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Cross Industry Targeting – Leveraging the Connection between Retail and Travel Content Consumption

Guest blog By Noah Tratt

Can the mere act of planning a vacation increase a person’s happiness? A Dutch study released in 2010 revealed that the largest boost in happiness surrounding vacations comes from the simple act of planning the vacation. In fact, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for a full eight weeks.

Retailers take note: targeting a happy consumer during the vacation booking phase can be an extremely effective marketing strategy because there is a unique tie between retail and travel shopping patterns. A study from Millward Brown Digital and Expedia Media Solutions identified a direct correlation between the frequency of visits to retail and travel sites by consumers during this euphoric phase as they plan and book a vacation package. The Traveler’s Path to Purchase study examines the 45-day period leading up to a vacation package booking on an online travel agency to determine what the US consumer’s path to purchase looks like. It revealed that online content consumption increases during the vacation package planning and booking phases and that the patterns of retail site and travel site visitation are closely aligned. In the 45 days leading up to a package booking, retail sites were visited almost as frequently as travel sites. Vacation bookers visited retail websites 36.6 times in the 45-day path to purchase period, while travel sites were visited 38 times.

The connection between retail and travel site consumption is logical because consumers, in their state of increased happiness, and are often searching for new products that they may need for the vacation they’re booking. A beach vacation may inspire a consumer to look at buying a new bathing suit or sunscreen, the same way a ski trip would inspire the purchase of a new jacket or GoPro video camera. Each destination a consumer looks at serves as motivation to research and potentially purchase new products that will make their vacation that much better.

While the correlation between retail and travel site consumption shows that retailers are already enjoying the effects of a happy traveler, there is also an opportunity to target this group in a new way. Despite the increase in retail site consumption during the entire 45 day period before a booking, during the week of booking, retail site visitation dropped while travel site visitation peaked. As a retail brand, why not remain top of mind for those happy consumers throughout the entire 45-day period?

As consumers are actually booking their vacation package, retailers should be where those consumers are – on travel sites – to ensure consumption increases again as booking is happening (as seen in the graph above).

Marketers across all industries need to look at new places and ways to target their existing and potential customers. Travelers, retail shoppers, bank customers and restaurant goers are all one in the same, so as marketers working across various industries we need to work together to serve consumers in the most relevant places, and in the most interesting ways possible.

Noah Tratt is global vice president of media solutions at Expedia, Inc.

Tap into the Five Senses to Appeal to Shoppers In-store

Guest Blog By Larry Berg

Making the List Versus Making the Basket

As shoppers enter the grocery store – list in hand – it is the moment of truth. What will end up in their basket? Will they complete their shopping list or decide on other items?  What will be the key influencer driving their purchase decisions? Consider this:

  • 81 percent of list makers do not record a specific brand on their shopping list
  • 9 out of 10 consumers purchase items not on their list (61 percent of those consumers purchase an additional one to three items)

While making “the list” and driving consumers to the store is half the battle, there is great potential for marketers to influence consumers in the store and after they’ve already made their “lists.” In-store advertising has long been the solution here, but marketers must remember the consumer at the shelf, as there is a bigger opportunity to stand out.

Today, standing out is not only about grabbing the shoppers’ attention with an end-cap display –traditional in-store high visibility placement, but also with in-store placement in a variety of areas where the eye meets the product.  Marketers should also add visual appeal to traditional in-store signage, such as incorporating the product into the sign. One consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturer introduced a new laundry pod on a spindle to create engagement in a fun way. Another CPG manufacturer outlined the product on an oversized sign and punched it out to make it more realistic and enticing.

To further engage the consumer who is already in the purchase mode, we must appeal to not only their sense of sight, but also what they hear, smell, feel and taste.  To increase brand engagement, marketers need to tap into the five senses for in-store purchases.

Exciting the Senses

While innovation of in-store space is a common topic, many don’t concentrate on the simple premise of the five senses.  The five senses play a major role in a consumer’s purchase decision. Marketers looking  to differentiate their brands in a unique and even unpredictable way can reach taste buds with flavor strips, ears with a motion-sensor sound sign, noses with scented leaflets or tear pads, hands to feel the softness of a new paper product or diaper and appeal to consumers’ eyes with beyond eye-level displays. For example, marketers can help consumers navigate the aisle by leading them directly to the brand with a large, eye-catching floor graphic.

