From Shelves to Screens16 Sep, 2010 By: Jackie Jones Response
Retailers are taking a page out of DR's book to find success in the online and mobile space.
Moving Beyond Traditional Sales
Gift retailer 1800Flowers.com is one merchant that has embraced the challenge of new technology through both traditional and DR marketing strategies.
“I think the greatest challenge for retail in this arena is that you’ve got a ton of interest in new technology, and you want customers to have the best online experience, so which one do we as retailers focus on?” says Kevin Ranford, vice president of online marketing, mobile and social media for the Carle Place, N.Y.-based company. “We believe strongly in testing and we always test out what we’re hearing will be the next big thing in the online experience for customers. Everything moves fast online. You want to make sure you’re pursuing the right online technology so we’re constantly surveying consumers, asking what online experiences they like or dislike. They really drive the experience.”
1800Flowers.com makes most of its sales online and has been a driving force in the E-commerce world for years, embracing the Internet first in 1992 after initially driving business through its toll-free number. 1-800-Flowers launched its first Web site in 1995, and officially changed its name to 1800Flowers.com four years later, and has most recently expanded into social media and M-commerce.
The company’s foray into direct response includes mobile apps for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones; SMS texting and mobile-display advertising; an online store via Facebook; and a mobile-friendly Web site optimized for a variety of user devices.
Ranford notes 1800Flowers.com’s push toward M-commerce has at times felt like a gamble — especially in the past before the iPhone craze and when Android technology was still picking up steam — but that it has always paid off. The timing was great for the launch of many of its mobile apps, and the company has seen a very positive response from consumers, according to Ranford.
“In our holistic program of online engagement, it really has given us a broad mobile strategy,” he says.
1800Flowers.com’s involvement in E-commerce and M-commerce has especially spoken most successfully to the on-the-go gifter, Ranford says. “We feel strongly about taking advantage of that
massive evolution of folks moving to
M-commerce. We’re very focused on SMS right now and on growing our subscriber base. We can send reminders to consumers for major holidays, for example, and we like to promote our mobile Web offerings via other Web channels, as well,” Ranford says, citing E-mail directives driving traffic to the mobile Web site where customers can shop and make purchases.
By keeping all of its mobile and social media marketing opt-in only, 1800Flowers.com has been able to form an enthusiastic online community, according to Amit Shah, director of online marketing, mobile and social media.
“Our customers are always happy to get those offers on their mobile phones. Being able to offer products on-the-go is something they’ve never had before,” Shah says.
In addition to its own Web site, 1800Flowers.com also maintains a heavy presence on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, allowing shoppers to post products to their own pages and marketers to gauge which products are most popular with online users. Consumers can also take part in contests such as the Summer of Smiles campaign, where users win a free bouquet for correctly identifying photos of celebrity smiles; shop directly through 1800Flowers.com’s Facebook page, which has more than 45,000 fans; and incorporate occasion-specific information about their purchase into their newsfeeds.
“We’re always looking at interesting ways to engage our shoppers via new technologies. (The ‘Like it’ feature on
Facebook) is a great opportunity for
E-retailers to test what consumers are reacting to the most,” Ranford says.
Shah adds that social-networking sites are not just places to push products, but also a source of informal conversation between consumers and 1800Flowers.com.
“We see (the sites) as a place where users have a voice and say,” Shah says. “It’s not just about trying to move a product. We want to make our users feel like they have a point of interaction outside of the sales transaction. It’s great because it allows us to bring all the parties involved into that conversation.”
Online Consumer Interaction Drives Offline Response
Lion Brand Yarn, a 133-year-old brand that sells to consumers and retailers around the country such as Michael’s, Wal-Mart and Jo-Ann’s Fabric and Crafts Stores, also believes much of its E-commerce marketing is about customer relations, rather than hard sales. Lion Brand Yarn maintains a company Web site, blog, Flickr profile, weekly E-newsletter, podcast, YouTube channel and Facebook page that it consistently interacts with consumers through, says Ilana Rabinowitz, vice president of marketing.
“Our E-commerce is more about helping people find products they can’t find elsewhere. Customer engagement is really critical to us, that’s the way we see ourselves as being able to help those customers standing in the aisle at an actual retail location, looking at relatively undifferentiated products,” Rabinowitz says. “That’s how we stand out because we’ve talked to them directly, answered their questions and even congratulated them on a project they’ve completed and shared online. It’s how we think we create a connection to customers that makes them choose us over other companies.”
The Lion Brand Yarn Facebook page has more than 136,000 fans, and status updates on project ideas, seasonal calls-to-action and solicitations for knitting or crochet advice regularly receive anywhere from 500 to 2,000 responses from online consumers.
“I think one of the ways we stand out is in our various social media,” Rabinowitz adds. “We interact with our fans all day long, and we have found that people who use our social media sites like Facebook or who comment on the blog have a higher rate of conversion than other visitors to the site.”
Though Lion Brand Yarn does sell directly through its Web site, Rabinowitz says the company views the site as a combination of a marketing and a sales tool.
“We do have a catalog and Web site, but we are mostly using that to drive traffic to the retailers who carry our products. We’re engaging with customers so our brand is more meaningful and valuable to them, ultimately driving a lot of the sales offline,” she says, adding that much of Lion Brand Yarn’s direct sales come from consumers looking for a specific product or quantity when their local retailer carries only limited amounts.
Lion Brand Yarn has also seen success in M-commerce through an iPhone app that gives customers access to Pattern Finder, a program that helps them sort through patterns on the company’s Web site to find exactly what they are looking for and what yarn to use, according to Rabinowitz.
“Customers can be in a store anywhere, and they can download the pattern right then to see what’s needed and buy that right there in the store,” she says. “We used to have to print patterns and spend thousands of dollars doing that, but now people can walk right down the aisle looking at their phones and pick the pattern they need.”
Consumer response to Lion Brand Yarn’s online initiatives has been the driving force behind its E-commerce success, Rabinowitz says.
“We put a lot of energy into social media, and what we’ve done is create our own media that provide valuable information to consumers and ways of connecting with customers on different levels,” she says. “We now have an audience of people willing to listen to us because we’re giving them content and value. We don’t see social media as a hard sell or promotional tool, so that when we do use it to announce things or show people an offer or contest, it’s very effective.”
Personal Path to Success
Research shows a strong future for retail in the digital sector. According to one CrossView survey, 37 percent of shoppers preferred to hear about retail promotions through E-mail, while 18 percent cited text messaging as a favorite source of information. Retailers continue to roll out new mobile apps, many of which allow consumers to shop and purchase items directly from their cell phones, and an increasing number of E-commerce applications are now available, such as Visa’s Rightcliq technology, which allows users to compile a wish-list of products and be notified any time they are on a site that offers deals for requited items.
In the future, it’s important for retailers to keep an eye on all varying digital channels as the E-commerce space expands, Shop.org’s Joseloff suggests.
“It’s easy to show what sales come from E-commerce directly,” he says. “The newest challenge is learning how digital affects all sales across different channels. That can be hard to quantify.”
For E-retailers to succeed in sales, whether online or in-site, new and emerging technologies are making it increasingly important to first target and connect with consumers through effective DR channels.
“We think our customers love us and want to communicate with us,” says Shah of 1800Flowers.com. “It’s important for us to have a foothold in the same places they are and bring that excitement there in order to make the customer always feel connected to us.”