Retail is Dead

April 2, 2014

With no hope of the “good old days” returning, isn’t it time you considered a new selling approach in your store? Retail as we know it is dead. There are no more hopes that the good old days are coming back, at least in my mind. Sorry if that bursts your bubble, but the truth hurts sometimes.

Retail IS dead. To combat this change in our store, we created a process where first we engage our customer by educating them about their purchase, then we deliver media via automated systems so the consumer can acquire information about the purchase at their pace. Plant a seed, cultivate it and harvest it systematically and automatically. We call this process “infotailing.” It has helped to transform our business from a “me too” retail establishment to a thriving, competition-crushing, market-leading, undeniable choice for a consumer. And you can do it, too.

 

Step 1: Create a Unique Information Position (UIP)

Pull back the curtain on your entire buying process. This product-driven information is typically given away via an opt-in box on your website, and should be your best stuff. Imagine a customer saying to themselves, “If they are giving me this before I even visit the store, what else awaits me when I am there?”

Having unique information to offer a customer lowers fear, gives them an education about their forthcoming purchase and ultimately positions you as the leader in the marketplace.

One of the most common themes we hear in our testimonials is that we made the process easy and eliminated their fears in making the purchase. You can see an example of our UIP sleep guide, “What’s Keeping You Up at Night,” on our website, GardnersMattressAndMore.com.

 

Step 2: Create an Interesting Customer Experience

Gardener's Mattress & More Dream Room

Gardener’s Mattress & More Dream Room

This should be something customers can get only from you, the defining “thing” that only you can offer, and is not easily copied. Our Dream Room is a private mattress testing room. Customers can get comfy, read a book, watch TV or even nap. Customers that use this room always end up purchasing from us—we have a 100 percent success rate.

Step 3: Offer an Incredible Guarantee

Try to eliminate all the risk swirling around in your customer’s mind. We tie our “Love Your Mattress” comfort guarantee to use of the Dream Room and Our Sleep Guide. When our Dream Room is used to purchase a mattress, we extend a one-year comfort guarantee. The customer’s time investment with us underwrites our risk. We have a .5-percent return rate doing this, but consider the dollars made as result of having this in place.

 

Step 4: Develop Your Sales Choreography

Even the best actors use scripts. Develop a script for everything. Consider all touch points and make sure the script always answers “WIIFM?”—What’s in it for me, as the consumer? How does the customer benefit?

Gardner's Mattress & More Sales Floor

Gardner’s Mattress & More Sales Floor

In our sleep assessments (really a nice way of saying sales choreography), we engage in a sit-down conversation with a clear goal that we state when we introduce the sleep assessment. Our choreography begins like this: “Rather than us tell you all about what we would like to sell you, we feel it makes sense to have a seat in our customer lounge and discuss your individual sleep needs. What would tomorrow morning feel like if you found the right mattress today and could sleep on it tonight? Would you be open to that?”

Rarely, if ever, are we turned down, and when we get resistance we simply conduct the assessment with the customer as we navigate the showroom.

 

Lounge Area in Gardner's Mattress & More

Lounge Area in Gardner’s Mattress & More

Step 5: Systemize Lead Flow

Capture leads via opt-in boxes on your website, emails and other marketing efforts, plus have an auto-response sequence in place for follow-up marketing. An opt-in box collects customer information in exchange for something of value, typically an information piece like a free report. Think of what information you have that is unique and that you are willing to give away in order to begin a dialogue with your customers.

In the store, offer a summary sheet when a sale is not made—a price quote and summary of your conversation—in exchange for contact information. Getting these details becomes very easy when proper sales choreography is followed.

 

Step 6: Do Not Offer Price Cuts or Deep Discounts

Instead, offer value-added items that can be bonuses as part of the purchase. Look for low-cost, high-value products. If you must discount, have a procedure. There is more perceived value in a system of discounting (like holiday promotions and coupons) than there is for simply saying, “Sure, I’ll take X% off if you pull the trigger now.”

If you think customers are blind to the usual used-car tactics, think again. We actually attract more customers because we don’t promote or sell in this fashion. Our customers choose to buy from us because of us—and because of our testimonials, our commitment to community and their earned trust.

 

iComfort Sales Area in Gardner's Mattress & More

iComfort Sales Area in Gardner’s Mattress & More

Step 7: Get Money Moving Forward

Always have an upsell offer and premium package/service for your best customers and don’t be afraid to show it off. This makes your other mattresses look like a value.

We properly fit pillows first, so customers often leave with pillows and come back later to buy the mattress. This gets the customer doing business with us and makes it much easier to get them back in the store later. Plus, at times we will offer a chance for customers to get their pillows discounted or free if they come back to buy the bed within a certain period of time.

 

Jeff Giagnocavo (left) and Ben McClure

 

Jeff Giagnocavo and Ben McClure are co-owners of Gardner’s Mattress & More and founders of Mega Mattress Margins.

Eco-Apathy: Why Green Just Doesn’t Matter Anymore

March 1, 2014

Sometimes it seems like everywhere you turn, you encounter instances of products and services “going green.” The trend is so prevalent that there is even a term for using sustainability as a marketing ploy: greenwashing. When any trend becomes ubiquitous, it begins to feel bland and unimportant.

