2010.34 | Canadian Retailers and Social Media

Update:  Permanent page with ongoing updates is available.

If you have been wondering what Canadian Retail organizations have been doing with social media, you’re probably not the only one.  Having spent a fair amount of time looking across the board, the use varies widely.  From squatting on a name, to full fledged use of multiple platforms with engaging conversation and offers specific to the audience on a platform, many retailers are feeling their way through the process and validating what the return is on using these platforms.  The common denominator is that everyone is experimenting, and given the low barriers to entry here, we can expect some exciting ideas to come out.   The new announcement regarding Facebook places last week should give the whole situation a new twist as well – adding where to the mix.

I’ve compiled a list of Canadian retailers with links to their respective social media sites.  The brands that seem to be doing the most so far are the ones that have a community of interest already, such as Holt Renfrew, Best Buy, lululemon and Chapters Indigo.  The thing I find so interesting is that consumers essentially have to seek these sites out.  Few of them are staring you in the face when you are on the web or looking at billboards, and yet some of them have incredible numbers of followers or fans.  175,000 people ‘like’ lululemon on Facebook as of August 20, 2010.  132,000 ‘like’ Aldo.  These are people who want to be publicly affiliated with a brand.  What an incredible opportunity for any business!

Have a look at what’s going on and weigh in on your opinion.  Who is doing well?  What’s working?  Let me know if you would like to see other retailers or platforms added to the list.  I plan on posting this chart along with more details on followers as a permanent page, though we can’t really rely on that as a measure of value added.   Let me know your thoughts on what you would like to see on a permanent page!

You can also see a presentation I put together including some recent examples of social media usage by retailers here.

  Facebook Twitter Flickr Youtube
Aldo [] []   []
Ardene []     []
Banana Republic Canada [] []    
Beer Store   []    
Best Buy Canada [] [] [] []
Blockbuster Canada [] []    
Body Shop Canada [] []    
Bouclair   [] [] []
Browns Shoes   []    
Chapters Indigo [] [] [] []
Cineplex [] []    
Empire Theatres [] []    
Fido Mobile   []    
Gamestop Canada [] []    
Gap Canada   []    
H&M Canada [] []    
HMV Canada [] []    
Holt Renfrew [] []   []
Home Depot Canada   []    
Home Hardware   []    
Home Sense [] []    
IGA Quebec   []    
iTunes Canada [] []    
Jean Machine [] []   []
La Senza [] []    
L’Occitane Canada   []    
lululemon [] [] [] []
Mastermind Toys [] []   []
McDonalds [] []   []
Mountain Equipment Coop [] [] [] []
Old Navy Canada [] []    
Planet Organic [] []   []
President’s Choice / Loblaw [] []   []
Rona [] []    
Roots Canada [] [] [] []
RWandCO [] []   []
Sears Canada [] []   []
Sobeys [] [] [] []
Toys R Us Canada [] []    
urban fare [] []    
West 49 [] []   []
Whole Foods Oakville [] [] [] []
Zellers   []    
zip.ca [] []    

Note: For some context on followers, see my list of twitter accounts with followers here.

Update:  Permanent page with ongoing updates is available.

2010.31 | Stores + Internet + Mobile + Recommendations = Sales

When I saw this Shopkick demo last night on how to connect mobile social media tools with the real world in a Best Buy, I was very intrigued.  Being able to check in without having to push a button could allow for a better experience for the user, though it does remove a level of interactivity or opt-in that pressing the check-in button on foursquare has.  In a way it’s that whole ‘making a game of it’ scavenger hunt aspect that has brought the social media and the real world together.

Shopkick does present a really interesting opportunity for messaging directly to customers based on their physical locations that has been missing until this point – given the shortcomings of GPS accuracy.  While removing the final barriers between the internet shopping experience and the store experience is huge, there is still the real challenge of what offer to make to whom.  All of the demonstrations I have seen so far are for coupons and discounts – great for pulling in customers (and for demos to be fair) – not so great for the retailer’s bottom line.

I look forward to seeing how recommendation engines can come into this.  If I walked into a store and the retailer knew my preferences for books or movies, they could suggest a purchase to me that I may not have thought about in real time.  This would be of more interest to me personally than a discount on something i may not want, and would be presented to me precisely when I’m looking.   I just read a fascinating article in Wired on just this subject.  It discusses various recommendation engines and their stories, and focuses on hunch – a site that is trying to build the infrastructure that could be connected to the mobile devices to deliver on the vision I just suggested.

It will be a fascinating process to see how retailers feel out this technology, and I applaud retailers for being pioneers.  Seeing Starbucks with offers on foursquare, and now Shopkick with Best Buy should lead to additional experimentation, and increased understanding of the potential of these technologies.

2010.30 | Barcodes for Consumers

Barcodes started off as a tool for retailers to use to avoid tagging product with prices, improving throughput at the checkout, fine tuning inventory control, and reducing shrink.   How times have changed.