Another visual way to engage the consumer is utilizing a 180-degree angled sign that uses motion-sensor LED lights (detecting motion from 10 feet away) to draw them in. One solution like this one takes in-store signage to another level as it adds extra emphasis to client creative and helps draw more eyes to the brand, let alone the category, boosting sales up to 73 percent.

Another interactive solution is to provide the consumer with a personal shopping assistant, which appeals to sight and sound in an interactive way. For example, through a simple scan of a QR Code, an avatar appears to answer questions a consumer may have on an advertised brand.  The consumer can then use text or voice to ask their question and get an answer right back – at the shelf.  This is a creative way to make the consumer experience human interaction.

In-store promotions and coupons provide immediate consumer response, building  brand equity to create greater consumer awareness and historically elevating response rates to as high as 73 percent. Retailers and brands looking to not only engage but to also activate shoppers in-store have a multitude of ways to reach them not only by what they see, but what they hear, smell, touch and taste. Surprise them. Excite them.  And appeal to them using the senses.

(In his VP role, Larry Berg leads in-store innovation at Valassis. During his 26-year career, Berg has gained a reputation for creating thought-provoking ideas. He has been active in many prominent industry associations including the Path to Purchase Institute and is a retired board member on the Alliance for Audited Media. )

Remaining Relevant in Amazon’s Retail Shadow

Guest Blog By Jeremy Hanks

Have you ever wondered how Amazon ascended to and maintains its dominant position? The company puts retailers left and right out of business, and consistently outperforms the rest of the e-commerce market, often reporting growth more than twice the overall market’s growth. Yes, there is Amazon Prime and Kindle Fire and the world’s largest bookstore, but the secret to Amazon’s success is not as sexy as you might expect.

Amazon is at the top of the food chain because of its supply chain. The real revolution we’re seeing is Amazon’s unprecedented ability to manage logistics so effectively that the company can see, virtually, billions of dollars of product supply. After all, services like Amazon Prime with vast inventory and two-day shipping options wouldn’t have any value without a robust supply chain network powering it.

Amazon’s dominance has led to increasing market pressures for retailers, and many are crumbling under the weight. As a result, more than $800 billion is lost annually in global retail inventory distortion (out-of-stocks and overstocks), according to research firm IHL Group.

While the B2C world has witnessed disruption after disruption – from one-click checkouts to mobile device purchases – the B2B supply chain has failed to keep pace with such rapid innovation. Today, even with distribution centers popping up everywhere, there are still significant geographic constraints on the logistics and fulfillment of supply.

In the e-commerce age, the future of mid-market retailers hinges on a supply chain revolution that leads to total visibility of distributed, virtual inventory. Any revolution requires upheaval, and here that has to come in inventory flow from a product push to a product pull. No longer should retailers dictate what consumers want – consumers should be the ones in control, and retailers must be able to respond rapidly and effectively to meet their demands.

To empower consumers, many mid-market retailers are turning to what has made Amazon so successful – third-party distributed inventory, also known as drop shipping. Better known as Amazon Marketplace, this strategic approach enables the company to sell more products with an almost non-existent effect on cost structure. In Q4 2012, Amazon’s third-party sales contributed significant revenue, making up 39 percent of all units purchased.

While the promise of expanded assortment is an important marketing tool for retailers, it then becomes even more important that the promise is backed up with strong supply chain execution. Here are three key benefits to implementing a distributed supply chain:

  • Less Inventory Risk – An expanded assortment strategy increases selling opportunities while simultaneously reducing supply chain costs associated with transportation and storage.
  • More Competitive Pricing – One of many reasons consumers prefer Amazon is its favorable prices. Increasing visibility of products also brings down prices by reducing overhead and fulfillment costs.
  • Endless Aisle Capabilities– The promise of an expanded or unlimited assortment of inventory is an enticing prospect for extending the reach of a retailer’s brand to new customers and keeping existing customers who otherwise shop elsewhere due to a stockout or limited assortment.

The state of retail and supply chain strategy is at a tipping point where providing expanded product assortment through distributed inventory is essential. At DropShip Commerce, we have been developing major innovations to level the playing field for retailers in every category. As retailers learn to navigate the e-commerce age, those that can react quickly and adapt their supply chain strategy accordingly will realize greater opportunities for growing sales and remaining relevant – even in the face of Amazon – for years to come.