Most marketing advice for retailers includes some reference to sustainable, green practices. In reality, few customers ask questions about how the furniture on the showroom floor was produced, or whether the materials it is made of were recycled. Since the questions aren’t coming, it may seem as if customers don’t care, and if customers don’t care, should retailers?

Do your customers really care?

The first thing retailers must determine is whether customers are interested in sustainability at all. The Sustainable Furnishings Council conducts an annual survey to help assess customers’ levels of concern regarding sustainability. The survey questions are structured to determine consumers’ concerns about the environment and sustainability in general, the changes (if any) they are making in their day-to-day lives to reduce their families’ ecological impact and how sustainability issues affect their furniture purchases.

Increasingly, the survey finds that consumers do care about sustainability. They particularly care about indoor air quality and climate change, which are two areas that the furniture industry can directly impact. However, consumers don’t usually make the connection between furniture and big environmental issues.

What ARE customers thinking about? 

As most furniture retailers know, customers have three main concerns when it comes to making purchases for the home: style, value and budget. Virtually all shoppers come to the showroom floor with a budget in mind, whether it is a luxury-level budget or an economy-minded budget. Most of them also have an idea of the style they are looking for—it would be unusual for a person who prefers a modern, contemporary look to decide to purchase something in the Victorian style, for example. Finally, everyone loves to make a purchase that feels like a great value.

But how do style, value and budget intersect with sustainability?

Customers do care about sustainability and the environment, but those concerns are not exactly top-of-mind when they enter a home furnishings store. Some of the questions on the Sustainable Furnishings Council’s survey are designed to find out why consumers are not asking ecology-related questions when they are shopping for furniture. As it turns out, the biggest reason is that they don’t know environmentally friendly options are available.

Customers are not so much apathetic when it comes to home furniture and sustainability as they are unaware. They don’t know to ask how the wood used is sourced, where products are built or how furniture may affect indoor air quality.

Susan Inglis, executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, said, “We find from our research that consumers care about the whole range of sustainability issues, from the climate crisis to poor indoor air quality, to toxic waste pollution, to depletion of natural resources, etc. BUT they often do not think about how their choices in home furnishings can impact these areas. When their salesperson points out that a product is U.S. made, or of a recycled material, or toxin-free, they respond with enthusiasm, but they do not usually walk into the store asking for these eco-attributes. It is up to the salesperson to point them out—and there are plenty of options to point out!”

How can retailers fill the gaps?

Clearly, there is a gap between consumer concern and consumer knowledge. Customers want to make choices that are environmentally friendly but aren’t aware of their options. Retailers, on the other side of the equation, want to provide enough information to help consumers make good choices, but don’t want to bore or alienate them.

One point many retailers may find surprising is that consumers are often confused by the terms used to discuss sustainability within the industry. For example, most consumers do not understand the term “certified wood.” However, “environmentally friendly” and “sustainable” are well known and widely understood terms.

The number one way that consumers are personally taking action to improve the environment is recycling in the home. Although they may not understand “certified wood,” customers do understand when a salesperson says that the materials making up a piece of furniture are sourced, in part, through recycling.

What are the logical next steps? 

Education is the key. Professionals on showroom floors need to understand consumer concerns and how to begin conversations about sustainability. Consumers need to know that eco-friendly, sustainable furnishing options exist.

The fact that an item was produced sustainably is not enough alone to make a sale. However, when a customer is making a choice between two similar items, knowledge that one was sustainably produced may be a deciding factor. It is essential for salespeople to have the knowledge and ability to communicate about sustainability issues.

Dava Stewart is a freelance writer based in Chattanooga, Tenn. She covers a wide range of topics and can be found online at www.smilingtreewriting.com.

Navigating the Environmental Hype

March 1, 2014

Which is better for the environment—hardwood floors or bamboo floors? If you’ve read all the hype lately, you’ll probably answer bamboo. After all, it grows quickly, it’s sustainable and it can be used to make flooring, baskets, skateboards, even headphones and computer keyboards.

Palm oil, too, seems to be a great environmental choice. It requires a lot less land to obtain oil from palm trees than it does from soybeans. A product that gets higher yields using less land sounds like a green choice.

Dig a little further, however, and you’ll discover that products touted as being sustainable aren’t necessarily the best environmental or humane choice—there’s habitat destruction, transportation and work conditions to be considered.

Sustainability refers to the fact that materials taken from the environment can replenish themselves. Those that grow more quickly are said to be more sustainable.

As one of the fastest-growing plants, bamboo can be harvested in three years, while oak trees can take dozens of years or more before they can be cut. Plus bamboo—grown in Southeast Asia including China and India— regenerates every few years without needing to be replanted.

But because of the high demand for bamboo, growers are beginning to use fertilizers for quicker harvesting and they are clearing native forests to create more bamboo plantations, said Jeffrey Howe, president of Dovetail Partners, Inc. The 10-year-old watchdog group researches products to discover the impacts and trade-offs on the environment.

These forests provide homes to native plants and animals, including the giant panda, an endangered species, and the red panda, a species whose numbers are declining. While China seems to be getting the idea that clearing too much forest harms the giant panda, India continues to clear forests that threaten the existence of native animals, Howe said. Red panda populations are declining across much of their range because their forested homes are being cleared, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

Meanwhile, orangutan populations have decreased by approximately 50 percent in the wild because of the destruction of their habitat to create palm oil plantations, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

In Indonesia, labor unions have protested to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil that employees are receiving low wages and working in unsafe conditions. In some cases, child labor is used to harvest the oil.