Consider the following examples:

  • While mobile solutions like foursquare allow for check-ins at establishments including retailers, Booyah‘s MyTown is now providing product check-ins.  Consumers can scan products with their mobiles using the app and make a game of it to see what comes up.  Users can unlock items in a virtual world, or potentially a coupon for what they have scanned.
  • As reported by PSFK, Food52, a recipe blog, is using stickybits to allow users of their site to scan products at grocery stores to bring up recipes for those ingredients on their mobiles.    Essentially stickybits is a mobile application for iPhone or android that ties barcodes to whatever you want – a website, a video – whatever you like – even a recipe database as Food52 has done.

What this comes down to with retailers is a change of control.  Retailers traditionally controlled information and all aspects of how the interaction occurred between the business and the consumer.  Now the consumer is gaining a great deal of control over the interaction using tools like those discussed above.

It’s similar to the beginning of file sharing systems like napster which turned the music industry on its head. While physical items like t-shirts are not able to be shared as data files (yet) like music and video can be, electronic devices and gaming are finding ways to spread into the physical world and have an impact on how products can be sold that is beyond the control of retailers and manufacturers.  Luckily retailers are attempting to take advantage of these new interfaces.

2010.21 | Vancouver Retail | Foursquare Offers | Mobile Parking Payment

This week I was travelling in the greater Vancouver area to visit some clients, and came across some interesting solutions I had not experienced closer to home.

While making a daily pilgramage to Starbucks, I checked into Foursquare and found a little yellow indicator showing that there were offers near my current location.  It turned out that Starbucks has tied their new Frappacino campaign to Foursquare.  If you happen to be the mayor of your local Starbucks, you recieve $1 off any new Frappuccino beverage.  It’s uncertain if this sort of campaign will drive a great deal of traffic, but it’s an interesting idea, and it certainly can’t be costing them much.  It’s also a nice way to reward loyalty.  [Update: I went to Starbucks at home this weekend where I am the mayor, the offer says congratulations for unlocking the offer and it’s shown in colour]

The parking meter situation also presented a solution that was new to me.  One of the problems I encounter periodically is the older cash only situation.  From time to time there is a parking lot that does not accept debit or credit, and I personally complete most transactions in that manner, as I don’t carry cash.  This turns into an inconvenience I would rather avoid.  While in Toronto we have plenty of meters that leverage a ticket station, and I know that there have been experiments with contactless payment, Vancouver had a relatively low tech way of getting the payment completed.   Parkers call a number and enter the meter number and their account connected to their license plate is charged.  I’m sure there are lots of solutions like this out there, I know I’ve seen it in some parking lots, for example, but I’d never seen city meters numbered before.  It certainly made it easier for me to make my meeting on time and helped me avoid a ticket.  Not jingling while you walk was just a bonus!

2010.18 | Canadian Retailers Using Social Media

I’ve been on the lookout for how retailers in Canada are using social media and mobile solutions to interact with their customers.   I was pleasantly surprised at the creativity and innovation of some of the organizations.    My observations are purely observational at this point, and based on what goes on in the Greater Toronto Area, but here are a number of uses of social media that have caught my eye recently:

Integrating Social Media and Digital Signage – Holt Renfrew has a limited time ability to tweet your #holtsbeauty tip on to their in-store digital signage in Toronto.   A free way to share information among HR customers, and get ones’ name in lights as it were.

Highlighting Social Media On-Site and Following their Customers Online  – Jack Astor’s are encouraging their customers to join their Facebook page when they bring the check.  They also started following me on Twitter when I became mayor of one of their locations on Foursquare, so they are paying attention.   That’s the kind of two way interaction that is novel to people and shoes a dedication to customers who are loyal enough to visit their restaurants and publish it online.

SMS Coupons – Payless Shoe Source Canada is offering a limited time SMS coupon for 20% off next purchase (text 77777 with Payless).  There is a very quick response with the coupon.  Kudos to Payless for highlighting that you have given them your number for messages and providing a very quick opt out, which worked flawlessly.  It’s a novel opportunity to use a coupon without paper, and the instant gratification of the text is satisfying as well.

Youtube Channels – Mastermind Toys has great coverage across many social media sites; particularly their Youtube channel where they show videos of their staff discussing products for sale in stores. This is a great way to bring the store experience into the online world.