Jeremy Hanks is Founder & CEO of DropShip Commerce

The Impact of NFC Technology on Retail Merchandising

Guest Blog By Douglas Lusted

The Pew Research Center recently announced that 56 percent of all adult Americans have a smartphone, which is up from only 35 percent two years ago. In turn, advertising has received a major renovation with the growth of smartphone usage and the supporting technology surrounding mobile devices. With a smartphone in more than half of their customers’ hands, marketers are looking for the best way to attract buyers through convenient channels. But analytics supporting this high tech marketing strategy have gone untapped. Can measurement capabilities be harnessed to bring in store marketers the same kinds of analytics found in digital or online marketing?

The answer is yes! Already accessible on a number of popular smartphones, Near Field Communication (NFC) technology provides a way for customers to directly connect and interact with a brand or retail store. Once activated, the user’s smartphone allows for direct engagement with an in or out of store advertisement. Using NFC technology, marketers can see how many people came close to an advertisement, how many customers stopped in front of it, how many interacted with it and how many of those interactions converted into sales. Products enabled with this new technology, such as Linkett provide full backend support to show analytics and conversion rates. Marketers will know which ads are the most effective and can collect the data that is most important to them in real-time. With motion activated in-store advertisements, a customized shopping experience is provided to the customer while immediate feedback on that shopper is provided to the brand or store.

For example, imagine walking into a store and passing a television offering 50 percent off of today’s purchase. To receive the discount, you tap your mobile phone to the screen and opt in to the store’s email list. You now have the coupon on your phone available for immediate use. You tap again and you instantly have the brand’s loyalty app. Three weeks later, you walk into the same store and the television offers you another discount for an item you previously purchased. You tap the screen again and receive the new offer.

Not only does Linkett harness NFC technology to give average televisions mobile and motion capabilities to make all content interactive and convenient for consumers while providing key analytics to promoters, but it also allows marketers to improve ads based on collected data.

NFC is also a secure way to accept payment transactions through mobile devices and loyalty and credit cards. NFC allows for a safe and secure connection because the transfer of data happens so fast and close together. NFC respects privacy settings and will never grab data from a customer’s phone or communicate with the device unless the device is tapped. Once tapped, there is always an option to opt out.

Having a customized in-store marketing experience in place for the customer can make a difference in direct sales. A customer may not think about going into a store, but when a screen literally talks to them as they walk through the mall and offers them a coupon, they may stop by. Even then, they could come in without intending to buy anything, but if an advertisement offers an instant coupon, they may change their mind. Until now, consumers are not viewing an advertised offer while in the store, but typically only before or after they shop. NFC technology guides them to a purchase during their physical shopping experience.

With Linkett, one person can control thousands of displays from one laptop and never have to visit the displays to update. Ads can be seen in real-time to see which are performing the best so only the most efficient campaigns are displayed at all times. Marketers can install Linkett, understand collected data and customize advertisements using a cloud-based platform. NFC technology is a development that streamlines marketing strategy and completely changes the relationship a marketer can achieve with a consumer.

Douglas Lusted is CEO and co-founder of Weston Expressions

The Dawn of Experiential Commerce

Guest blog by Tom Smith

You’ve heard many people claim that the walls of brick and mortar stores are crashing down spectacularly. That the old school architects are now being replaced by cleverly coded predictive web shopping experiences. That we’ll buy everything online: The numbers certainly still seem to suggest it.

The meteoric rise of pureplay eCommerce ventures like ASOS and Zappos has had in-store managers trembling. As the traditional retailers moved into eCommerce, the very same in-store managers would cling on for dear life to their revenues, even competing against their eCommerce colleagues for a share of the customer’s virtual and leather wallets.

And then something called “omnichannel” started happening: Devices called smartphones took over the world, and social media erupted. We came across mCommerce, tCommerce and social commerce, and retailers started scrambling just to be there – wherever the new “there” was – and keep up without really understanding what it meant to offer a shopping experience on mobile, tablet or any other channel that touched the customer.

Of course, we can virtually window shop on our tablets, we can purchase through a blog post, we can complete our online orders with a single click. But, as we spend more of our time shopping this way and as online retail becomes increasingly saturated and competitive, speed and convenience are less the deciding factors for consumers. With the increasing maturity of eCommerce and omnichannel retailing, the successful retailer of tomorrow understands that it’s now all about experiential commerce. Making the customer experience as inspiring, consistent, personalized and wow-inducing as possible will be the driver of conversion, revenues and loyalty in the next stage of eCommerce.

How are online retailers transitioning towards this age of experiential commerce?