Once the raw material is harvested, workers need to create products people will buy, leading to another set of environmental problems. Bamboo products are often made by using toxic products such as formaldehyde, which outgasses in people’s homes as well as harms the health of workers.

Another part of the environmental life cycle of foreign products that needs to be considered is transportation. For example, the bamboo harvested in China is put on a truck, taken to a port, then loaded on a ship, then loaded on a truck to the Midwest, said Jim Bowyer, director of responsible materials program for Dovetail Inc. Considering all the gas that’s used for transportation, “that’s a high environmental cost,” he said. Bowyer goes so far as to say that domestically produced oak could be, in the long run, more environmentally sound than some bamboo products.

It might seem like you’d have to wade through a quagmire of facts and articles to decide which international products are truly environmentally friendly.

It helps just knowing that international watchdog groups such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Dovetail, Inc., are out there to keep manufacturers and growers honest. In addition, manufacturers are starting to get called on the carpet, so to speak, about selling products that aren’t grown sustainably.

Gibson guitars, for example, paid a $300,000 fine for violating the Lacey Act, which requires firms to obtain timber products legally. The ebony and rosewood imported from Madagascar and India to build some if its products were, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, illegally obtained by deforesting areas where rare animals such as lemurs live.

The average retailer and buyer can do some of their own digging as well. You can look for certification systems on products, such as bamboo. One company, Smith & Fong, sells sustainable bamboo, Howe said. It’s been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

You can also go online to learn if a product has received an international environmental product declaration (EPD), which means it’s an environmentally sound product based on examining its life cycle from planting to harvesting to transporting to manufacturing.

It’s a green yardstick for all kinds of products.

Check www.environdec.com and you’ll find, for example, that Monini olive oil, sold in North America, has received the EPD stamp of approval. So too has Barilla pasta, and Cormo windows are created with nontoxic substances. Or check ecologo.org, which lists products for consumers and retailers that have been examined throughout their lifecycle to gain environmental certification.

“Everybody has to make their own choices,” Howe said. But if you ask specific questions and do some homework, you’re likely to make a better choice. He’s optimistic that getting the dirt on truly sustainable products will get easier.

What is AR Anyway?

January 14, 2014

In every industry, marketing and advertising must adapt to keep pace with changes in technology trends and in the ways consumers digest information. As messages bombard people from the moment they turn on their electronic devices, advertisers must work to reach consumers in unique ways they can relate to. Augmented reality (AR) does just that, as it injects a playfulness—an element of the unexpected—into an everyday product or experience.

“Augmented reality is a new, innovative technology that provides ways for consumers to experience a product like they never have before,” said Ryan Darbonne, marketing director at AR provider Gravity Jack. “It packs an extremely powerful, low-risk product experience for customers. It allows them to interact with, experience, share or discuss a product virally with their close networks on social media. This is an extremely rare opportunity to provide a fully immersive and completely new experience. It is a perfect fit.”

AR enhances someone’s view of the world by using a device, be it an iPhone, a webcam, any mobile device or even glasses with a camera and/or computing power. The real world is replaced by adding or changing the data about what is being seen.

“Augmented reality is just a technology that allows you to learn something,” said user Troy Dunn, president of Dunn&Co, a Florida-based advertising agency. “It uses something like a mobile device that is a portal into a world that really isn’t there, but it is once you go to that portal screen. Augmented reality allows you to manufacture an experience for a customer in a way you could never do in the real world space, affordably or any other way. We are now able, with AR, to create a portal that transports the user into this very unusual and unexpected experience space.”

AR’s beginnings and applications

First envisioned by Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum around 1901, the idea of projected reality actually was patented as a “Sensorama Stimulator” by cinematographer Morton Heilig in 1962. The actual term “augmented reality” was first coined in the early 1990s, reputedly by Boeing researcher Tom Caudell, for use by workers to show how to separate bolts. From its modest beginnings, where it added audio, animation, video or graphic layers, AR has progressed to a time that allows readers to use custom designed software and a webcam to see 3D images and video content.

One of AR’s pioneers, Layar, began in the AR industry nearly five years ago. Co-founder and U.S. general manager Maarten Lens-FitzGerald said the company saw the possibility of a platform where anyone could create and experience AR through one app: “On one hand science fiction books gave us the idea, as well as Japanese anime. These showed us how the near future reality could be part of our current world. We see it as a way to view the world differently—an amazing way to link paper/print products to their digital experience and their world, to bring people closer and create a better experience.”

Marxent Labs CEO Beck Beseker agreed and noted that in the retail space, AR can be invaluable.

“The whole point of retail is to make advertising actionable,” said Beseker. “That is what AR does.” As an example, this vendor explained, “You get a catalog or a magazine in the mail and you really like a [specific] product. Instead of dog-earing or ripping out the page, you hold your phone over it. It takes you online and you buy it. It is like a big shortcut hyperlink. The greatest benefit to retailers will be to make the entire store actionable.”

But AR is more than just a service that links users to a website. According to Darbonne, stores can base their campaigns on unique user information like past purchases to provide product videos and images of new items they may find interesting—effectively allowing physical stores to sell products to shoppers in the shopper’s own home.

