Haulers, influencers and customer-created outfits: analytics tie social media to merchandising

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As promised in my last post, SAS’ Greg Soussloff, Dan Crane, Lori Schafer, and James Vickers are back from the National Retail Federation’s tech conference, NRF Tech. Here’s what they learned and shared at the SAS Roundtable on Social Media and Merchandise Planning.

The well-attended roundtable included IT executives from Charming Shoppes, Restoration Hardware, and Hastings Entertainment, as well as strong representation from industry analysts, vendors and consultants interested in this exciting new area.

“The three retailers all talked about their involvement in social media with Facebook sites and Twitter accounts,” Soussloff reports. “Charming Shoppes also discussed its dedicated social media staff and online community Sonsi.com, which sells fashion merchandise from over 80 brands and provides opportunities for social networking, live chat sessions, interactive polls and advice.” (I found Three ways to not lose your keys advice especially helpful.)

“Restoration Hardware and Hastings currently use social media to help define marketing strategies,” says Crane. “They’re looking online for input that helps create meaningful product stories for their stores, websites and catalogs -- and for feedback that could lead to product improvements.”

So, what are “haulers”?
“Haulers,” explains Vickers, “are typically young women who go on shopping sprees and return with ‘hauls’ of merchandise. Once home, they try on their haul, creating videos to share with a loyal community of friends and others who judge their outfits, style and fashion sense.” Haulers frequently post their videos online. What better marketing could a retailer have than a happy customer proudly displaying her purchases on the Internet? Companies like Wet Seal and JCPenney have a hauler following that can be found on YouTube. Roundtable attendees discussed how many of these haulers have become influencers in their own right. Some retailers are encouraging the practice with free clothing and contests. It was reported that some progressive retailers are using social media to allow customers to create outfits online, rank peer outfits and then shop for those same outfits in-store. Wet Seal, with its Outfitter Social Network is contemplating adding iPads to in-store dressing rooms to help customers select peer-generated outfits.

Predicting merchandise trends
In addition to retailers like Wet Seal who are using valuable insights from customers’ favorite outfit designs for merchandise planning, other retailers, such as Muji in Japan and Threadless, are using social media to test new product ideas three to four months ahead of the merchandise buy. These retailers are snapping pictures of products and posting ideas online, encouraging customers to vote on their favorites in hopes of spotting trends early.

Attendees agreed that openly inviting consumers into the organization’s buying decisions signals a cultural shift that some retailers – particularly those lacking executive buy-in for social media initiatives – may find challenging.

Social media analytics
“The value of social media analytics was also discussed,” reports SAS retail expert Lori Schafer. “Using these tools to analyze what customers are saying online, retailers can quickly determine customer sentiment about particular trends, merchandise and even stores.”

For more on how retailers are using social media, pre-order Schafer’s new book, co-authored with Bernie Brennan: Branded! How Retailers Engage Consumers Through Social Media & Mobility.

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About Author

Anne-Lindsay Beall

Senior Editor

Anne-Lindsay Beall is a writer and editor for SAS. Since joining the company in 2000, Anne-Lindsay has edited print publications, Web sites, customer success stories, blogs and digital publications. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in English from North Carolina State University. You can find her on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/annelindsaybeall

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