratched. Dirt you can clean and remove; scratches you can do nothing about.
  3. Adjusting the angle of the image when it’s already scanned deteriorates its quality. Hence, make sure the image is positioned as straight as possible when it’s still on the scanner. Align the picture or document flush on one side of the scanner bed. Don’t take chances keeping it straight right at the center of the bed.
  4. Preview the image before starting the scan.
  5. When scanning photos, choose a resolution from 75dpi to 300 dpi (or ppi). Choosing higher, like 2400 dpi, will not give you a very good image quality.
  6. Sometimes it’s better to choose a particular type of scan instead of editing the image later. Most scanners have the following Types of scan options:
    • Color (using 16.7 million colors)
    • Grayscale (uses 256 shades of gray)
    • Line art (literally black and white, uses black or white depending on the contrasting shadows and colors of the original image. This makes line art the most appropriate scan type for documents).
    • Halftones (appears gridlike and is used for images that are to be printed out on newspapers and magazines)
  7. Don’t hesitate to repeat the scan if the result is not what you were hoping for.
  8. Save the files in PNG and JPEG if you want to send the images via email or attach them on social media or file sharing platforms. These file types are the most recognized and widely accepted ones.
  9. If you intend to blow up an A4 photograph and other near sizes into one humongous poster, scanning the photograph and enlarging the digital image is no longer the best option. You can retain photo quality for such a huge image if you take the original slide or film and run it through a film scanner instead. This is rarer than your standard scanner, but you will get the best result.
  10. Scanner pros advice that scanning pictures should be done one at a time. Basic scanners will capture an image of the entire scanner bed. Scanning two or more pictures at a time will merge them into one digital image, so alterations on one image will be applied to the rest of the pictures.
  11. If it’s necessary to save time and scan many pictures at one time, make sure each photo is positioned flush along one side of the scanner (see #3). Make sure too that there is a little space between each photo so that it will be very easy to crop and separate them into different image files later. (You should know though that the quality of digital images, especially those in JPEG form, deteriorates for each successive copy, resize, and folder-to-folder transfer.)
  12. In deference to the side-note for the previous number, make a habit of downloading scanned images directly into the folders where they are meant to be placed. Also avoid compressing images as much as possible because that decreases the quality of the digital image.

Hopefully you’ll be able to apply these tips the next time you use a scanner. You’ll get better quality, not just on the monitor but also on print.

Nicole Williams is a professional blogger and keen technology enthusiast who enjoys writing about improving workplace efficiency using technology. She currently writes for Micro Com Systems.

Common Sales Tax Pitfalls – And How to Avoid Them

Guest Blog by Jonathan Barsade

The Great Recession and slow recovery have taken a toll on state and local government revenues. Many states and municipalities have cut services and operations in response, but they’ve also significantly ramped up tax enforcement activities in an effort to secure more revenue, relying heavily on simple technology tools to automate and expedite enforcement processes.

While governments are putting technology to work for tax enforcement purposes, many small businesses have been slower to follow suit on the tax compliance side, living under the false premise that compliance technology is expensive, difficult to use, and relegated only to those large enterprises that have armies of technical and accounting staff who master the expertise to use these tools.  This misperception leaves them vulnerable and at a significant disadvantage. It’s not that business leaders don’t want to leverage the best technology tools to ensure compliance: Often it’s a case of small business leaders not realizing the scope of their obligations and the many pitfalls associated with compliance, even for company leaders who have the best of intentions, and more important, that modern technologies are readily available to businesses of all sides, that are not difficult to implement and not expensive to use.

Unlike the hoopla surrounding the annual income tax filing deadline, sales tax deadlines happen each month without any hype. Business owners who are focused on the bottom line – particularly those who are engaged in startup activities – can easily forget about this obligation. But noncompliance can be extraordinarily costly. Here are some of ways business owners get into trouble through noncompliance:

  • Missing deadlines:  Businesses that miss sales tax filing deadlines – even by just a couple of days – can be liable for hundreds of dollars in fines, even on minor tax obligations. It’s surprisingly easy to lose track of important dates when sales taxes are completed manually, especially for smaller companies where the owner is wearing multiple hats to keep the operation going.
  • Miscalculations: A sales tax miscalculation can have devastating consequences. One retailer was hit with a class action suit after setting up a cash register to calculate sales tax based on a location that was just a few blocks away – but in a separate sales tax jurisdiction (different county) with a lower tax rate. The retailer was liable for the difference out of pocket since it was too late to collect from customers, as well as the fines and penalties associated with the under-reporting.
  • Special tax categories: Other businesses have run into trouble through lack of awareness of which products and services are subject to special sales taxes. For example, in some jurisdictions, separate sales taxes apply to soft drinks, restaurant revenues and alcoholic beverages. A business that fails to comply could be subject to heavy fines and penalties.
  • Changing tax regulations: Even business leaders who try diligently to meet their sales tax obligations may find themselves out of compliance due to changing regulations. Sales taxes are subject to frequent adjustment for a variety of reasons, and businesses – especially those with multiple locations – must keep up-to-date or risk noncompliance and the resulting penalties.

These are just a few of the ways business leaders can run afoul of state or local sales tax compliance. It’s a complex issue, and there are thousands of tax jurisdictions, so it’s easy to make mistakes. But even companies that haven’t made any mistake can find themselves adversely impacted: Since taxing authorities have automated many processes, merchants occasionally receive incorrect assessments.   For example, in many situations, the state systems that generate assessments are out of synch with the systems that register when a return was filed or payment received.  Very often, as the state determined cut-off date (typically 5 – 7 days after the filing due date) passes, an assessment will be issued automatically because the return or payment were not listed as being received.  Without doing anything wrong, the business owner must now spend countless hours in negotiating with the state and local agencies and prove their innocence that they filed the returns in a timely manner and payment was collected in full.

While the business may not have to pay a penalty in the end if they can prove the assessment is incorrect, they will have to commit time and resources to documenting compliance and making their case to the appropriate section of the bureaucracy. This is time better spent on managing your business and generating profits.

So what’s the solution? Savvy small business leaders are increasingly taking advantage of technology to ensure sales tax compliance. Over the past several years, sales tax compliance technology has evolved, becoming much more affordable, accurate and automated.

With the right outsourcing partner, businesses can benefit from the automated solutions now on the market to ensure they file state taxes accurately and on time – and have an outsourcing partner to back them up if they get an improper assessment. In this way, businesses can avoid the common pitfalls in sales tax compliance – and focus on taking care of business.

Jonathan Barsade is CEO of Exactor