IKEA’s entire 2013 and 2014 catalogs exemplify this. A customer can open to a page, put the IKEA catalog on the spot in their home where the consumer may want to place a piece of furniture, for example, and then point their mobile device at that piece on the page. An image will appear to size in whatever color or fabric the consumer wants to see. This allows them to know before ever going to the store if the piece fits in their space and if they will like it when it arrives.

IKEA retail services communication manager Mattias Jöngard said, “We want the IKEA catalog to be a great source of inspiration as well as a tool to show solutions to people’s dreams and needs. We’ve tied [this catalog] to a mobile app since 2011 and started to use AR for the 2013 [issue]. Customers see their portable devices as tools. The [2013] app downloaded 9.7 million times throughout the year.”

Byron Colby, senior vice president of digital commerce at retailer Cornerstone Brands, began to work with Marxent Labs when he realized his customers wanted to meld the impact and inspiration of the print catalog with the benefits of mobile online use, like social sharing, product reviews, images and video and the ability to track favorites.

“Catalogs are inspirational with great imagery, but are static,” Colby said. “We needed to find [a way] to make them more dynamic and accessible while on the go. AR has the potential to do that. Customers are demanding a lot more. What we’ve done using this tool is [allow you to] point your phone at a catalog and instantly see couches, their different colors [and] video.”

AR technology is also effective at trade shows and other events. Dunne explained, “Our intro into using AR technology had to do with exploring how to make intriguing connections to our customers’ customers at trade shows. A customer will come into our booth space and we’ll hand them a mobile device like an iPad, and we’ll use AR to bring the booth space to life. We’ll actually put graphics around the space at the booth, whereas in the past, a booth was always populated by artwork and messaging. One of the things we envision is to make that booth into anything you want it to be. In the future, it could be a different booth space for different audiences. Rather than having a theme or one key message, you could have multiple pathways of key messages. We can program something in such a way that when you hand an iPad to somebody, they can select where they are from (country or industry) and that will automatically give them a different booth experience from somebody else.”

Finding the right vendor to create an effective experience

“Custom software, including augmented reality, is perhaps the truest example of ‘you get what you pay for,’” Darbonne explained. “The right vendor will bring three critical things to the table: experience, vision and comprehensive delivery. If you select a team that doesn’t [understand these capabilities], you run a very high risk of gimmicky campaigns with low impact and high attrition.”

Hollis Murphy, the webmaster and graphic designer for industrial manufacturer Sumitomo Machinery Corporation of America (SMA), contracted with Gravity Jack to help develop its application and transform it into a mobile version. “What this has done,” Murphy said, ”is pull back the curtain and reveal what we have to offer rather than distract our customers. It’s gotten the industry excited. Our sales reps, customers and people can really see and engage with products instead of flipping through a catalog. It gives a memorable experience.”

Colby further suggested that a partner company should help educate people how to use it and make it as simple as possible. It needs to pass his mom test: “If you cannot explain it to your mom, it’s not going to fly.”

Before looking for an AR partner, Lens-FitzGerald encourages businesses to know their objective and how much time they have to reach their objective, and ensure those objectives are smart. Consider how much budget you have and who your target group is. Are your users mobile savvy? See what is best for you based on
marketing basics.

“Begin with a small project, like an event,” said Beseker. “Keep it focused and learn from it. Then you will learn what is really possible. You can take a little bit of a risk with an event and get immediate feedback. The biggest mistake we see is trying a very broad plan that takes 18 months to complete. After you are two months in, you want to start over.”

Pontus Sjöberg, the product manager for the digital IKEA catalog, noted the importance of finding a vendor who can make the functionality work in varying light conditions. If the technology isn’t built to work in less than optimal light, users with those issues will see the experience as a failure.

AR vs. Quick Response (QR) codes looking forward

Of those interviewed, most agree that AR seems to hold more promise than the more static QR codes (the small square-shaped codes, read with a phone’s barcode app, that bring you to a specific website).

“The two are very different,” said Jay Wright, vice president of product management at vendor Qualcomm Vuforia. “QR codes offer a quick and easy portal to product details. On the other hand, AR delivers a highly immersive, sophisticated and compelling level of customer engagement that goes far beyond what QR codes can offer.”

Darbonne explained further. “One of the real reasons AR stands out from past ‘innovative’ techniques is the lack of a downside,” he said. “QR codes were supposed to be a massive overhaul but came with terrible design, requiring space and having extremely high limitations of what can be conveyed through a code. AR is more of a comprehensive upgrade to the complete advertising and retail experience. It brings together location, buyer history, demographic information, analytics, experiences and convenience to create a powerful opportunity for retailers.”
AR drives campaigns and creates consumer loyalty and brand interactivity, said Wright, and a strong AR campaign can enable product visualization before buying, drive traffic to retail locations, support customer acquisition and retention, elevate awareness and brand affinity and increase downloads, leading to sales and brand engagement.

“Two years ago when we first started,” said Beseker, “one out of 1,000 people had heard of augmented reality. Now about 10 out of 1,000 have heard of AR. It is still very early. The ability to hold your phone up and see digital content in 3D space—that is effectively what AR is. Within the next five to six years, when you see a magazine or a poster or an ad or billboard, anything with an image, you will hold up your phone and if it doesn’t do something interactive, you will be irritated. When that happens everyone will understand what AR is, but it’s a few years out.”
“Right now,” added Darbonne, “retailers have an extremely rare opportunity to captivate consumers in a way they’ve never experienced before through augmented reality.”