Investing in data science

A true understanding of future customer behavior is really what the data geeks in eCommerce want to achieve. Yet so many of the data and insights initiatives in organizations today revolve around past behavior: looking in the rear-view mirror. In the world of lightening-paced eCommerce, this is not so useful. All efforts should focus on the future customer. The Big Data spectrum for eCommerce insights is vast – reviews, past purchases, social interactions, web behavior, inventory, financial and more. And they aren’t going to magically blend into one super-database. As a result, eCommerce executives are now looking to invest in data scientists and technologies that blend insights together, using them to deliver more relevant and personalized shopping experiences.

Figuring out what “omnichannel” really is

For every traditional retailer today, the term “omnichannel” is an omnipresent one. And it’s one that offers a fresh way of thinking about how to blend and make the best out of the interaction between channels for a customer, at all the different touch points they will have with a retailer today.

Omnichannel shopping is at the heart of experience commerce, as it takes the more strategic viewpoint of the customer being at the center of a seamless retail experience. It avoids ‘doing mobile’ or ‘doing social’, just for the sake of mobile and social. An omnichannel approach considers the customer, his journey, his touch points and delivering an experience that is consistent with the retail brand and the way it wants to engage the customer.

Personalization

It’s the holy grail of replicating that personal shopper experience online. Except, for all the hype over the years, personalization is still in its infancy. The opportunity to tailor the online experience with a 1 to 1 engagement with the customer was the promise of personalization, yet the reality is that understanding the common behaviors and characteristics of customers supersedes the need to treat Joe as Joe. The smart thinking now around personalization is to treat Joe as ‘other-people-like-Joe.’

Personalization in eCommerce generally revolves around tactics such as recommendations (to drive cross-sell and upsell), personalized search and navigation results (to drive conversion), and personalized content (to drive relevancy and a tailored experience). The businesses that are innovating in these areas, such as ASOS, are investing in technologies and resources that bring these capabilities together, and can deliver a differentiated experience unique to shoppers with common behaviors and characteristics.

Rich content marketing

Rich and diverse content marketing is fast-becoming a way to differentiate in online retail. Customers are able to watch videos of the latest gadget being tested by experts and purchase there and then. They’re also free to read blog posts from fashion bloggers about the latest trends, and complete the look with a click. This revenue-driving practice isn’t just confined to electronics and fashion products. Video and rich media is helping drive conversion of products across all categories: Funky office supplies online retailer Poppin is using video to enrich the experience of buying storage boxes.

Of course, all of these investments and transitions towards a better online shopping experience are not risk-free. Marketing, merchandising and IT need to be tightly aligned to deliver these experiences that are largely dependent upon technology and business working together in harmony. There are still major questions around the consolidation, the making sense of, and the gathering of disparate data sources to inform business decisions. And then there’s the challenge of keeping up with the pace of change of things like mobile, mCommerce and social engagement. There’s a long way to go, but the age of experience commerce is almost upon us.

Tom Smith, Product Marketer with SDL, is a trend-watcher and technology evangelist.

What’s Actually Happening In All My Retail Locations?

Guest blog by Ollie Benn

You’ve spent months on a new retail initiative or display concept.  You’ve piloted it in a few test locations and trained key staff.  Everything looks good and you begin the nationwide rollout.  But then sales numbers come in and they’re, well, lumpy.  And you don’t know why.  It’s not until months later you figure out that one regional manager conveyed the wrong instructions to store managers, another region had bad displays, and some individual store managers just messed things up.

The key for retailers (and suppliers) to address this problem is to understand how to shrink the distance between corporate headquarters and the front lines where sales take place.  There are some remarkably simple ways to increase store-by-store visibility and achieve more consistency in execution and sales.

The Solution Is Already In Workers’ Hands

Most Americans now own smartphones, the majority of which are iPhone and Android devices.  Whether companies have adopted a formal Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy or not, 90% of employees already use their personal smartphones for work, according to Cisco.

And companies are beginning to harness the power of those smartphones.  Banks, electronics companies and restaurants have found some interesting ways to use employees’ smartphones.

For retailers and suppliers, mobile devices are a way to literally “see” into every single store.  When rolling out new initiatives, or just managing day-to-day operations, workers’ smartphones can capture the photos, videos and data to give instant insight into how well each store is performing.  Some companies are already doing this to manage product and display installations in national chains.

But this is just part of two bigger themes for how workers’ mobile devices can radically improve performance:  (1) better information exchange between sales/operations executives (setting strategies) and managers in stores (implementing them); (2) better, more individualized, communication with employees.

