Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Retail Insights: Summer 2010

As retailers ready up their merchandise and storefront displays for the busy "Back to School" season, it’s time to take a look at what’s hot in retail and cool for Fall.

Mobile Commerce Creates Opportunities for Collaborating Marketing
This season, what's hot is “mobile commerce.” Reaching customers, especially younger customers, is increasingly about getting in front of them via their smart phones. “Mobile Commerce” or "m-commerce" is the buzz word these days – and the use of social media platforms like Twitter is growing in popularity. Yet successful and appropriate uses of these social media platforms by businesses and commercial district management entities remain few and far between. One commercial district manager whose district Facebook page I recently joined uses it to announce the city meetings he is attending. I’m not quite sure how that is helping district businesses, but maybe that’s just me.
Despite some inappropriate uses of social media, there are instances of businesses that successfully use these platforms. I was recently in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts and I was pleased to see a local café using Twitter to communicate daily specials to their customers. “Get your soup and sandwich specials sent right to your phone” read the small placard by the register. Finally, a business that truly understands how to use Twitter.
Helping retailers learn how to use Twitter wisely is one idea. But as social media becomes more ubiquitous, and people become more selective about where they get their information and who they give access to their phone info, the opportunity for commercial district managers to launch cooperative marketing campaigns will only grow. Instead of getting multiple messages from multiple retailers, customers can sign up for "district alerts" and receive information about specials from multiple stores at once – in a single message. In this case, the district manager can serve as the conduit for retailers - collecting information about specials and posting them once or twice a day on the district's Twitter account.
Besides Twitter, other options include apps especially designed for smart phones. Simon Properties, one of the largest mall owners in the country, is currently experimenting with a mobile application by Shopkick Inc that will allow retailers to send ads and coupons to shoppers based on their proximity to the store. Simon is launching this program in 25 malls nationwide at the end of the month. The difference between Shopkick and Twitter is that Shopkick is location-based. Retailers install a small device inside their store that emits a signal. A shopper then has to launch take the additional step of launching the application from their phone to pick up these signals as they enter the store. While this method is a bit more sophisticated than Twitter – the additional hardware costs and steps required make it a more difficult option for commercial district managers to replicate.
Another application is Peekaboo Mobile. Instead of relying on an in-store transmitter, this application uses GPS technology to communicate deals and specials when a shopper is in the vicinity of participating stores and restaurants. Together, these options offer a set of inexpensive and exciting ways to use m-commerce to drive retail sales.
Retailers that Sell Children’s Clothing See Sales Growth
While other retail categories continue to struggle, retailers that sell children’s clothing have seen impressive sales despite the recession. Adults can survive an aging wardrobe, but children outgrow their clothing relatively quickly. And the low cost of value-priced children's clothing makes this necessity an affordable one. Carter stores, a line of affordable clothing stores, have seen increases in comparable store sales for 13 straight quarters. This past Spring, they announced plans to open 100 more Carter stores and OshKosh stores in the coming year. Children’s Place, a retailer that doesn’t shy away from urban markets, is also doing well. Last year they opened 38 stores.What we found is that even when shoppers stop spending money on themselves, they continue to spend money on children’s clothing. So even in communities where the demographics scare traditional retailers – children’s clothing remains a strong spot in the market.
I've seen this trend take hold first hand. In my community of Jackson Heights, NY, the past year has seen the opening of a new small toy store as well as the slow evolution of a specialty gift/card shop into a children’s themed store. These retailers clearly have their pulse on the market. Commercial district managers can support these market dynamics by working closely with the retailers serve the children's market in an effort to develop collaborative marketing campaigns that target the local parent's community. They can also coordinate a district wide sales event that includes free or low-cost activities for families. These might include getting a local children's band to perform for free or secure a face painting artist for the kids. This kind of 'ambient' entertainment can really help drive pedestrian traffic, and ultimately sales in the direction of retailers that offer clothing for kids.

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