Case Study: How Office Depot Used Augmented Reality to Shift Transactions into Interactions

January 14, 2014

Background Information:

Office Depot provides office products, services and solutions for every workplace environment. Its goal is to be a single source for everything customers need to be more productive, including the latest technology, core office supplies, print and document services, business services, facilities products, furniture and school essentials.

Today’s Retail Challenge:

Delivering an integrated shopping experience across all channels

Being a brick and mortar and e-commerce retailer isn’t cutting it anymore. Smartphones are becoming increasingly important as a retail marketing channel. More than 70 percent of consumers use a smartphone in-store to help them shop and more than 75 percent are likely to take an action after seeing a location-specific message.

Realizing this retail dynamic, and in an effort to appeal to a younger audience and create a more interactive shopping experience, Office Depot created a partnership with popular boy band One Direction to create the campaign “1D+OD Together Against Bullying.” It used augmented reality to bring the campaign to life.

Goals of 1D+OD Together Against Bullying Campaign

According to Emery Skolfield, senior director of marketing for Office Depot, the goal of the 1D+OD Together Against Bullying campaign was to increase interactivity, interest and share-ability. “We wanted it to be something people used, were delighted with and told others about,” he said. Here are the main directives of the campaign.

  • Build a full-scale plan to expand awareness of exclusive 1D + OD products and the campaign, which should be available across platforms (owned and external), devices and media to support physical touch-points
  • Appeal to One Direction fans and influencers through exclusive content, unique experiences and #hashtag-driven actions
  • Keep audience engaged by creating mobile-friendly interactive experiences that are easy to use and inherently shareable
  • Influence spending by reaching key customer segments (young students) and affinity groups (fans) through targeted marketing efforts

Office Depot’s partnership with One Direction was about developing an exclusive, limited-edition product collection that differentiated Office Depot from back-to-school competitors. “The collection delivers teens something they can’t find anywhere else—beautiful supplies that tie back to Office Depot’s ongoing anti-bullying efforts,” said Skolfield. “We added augmented reality to the product as a layer of interactivity to make it even more interesting and to enhance the exclusivity. We want to create experiences with the product, moments that are inherently share-able and, thus, social.”

Approach

Reaching that younger audience was crucial for this campaign to succeed.
“The idea was to appeal a younger audience, knowing they are highly influential on the parents’ purchase decisions,” said Skolfield. “Exclusivity was critical. Again, create something they can’t get anywhere else, make it highly interactive and create an emotional connection with every touch.”

Office Depot’s limited-edition back-to-school offerings included items such as 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, a 5-pack of pens, composition notebooks and memo pads, as well as other collectible items like decal sets, wristbands and nail polish in the custom campaign colors. All products were appropriately priced under $10, with most under $5, making it accessible to any student to participate and support the anti-bullying messaging in school. A percentage of the products’ sales would be donated to support anti-bullying education.

Campaign Support

“Aurasma created a technology kernel that was embedded into Office Depot’s smartphone app through partnership with their IT team,” Skolfield said. Office Depot marketed the program on products with trigger images and off a special fixture in Office Depot stores.

An interactive store fixture, with a life-sized image of the One Direction boys, also triggered a video and engaged the key audience.

Another example AR in use included a notebook, featuring a picture of Harry Styles from One Direction, which triggered media simply by placing a smartphone over the image and activating the technology.

Office Depot also brought awareness to the campaign by sponsoring a 70-second video message by One Direction, encouraging fans to join the campaign and help end bullying in schools. The video was played at each of the band’s U.S. concerts.

How Augmented Reality Brought the Campaign to Life

“These products are about way more than utility,” said Skolfield. “When you look at a normal notebook or binder, it’s for the most part one-dimensional. With our 1D+OD products, users can access exclusive video content like interview footage triggered off of never-before-seen imagery of the guys from One Direction. Bring it to Life simply refers to the transition from still image to moving picture, from photo to video. That’s what Aurasma enabled for us through image detection technology embedded into Office Depot’s smartphone application.”

  > Watch a video from the campaign here

 

Results

Initial results are promising. Since Skolfield doesn’t have a benchmark or any history with augmented reality, he admits it’s hard to pinpoint any specific successes or challenges throughout the campaign. He and his team were impressed, however, with the level of use within only six weeks of the campaign’s launch:

  • 150,000 video views triggered off product
  • 300 percent increase in app usage
  • 65 percent click through rate
  • 30,000 store fixture scans

In fewer than two months since Office Depot launched the “Bring It To Life” experience on its app, which housed the exclusive One Direction content, daily usage of the app doubled.

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Sales

January 14, 2014

In an ideal situation, your store would have an unlimited marketing and advertising budget. But we all know it doesn’t work like that. The question you need to ask is, “How do we optimize our limited marketing dollars to produce the best return on investment?”

When considering where to allocate your marketing resources, consider that online awareness of your business, makes, models and services is critical to sales success. A study by advertising expert BIA/Kelsey shows that more than 90 percent of consumers research online prior to buying locally, both from their mobile devices and PCs.