Better Performance Through Better Information Exchange and Feedback

Research shows how high-performing companies ensure information flows well between workers, managers and headquarters.  In fact, it’s critical for good execution of corporate strategies.

In retail environments, smartphones and tablets can increase information flow from front-line workers to decision makers.  As discussed above, sales and operations execs can get reports and receive alerts when stores aren’t complying with directives.  They can then, in turn,  communicate with store managers and make adjustments and suggestions instantly.  Currently, most retailers will have little clue that something is amiss until after monthly or quarterly sales data is analyzed.   Instead of waiting for sales misses, correcting execution problems ahead of time can substantially increase profits.

In addition to allowing companies to better understand what’s happening in individual stores, smartphones allow feedback to go the other way too – enterprises can communicate to workers about how their choices have contributed to the company’s success. Performance-based feedback can have a great impact on the way an employee sees their role in a company, which can improve productivity and create a positive feedback loop.

Companies that adopt mobile enterprise solutions will create more consistent shopping experiences for consumers in all their locations.  This will produce more predictable revenue streams for companies caused by better, more uniform execution.

Ollie Benn is VP of Marketing for Zenput

How to Attract Top Talent in Today’s Retail Landscape

Guest Blog by Susan Vitale

The workforce is more competitive than ever due to cost-cutting and consolidations across the board, and the retail industry is especially feeling the squeeze. Mobile shopping has consumers skipping stores and using their mobile devices to make purchases instead. It’s a trend that’s altering the composition of the retail job market.

Recent reports show that department stores cut more than 38,000 jobs last year, and with consumer spending dipping in the first quarter of 2013, things are getting even tighter. On the other hand, economists are optimistic about e-commerce, which now accounts for 5.5 percent of total sales and is estimated to increase 15.2 percent from the first quarter of 2012.  Retail recruiters need to find cost-effective ways to source, communicate with, and hire talent to fit the changing landscape of available retail positions. Here are some of the fundamentals for attaining top retail talent on a tight budget:

1. Build Relationships with Your Target Audience

Recruiters in the retail industry have one huge advantage: strong brand recognition. Leverage your brand to connect with candidates. If you use talent acquisition software, you can easily display a consistent brand across all communications, like career portals, career microsites, and automated email communications.

And don’t forget to harness the power of social media to showcase your employment brand. By promoting job openings through sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ you can further your reach to potential new talent and immerse them in your company culture at the same time. It’s a great way to keep candidates actively engaged ensuring top talent is looking when an opening is posted.

2. Social Recruiting

Social media is also an extremely effective recruiting tool. Retail recruiters who deploy an automated social media distribution tool for their job openings gain insight into which channels perform best for specific positions. For example, some retail positions, like part time cashier, tend to be geared toward a younger audience. Millennials, defined as individuals born between 1981 and 2000, have the highest social networking penetration of any generation, so if you want them, you need to use social media to reach them. Retailers find increased effectiveness by targeting niche networks. Pinterest, for example, can be a great environment to find creative types, while LinkedIn tends to attract white-collar candidates. Choosing the right venue will help you better target your search and save time, money, and effort. Recruiters should also tap into their current social media following. People interacting on your social sites should be considered potential quality candidates since they have already shown an interest in your brand and your organization. One of the great benefits of social media is that many engaged users on your page are part of an untapped candidate pool right at your fingertips.

3. Finding the Right Fit

Lastly, as recruitment marketing budgets continue to tighten, the emphasis is on effectively identifying the right candidates. The retail industry has a high volume of applicants with a wide range educational backgrounds and skill levels. In order to streamline the hiring process, you need a system with a robust search functionality that allows you to pinpoint specific skills that each unique position requires. Targeted screening questions are another useful tool in a retail recruiter’s arsenal.  For example, if a job entails night and weekend hours, posing a simple question such as, “Are you available to work on nights and weekends” eliminates unqualified candidates, saving time and money for your organization. Screening questions, based on a candidate’s salary requirements and level of experience, are also helpful to quickly evaluate a candidate before the application even reaches a recruiter.

Engage Candidates, Further Your Reach, and Selectively Hire

The entire retail industry is changing rapidly, re-designing the landscape of recruiting. To attract and attain top talent, you have to do three key things; build relationships through consistent branding across all communications, harness social media to snag the best and brightest, and pinpoint the right candidate for each unique position. Your organization will need a well-executed plan to move through this process, and there are several solutions on the market that can be easily implemented to put your organization on the path to success quickly and efficiently.

Susan Vitale is CMO of iCIMS

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.