Beyond these individual businesses and their ideas, I’m impressed at the increase in Twitter Feeds in Canada over the past couple of years.  Many consumer facing brands working in Canada have active Twitter feeds.   Here are the more active accounts that are either Canadian Based or have a Canada specific Twitter Feed along with their Follower counts as of May 3, 2010:

Canadian Retailer Twitter Feeds – May 3, 2010

Retailer Followers Retailer Followers
Addition Elle 175 Nutrition House 301
Aldo Shoes 1,810 Pet Valu 816
Bath & Body Works Canada 164 PizzaPizza 757
Best Buy Canada Deals 5,398 Planet Organic 1,343
Birks Jewellers 840 President’s Choice (Loblaw) 343
Browns Shoes 753 Purdy’s Chocolates 426
ChaptersIndigo 3,064 Roots Canada 2,716
Cineplex 224 RW & Co 443
Dairy Queen 77 Sears Canada 2,901
Empire Theatres 3,284 Shoppers Drug Mart 923
Fido Mobile 726 Subway Ontario 216
Future Shop 6,753 Sunrise Records 60
GameStop Canada 4,217 Suzy Shier 176
HMV 2,832 Taco Bell Canada 1,547
Holt Renfrew 3,011 Teaopia 205
Home Depot Canada 768 The Body Shop Canada 664
IGA Québec 717 Tim Hortons 2,250
Jack Astor’s 255 ToysRUs Canada 42
Jean Machine 398 West 49 293
Koodo 52 Whole Foods 1,159
La Senza 1,782 (My local store – find yours here)
Mastermind Toys 861 Wireless Wave 222
McDonald’s Canada 1,620

While the numbers are not massive, they are interesting to analyze.  Not surprisingly, technology leads the way: Future Shop, Best Buy and GameStop show very high numbers, for example.  Niche grocers Whole Foods and Planet Organic also have very high follower numbers considering that Planet Organic is a relatively small chain, and Whole Foods number represents one store.  Remember that this list is mostly composed of people who have chased down a retailer and added it to a list.  Not many of them highlight their Twitter accounts beyond an email or link on a webpage.   This may very well represent a very dedicated demographic – or at the very least, one that is interested in the stores, the bands and what they are about.

Social media is certainly a growing opportunity for retailers and has grown leaps and bounds over the past couple of years.  It will be interesting to see how it matures in Canada over the coming months and years and what we learn from it.  So far it affords retailers an essentially unheard of opportunity – a virtually free marketing experiment.

Update – July 28 – I’m maintaining a list of Canadian Retailers on and Canadian Restaurants Twitter.  Let me know if I’m missing any!

2010.16 | Record Stores & Technology

With this weekend’s celebration of record store day, I became nostalgic and thought of how buying music worked in days gone by.  I thought of my first album purchased from the local record store, the whole asthetic pleasure of buying music in those days.  The spurious decoration in the store.  The sketchy characters that worked in record stores.  Taking home the physical object.  The art on the cover, the smell of the new CD, the booklet with the words.  It was an experience. 

Over time, the pleasure of that experience was chipped away by massive piracy.  The rise of Napster and Limewire and then iTunes and the iPod chipped away at the record stores.  The pleasure of the music purchasing experience was overcome by the convenience and simplicity of obtaining music from these places for a younger generation.  The stores where I used to browse as a youngster slowly disappeared – A&A, Sam the Record Man, Tower Records and many others.  Those that survive are re-inventing themselves for a very new situation. 

I obtain all of my music online.  I frequent places like the iTunes, the sixty-one, and last.fm to listen to, hear about new music and get suggestions for new material.  I can look at endless blogs like quickbeforeitmelts, cavacool, or Cover Lay Down as well.    I sometimes buy music directly from the bands themselves.  In fact, I was listening to an NPR technology podcast last night that was talking to a band who has never released a physical CD and yet make a living from their music. 

If there has ever been a retail segment fundamentally impacted by technology it has been record, er, music stores.  What lessons can be learned from the demise of the record store as we knew it, and what could the music stores do to ?

  • There is no way to control the sorts of technologies that overcame the music industry and its’ retailers.  The Internet and social media have such a huge hold on society today – and particularly the young monied demographic that they serve, that it would be more productive to embrace it and use it to advantage than to fight it with old strategies.   For example, if you are a used music store, use Twitter to tweet about recent additions to stock.  You can develop a following.  The internet is all about niches and leveraging them.
  • Consider selling things that can’t be downloaded electronically.  Many music stores are jumping on this very well – selling vinyl is picking up again for audiophiles – and video games for Xbox and Wii still require physical media.
  • Find a way to drive traffic using the technology – foursquare is gaining a foothold with retailers as a way to drive traffic with special deals for the mayor or those who check-in at their stores
  • Provide an experience that can’t be had online – Starbucks provides a sensory experience.  It’s certainly possible to do something similar in a music store to cater to a specific demographic.  Build a physical community that can then leverage the one online.  Why don’t have digital downloads for customers in the stores?
  • Go local – Align with local bands who haven’t been discovered yet that are playing venues in the neighbourhood of the store – whether on Myspace or by a label.  Building a relationship with them brings their fans along, and shows those that love the medium that the store is part of the local fabric.  Make the store a gathering place for like minded people.

All of these things are much easier said than done, and I don’t have the answers – merely the benefit of hindsight.  In fact, I think physical music stores are doing many of these things, and probably more.  One thing is certain – as a retailer – or owner of any consumer facing organization, it is now important to understand the business impacts of technology – it goes beyond ROI and a CIO.  It is important to consider how any new consumer technology trend could fundamentally undercut your business.  If you don’t, there will be someone to take the business from you with their unique business model – directly or indirectly.

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