Formula for online success

My mantra of online marketing success is this: With $5 to spend on marketing you should put $3 into search engine marketing and $2 into display advertising. These tactics will effectively drive your marketing messages in both text and graphical formats to smartphones and PCs.

The combination of search and display is the cornerstone of a successful integrated campaign, but you need to start with search. Search marketers average a 7:1 return on their marketing investment according to recent studies.

In general, purchasing specific local search terms is cheaper than launching right into buying display ads. The key is local since most general make and model terms have probably been purchased by the manufacturers. Terms like “luxury furniture” or “living room sofa” tend to be more expensive and broad, so start with more specific keyword phrases like “Serta mattress Boulder,” “memory foam mattress” or “Maytag oven Livonia.”

To make sure your store shows up in online searches that have purchase intent, bid on keywords based around your unique product, brand and service lineup. With analytics, you can see what search terms your prospects are already using to find your competition and websites like yours. Leverage this information and be the smartest bidder for those specific and related long-tail search queries.

Display ads boost results 25%

After you’ve established a solid search campaign, layer on display ads. Display boosts qualified clicks and foot traffic by more than 25 percent over just doing search alone.

Think of it as covering both proactive and reactive bases. Search is an active process that prospects undertake to gather information. Display ads, on the other hand, are more like billboards or purchased online real estate on websites that are relevant to your customers.

Traditionally, people think of display ads primarily for brand/store awareness, similar to image ads that promote brands rather than specific products. These ads are still important, but today display ads also set the stage for the sales funnel—they push prospects down the funnel from awareness to consideration to, ultimately, sales.

Display works at all of those levels to visually represent your product and brands. The key is to run co-branded and localized banners that contain a special offer or imagery from one of your top brands, with your store name, location and custom tracked phone number also inserted. You should direct every click to a conversion-optimized landing (or lead) page on your website.

Display ads generally are available in six primary sizes and also can be sized to show up over relevant YouTube videos (known as InVideo Ads). A good web designer can easily produce correctly sized ads for you.

Purchase display ad placements on contextually relevant websites, whether they’re focused on furniture, appliances, mattresses or local news and weather. That hits both web shoppers who are interested in your product, and those drawn to popular local websites with a lot of traffic. Your local ads will be served up on national websites but shown only to customers within the local geography (radius) of your store.

Search and display working in tandem

Independently, both a search campaign and display campaign can generate results for you, but how they work together can win your local market online. Targeting for both search and display is critical and produces more conversions.

According to iProspect, a leading digital performance agency, 50 percent of all internet users react to a display ad by conducting a search related to the brand, product or service described in the ad. More specifically, exposure to display ads may increase the number of relevant search queries by more than 25 percent. Not only can display ads lead directly to your landing page, but they can also trigger search activity that leads the prospect back to your website if your search campaign is active.

There is additional evidence that display ads can impact behavior even if the prospect doesn’t click on the ad. A University of Maryland study showed how consumers exposed to a display ad (even if they don’t click on it) will change their online shopping behavior to include searches for the brand featured in the ad.

Although direct click-throughs via display ads provide trackable data, a 2012 study by comScore found that ad viewability and hover time are more strongly correlated with conversions (defined as purchases and requests for information) than clicks or total impressions. In other words, your ad being seen is more important than your ad being clicked.

Selecting the right online advertising partner is critical. Work with a Google Premier partner with great technology that offers hand-crafted search and display ads, proactively tuning up your campaign 400-600 times per month to deliver a 70 percent share of local advertising voice. The best partners collaborate with retailers, rather than following a script and “setting and forgetting” their digital marketing.

Regina Dinning is a business development director at Netsertive (netsertive.com). Dinning (rdinning@netsertive.com) is a seasoned professional with more than 15 years’ experience in marketing and advertising, including several years specifically in home furnishings.

Innovative Mobile On-ramps in the Retail Environment

January 14, 2014

How do you get the attention of shoppers that are more interested in their phones than your salespeople? Burgeoning mobile communications technologies allow endless opportunities for customer tracking and engagement—from in-store analytics, through proximity marketing, indoor navigation to contactless payments. Whatever the application, the goal remains the same: to bring the richest possible customer experience to retail consumers.

Near Field Communication (NFC), geofencing and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are technologies that are built in to smartphones and used for communication between mobile and other devices. While they probably do not sound familiar, they have most certainly been around for a while, and are worth the attention of retailers now more than ever.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

NFC functions as a much-improved QR code—instead of scanning a QR code, simply tap or wave the smartphone over an NFC tag to access information, no app necessary. NFC is also more secure, can carry more data and, most notably, is two-way, allowing an NFC-enabled device to both send and receive information, in turn allowing you to track information to a specific person or account.

Mobile payments are the most widespread and well-known use of NFC technology, but there are a great deal more uses for it in retail. Retailers can communicate product information, reviews, availability and delivery options for products embedded with NFC tags/labels. The tags start out at about 10 cents apiece. Marketing, ad campaigns, promotions, discounts, customer loyalty or membership benefits are almost endless including coupons, fixed-time special offers, lotteries or feedback channels via NFC tags or terminals. Read on for resources that can help you implement some of these ideas:

Augment your merchandise tags: use NFC tags or labels to communicate product information, discounts or ratings—NFC label manufacturers like MPI Label System, atlasRFIDstore.com, Tappinn and RapidNFC can customize NFC labels to deliver simple promotional offers, encode labels to perform specific functions like request assistance, or create inlays to connect the user to reviews or enable check-ins and sharing on social media.

