Shaking the Social Media Magic 8 Ball

By Jordan K. Speer — October 01, 2012

“Will social media produce a measurable ROI for my business?” [Shake Shake Shake] “BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW.”

“Will social media take an increasingly large role in my business, requiring increasing financial and other resources to be committed to it?” [Shake Shake Shake] “REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN.”

Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO of Toys “R” Us, shared a joke during his opening keynote presentation, “Episode III: The Stores Strike Back,” at the Shop.org Annual Summit held last month in Denver, Colo. This joke, he told the audience, you may remember from the ‘90s:
Why is the Internet like teenage sex?
1) We think everyone is doing it.
2) Some who aren’t doing it claim (and perhaps may even think) they are.
3) Those who are doing it aren’t doing it well.

Therefore: the potential for frustration is high.

Storch, who also featured the joke onscreen for the audience to view, then proceeded to give it a modern-day update by crossing out the words “the Internet” and replacing them with “Social,” then doing the same for “Mobile” and “Local,” one of his points being that we’re still in the early stages of embracing all of these technologies, just as we were with the Internet back in the ‘90s. Predictions then of the death of the brick-and-mortar store and the rise of the Internet-only retailer proved sorely wrong, as evidenced by the boom and bust of so many online businesses that were expected to be the next big thing.

Pragmatism, he suggests, would dictate taking careful steps to embrace today’s crop of hot new technologies without ignoring your core business. “The future,” he said, “belongs to brands that build the best consumer-facing network, incorporating stores, Internet, mobile, social and local components.” But ultimately, retail is about what it’s always been about: “Winners will offer the best products and services,” he said, including exclusive products found only at your own retail locations. (Two new Toys “R” Us exclusives: the Tabeo Tablet for kids and a line of children’s clothing and accessories designed in partnership with supermodel Heidi Klum.)

How all of these tools and technologies will evolve at retail is still anybody’s guess, but what’s clear is that they are a necessary part of a successfully integrated, cross-channel enterprise — and that it is up to each individual retailer and brand to figure out the way to best mesh them with their overall business models.
 
Marks & Spencer, on a mission to become a wholly integrated, multi-channel global retailer, is working toward this goal. On the topic of social media in particular, director for multichannel development David Walmsley said the U.K. retailer has found Twitter to be an excellent vehicle for communication with customers on matters such as shipment deliveries. He identifies Facebook, however, as the place for its “super-loyal grand fans,” which he attributes in part to the free reign given to the company’s FB host to let the conversation develop organically — hitting subjects ranging from a great sunset to fashions around the office — around “what our customers really want to talk about.”

Likewise, Jamie Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Direct and great-grandson of company founder John Nordstrom, is bullish on Twitter’s value in interacting with customers, calling it a “terrific tool” that’s “even better than picking up the phone or live chat.”

In exploring social media, Nordstrom has realized that it’s just another name for something the department store retailer has been fostering for decades: positive word of mouth.

“We’re just doing what we’ve always done. We don’t do a lot of advertising. We try to let customers do it for us. Well that’s what social media is. It’s customers talking to each other — same thing as 20 years ago.”

Still, Nordstrom acknowledges that “social media is confusing for retailers. It’s confusing for us.”

How social evolves, he said, will be one of the cornerstones in determining how Nordstrom improves service. “We’re keeping our foot on the gas with social. You have to try a lot of stuff. Customers will show you the way.”

While it may not yet be easy to tag social media directly to sales, its impact on shopping and on the customer experience is clear. That opens up the door to a lot of opportunity for retailers, especially for Apparel’s Top 50, which have seen their numbers of Facebook fans and Twitter followers continue to rise rapidly in the past year (check out the social media rankings inside this issue).

While the future is always unknown, there’s one question you probably don’t need a Magic 8 Ball to answer.

“Should social media be an integral part of my company’s strategy?” [Shake Shake Shake] “WITHOUT A DOUBT.”

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel.
She can be reached at jspeer@apparelmag.com.

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