Reward your customers: Deliver offers to your consumers at checkout—Point of sale and payments specialist Merchant360 has introduced a software plug-in for Ingenico and VeriFone terminals that enables merchants to send marketing messages and coupons to customers via NFC, without the retailer needing to partner with wallet providers like Isis and Google.

Enhance existing ads: NFC inlays & smart posterss—An NFC smart poster, offered by companies like Web Evolved or Tapinn, can contain coupons, information about a product, or loyalty points without the customer having to even enter your store. It can also help customers find your business by linking to online directions, make a purchase, or instantly “like” or “follow” you with the simple tap of their phone.

Geofencing

Geofencing is also a technology that allows retail stores to communicate with consumers, the idea being to target those that are nearby. A geofence is a predefined virtual boundary around a physical location, like a two-block radius around a retail store. It can be any size or shape, and when a shopper enters or leaves that area, stores can send text or push notification on an opt-in basis, offering a geo-targeted ad, coupon or marketing message about the store or specific products.

Although only big names like Best Buy and Kmart have made headlines trying versions of geofencing, small business owners should not assume that this is accessible only to major retailers. There are multiple mobile advertising platforms that offer geofencing tools aimed directly at small businesses:

Moasis (moasisglobal.com) — 
The Moasis Smart GridSM offers “a better way to connect businesses and consumers in local spaces.” Moasis specializes in helping businesses to target consumers in a certain neighborhood, city, or even in the street blocks near their stores. Business owners bid for ad space just like they might with Twitter Ads or Google AdWords, making it easy to stick to a campaign budgets. Moasis ad rates typically run at $40 CPMs.

Thumbvista (thumbvista.com) — “Thumbvista offers mobile marketing services for small business,” reads thumbvista.com, and their range of no-contract services including “Do It Yourself” Texting, “With or Without App” location based services and geofencing services start as low as $100.00 per month. Custom projects and strategy consulting services are also available.

AdLeads (adleads.com) — 
AdLeads is a service for geo-targeted in-app mobile ads. Retailers choose the neighborhoods, cities, states, or countries where they want their mobile ads to appear and use the ad builder tool to create their own ads in minutes. AdLeads funnels those ads to top mobile apps and businesses pay only when consumers elect to hear more about their deals and promotions. Pricing varies depending on industry and geo-targeting criteria, however most merchants pay about $1.00 per signup—far less than the cost of click in a search advertising campaign.

While geofencing does not require the physical activation of swiping a smartphone on a tag or terminal like NFC, it only allows communication on an opt-in basis, meaning a smartphone user has to opt into this “service” on your website or by sending a text message to your promotional number. However, most if not all recent polls and research reveal more than half of consumers with smartphones say they’d trade their phone number or location privacy for discounts. This puts retailers that much closer to seeing success with getting consumers opting in.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

BLE, which is supported on iPhones and newer Android phones, can be used for communicating with devices in very specific locations inside your store, and allows detailed tracking and data exchange without a conscious physical activation (like swiping a phone over a terminal). Bluetooth is nothing new, but the low-energy (LE) standard has been getting a lot of buzz since Apple’s release of iOS 7 along with a quiet announcement of a feature called iBeacon, which utilizes BLE for data transfer between devices.

Companies like Estimote (a company which just launched to sell beacons) and Shopkick (a shopping rewards app) have already developed “beacons” for retailers to install in their stores and use to push personalized micro-location based notifications and actions to shoppers.

Estimote is taking pre-orders at the price of $99 for three beacons, but has yet to announce any retail trials. Shopkick’s ShopBeacons run $40 per, and have been installed in Macy’s Midtown Manhattan and San Francisco locations for a trial initiative which allows Macy’s to track shoppers inside their store, “wake” customers’ compatible phones upon entrance and send different offers at any given time based on the floor or department customers are in.

Because of BLE’s range, it has been touted as an “NFC-killer” by many, but it’s all a matter of perspective. BLE beacons look like they’ll be a winner for large retailers with already-popular apps, or those that can invest in an app developed with BLE or beacon integration capabilities. If this is you, check it out.

The next frontier of retail is here, but it does not revolve around any one particular technology. Research and polls have been telling us for the past year that anything with the ability to engage a consumer with their smartphone or mobile device will be a winner. In the spirit of the new year, take a calculated risk by implementing one of these technologies into your retail operation…and don’t forget to share with RetailerNOW!

The NOW List: Learning the Furniture Lingo

January 13, 2014

Learning the Furniture Lingo

Think you know everything about furniture? Take our vocab quiz and put your knowledge to the test.

Fill out your name and business name before you start so you can be added to the leaderboard!

Good Luck!

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Are you missing out on F-Commerce?

January 10, 2014

Facebook comment retail sales are on the rise—here’s how other retail segments do it and why you should, too.

It’s a common assumption that online shopping hurts local businesses. However, many local retailers across the U.S. are proving that assumption wrong and are finding great success at selling their wares via Facebook comments—all while boosting their in-store foot traffic, increasing in-store sales, ironing out seasonal lulls and turning their merchandise more quickly.

Selling via Facebook comments is a fairly new form of e-commerce, often called “f-commerce,” where all sales are managed and take place within Facebook, with customers purchasing a product by simply commenting “Sold” below the picture of the item. Sellers often call them Facebook auctions and Facebook flash sales.

“A major misconception is that the internet hurts local retailers and small businesses, when in reality, many stores have found that selling on Facebook actually supports and increases their business,” said Chris Bennett, co-founder and CEO of Soldsie, the leading app that automates the posting, scheduling and invoicing process for these Facebook auctions.

Boosting In-Store Foot Traffic & Additional Purchases

Jennifer DeMaria and Kristin Maynard, owners of Jenny Boston, a five-location boutique selling purses, accessories and other women’s fashion apparel in the Boston suburbs, began posting and selling items on Facebook in October 2012. Since then, Facebook sales have exceeded those of most of her physical stores…without cannibalizing their sales.

In fact, DeMaria and Maynard say that foot traffic and in-store sales have increased due to people picking up their items and grabbing a few more things while there.

“We’re seeing our customers in person on a more regular basis because they’re buying from us on Facebook. Comment selling has grown our in-store sales by 100 percent,” added DeMaria.

Turning Merchandise More Quickly, Less Discounting

Amy Blevins, owner of Bead & Glass Boutique in Pitman, New Jersey, uses Facebook to help move merchandise more quickly. She posts her newest items first on Facebook, before they’re available in stores.

“Selling through Facebook helps move more products off my shelves in a shorter time frame, leading to a faster ROI,” said Blevins. “Since adding Facebook sales, I don’t have as much product lingering on my shelves collecting dust as I did before.”

Like Jenny Boston, Facebook flash sales also help drive in-store foot traffic for Bead & Glass Boutique.

“Many of our Facebook customers come into our store to pick up what they bought the night before on Facebook. I’d estimate seven out of 10 times the customer ends up buying something else,” Blevins said. “Even if those additional sales are small or impulsive, it was a sale that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Smoothing Out Seasonal Lulls

In the idyllic East Coast summer vacation town of Chatham, Mass., many local retailers struggle to manage the seasonal lulls that hit their businesses when the tourists go home. April Cabral, owner of Sundance Clothing, along with her store manager, Chelsea Edgar, turned to Facebook last year to maintain relationships with summertime customers throughout the year and give them reasons to patronize the boutique from wherever they are.

“Our business really slows down during Chatham’s offseason. We rarely see customers walking through our doors in the middle of winter,” said Cabral. “But thanks to our Facebook sales, that is no longer the case. We are now able to reach and sell to our summer customers year round, which has really helped even out our sales and cash flow.”

Additionally, through the viral nature of Facebook, Sundance Clothing has seen a bump in the number of customers who’ve never stepped foot in the store, because they’ve seen their friends comment or “like” their merchandise.

Adding a New Sales Channel

Many local retailers like selling via Facebook comments for the same reason that online-only retailers enjoy it: it makes money. In Houston, Haute Mommies & Bella Babies’ owner Darcy Santala has experienced a 57 percent increase in overall sales since she began selling maternity and baby clothing on Facebook. Like other retailers, she’s also seen an uptick in in-store foot traffic and sales when customers pick up their merchandise.

Can this work for the furnishings industry? It’s worth a shot.

After all, a new sales avenue brings just that: sales. Here’s what to do: Post a picture of an accessory in your store and caption it “Facebook Flash Sale – the first person to comment ‘sold’ purchases the item,” along with a price. Then sit back and watch the comments come in.
→ Try it out and go to our Facebook page (facebook.com/retailernow) to let us know what happens!

Emerging Technology

January 10, 2014

When I was a child, I used to churn out papers on a typewriter. Not because that was the current technology of the time, but because I truly loved it. I still do—the satisfying pounding of the keys on ink and paper will always make me smile. In any case, my family didn’t have a computer. It was still a relatively new concept and for all we knew it wouldn’t last. So imagine my frustration when I reached the point in school for submitting essays. I constantly had to scramble, either going to the library or staying late at school to get things typed up in an efficient way. I flirted with the idea of late homework, trying to type things up on the typewriter in the meantime and making so many mistakes from the pressure that I had to restart. (I’m sure some of you know how that feels!) My happy pastime had turned into one big ball of stress. Times had changed almost instantly, and I was behind. We eventually did get that computer, and as I sit here, typing on my laptop and using my smartphone, I’m reminded that technology is an awfully funny thing. It’s good for us and for our business, but miss the boat on the next most popular one, and it can be a major headache.

In this issue, we want to take the worry out of whether you’re making the grade in customer technology needs.

We’re introducing the next big thing, augmented reality, which is a way to bring your displays and advertisements to life. We’ve also got the basics of near field communication, a technology that gives users information with just a swipe or tap of their phone. And overall, we show you how to involve every customer in interactive experiences—not just the ones with smartphones. Your website and social media may already be booming. This issue is here to take you to the next level.

This month we have another submission in our “Where are we now” campaign. Here we are scattered across a desk at the corporate offices of Netsertive in Morrisville, North Carolina. →

 

Thanks for reading, and everyone keep the pictures coming!

 

Jennifer Billock

 

 

 

 

(224) 627-3288
jennifer@retailerNOWmag.com
@retailerNOW