I Want to Watch More TV

By Richard Ouyang, PepperDigital

Shopping for TV’s last week I spent a fair amount of time at Best Buy perusing the (what seemed like) hundreds of TV options.  I scanned QR and bar codes with app readers and scanners on my iPhone. I compared models and validated the research I’d already done online.

As I looked over the new smart TV’s, it occurred to me that cable was in real trouble.  The whole “Cut the Cord” movement which has been gaining steam for years was suddenly a near future reality.  Wireless TV with apps installed like Netflix (online) gave me  all you can eat TV with no commercials.  What joy!  I’d already caught up on years of great TV with my current Apple TV set up – and as much as I’d miss a gadget – it’s one less device. Oh cable – you’re going to have to charge for the amount of data coming through the pipe with this new TV device.  No doubt my bill will go up, but….it’s worth it for no commercials.

Speaking of cutting cords and consumer choice – this experience also introduced me to the term “Showrooming.” Basically, Amazon got it right.  Provide a mobile app that scans manufacturers barcodes (when they’re not covered with store labels) and provide competitive pricing options.  If the store doesn’t match the price, then click and buy from your phone. An added bonus, it gets delivered to my door.  Thanks for brick and mortar store experience – but if you ignore me – I’ve got options. Power to the…Web!  In this day and age, I’d expect a struggling retailer, like Best Buy, would be more vigilant to protect their moniker “Best Buy”  and be doubly sure the customer (me) was happy. Besides, I doubt there’s that much margin on that TV anyway.

As a Peppercommer, I pondered my Audience Experience (a Peppercom specialty) and how I approached my purchasing decision. Would I have paid the tax, struggled to carry the cumbersome box out the door, waited for 15 minutes for the one cab in NYC that would stop to pick me and a big box to drive me six blocks to my front door?  Yes – instant gratification, but only if Best Buy had stood up to their brand promise.  But now I wait (notice I’m leaving the word “patiently” out of this sentence), anticipating the weekend when I can sit in front of my new screen and watch more TV. Yes, I would wait to fulfill my TV desire rather than pay $30 more (plus tax). The showroom experience changed my ultimate point of purchase.

Retailers like Best Buy  and Target are trying to solve the problem of showrooming by developing exclusive products available “only at…” This has been a tried and true tactic, but unless it’s truly an exclusive product (such as a designer label) are you really going to pay more for a product (in this case a TV) if all the tech requirements and options and user reviews meet your standards?  I think not.  Technology is becoming disposable because there is so much innovation in the space.  It’s certainly more about quality and performance of the technology and (sometimes) the in-store shopping experience.  The world of “e-commerce” no longer has the “e” – it’s just commerce – and retailers need to understand that from the customer’s perspective.

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By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (originally posted for Fast Company)

Amid e-commerce glitches and technology’s growing pains, retailers can still win the loyalty of customers.  Here’s how.

saks

Cyber Monday 2011 set a record for the most online retail spending in a single day: $6 million, as reported by comScore. (See more from Josh Sanburn at Time.) Further, as comScore details, the weekend before Christmas was the second heaviest weekend of online spending on record.

As e-commerce not only becomes easier and more pervasive than ever but more normal to the culture, it’s becoming increasingly accepted that any merchandise imaginable can be found online. That brings great business opportunities for companies who can defy geographical constraints to make their sales, and it creates a better environment for customers who can find whatever they’re looking for within a few clicks of a tablet.

But such rapid growth in technology can bring with it true growing pains. The modern “brick-and-mortar” retail experience has become what it has based on many years of growth and development, a luxury of infrastructure building that e-commerce hasn’t had. Sure, e-commerce still ranked as one small part of overall holiday sales this year, but online sales were in large part what was pushing a flagging economy.

That reality means that the demand from would-be customers is sometimes outstripping not only e-commerce inventory but, more importantly, the systems for managing the shopping traffic. A friend of mine was complaining on Facebook the week before Christmas. He had been so proud that he did all of his shopping a month ahead of time online from Best Buy for the holiday season. But, as the weeks flew by, he became increasingly nervous about getting the presents in his hands. Turns out, the inventory had been depleted, and Best Buy informed him in the days before Christmas that there were no presents to be offered.

Best Buy offered him an alternative, but it wouldn’t be able to be orchestrated until after Christmas. And all the apologies in the world didn’t make up for the fact that the present he’d carefully planned was now impossible to obtain and that he’d either be getting a second-best present or be putting an IOU under the Christmas tree for mom.

Turns out, my friend’s problem was widespread, as Mae Anderson with the Associated Press reported. As Anderson writes, “Some glitches should not be a surprise with such a massive surge in online shopping this year, analysts said, but there is a risk of a backlash.”

The Ford household experienced just such a controversy this year, in the post-Christmas buying festivities. My wife is a big fan of Christmas. And while I find those bendy little elves creepy and the eyes on the Christopher Radko ornaments somewhat disturbing, it seems post-Christmas every year brings at least four or five new ornaments into the fold (perhaps this year to replace the ones my two-year-old and I destroyed in our decorating efforts). With a 5-month-old and a 2-year-old, trips around the mall aren’t quite the fun stroll they once were. So she decided to take her ornament shopping online for the first time.

She started with Dillard’s and found an item she wanted, only to have them email after the order was placed to say that it turns out it wasn’t available after all. At Macy’s, she placed her order, only to have a few of the items in her cart disappear at checkout. And, at Saks, her order went through, and she even received an email notification. Then, almost a day later, she received an email that part of her order was canceled. When she looked through the details of the notification, though, it turns out that “part of the order” was actually the whole thing.

She was finally able to piece together a few ornaments she wanted (especially thanks to a MacKenzie-Childs site that actually had in stock what it showed) and remains vigilant about online shopping, but the experience underscored just how unprepared retailers are organizationally to handle the traffic. After all, you can tell if it’s on the shelf or not in the store; it’s a little more complicated with a virtual shelf, and a bad technical experience can lead to frustrated customers and damage to a company’s reputation, even if the sales themselves are growing exponentially.

These types of hiccups are inevitable as online sales grow so rapidly. And, while companies have to put major thought and effort into building up the systems and infrastructure to handle an e-commerce environment that will only grow more prevalent, retailers have to do more to think about how they handle customer service in a virtual world, to ensure that they don’t lose significant face with customers as they try to scale up to meet shopper demand.

It will be interesting to see what steps retailers take in 2012 not only to fix what went wrong in 2011 but to become more social, more empathetic, and more proactive in managing issues with customers when things go wrong. Just as companies scale up their e-commerce infrastructure leading into the holiday season, perhaps they need to put more thought into scaling up real, human service and follow-up as well. Because things will inevitably go wrong in the 2012 holiday season, since it’s almost certain we’ll see even further growth in e-commerce in the coming year.

Perhaps the single most important thing retailers can do to prepare in 2012 is to put deep thought into the experience customers are having. Not just in making the site easier to navigate but to actually put themselves in their customer’s shoes and think about what it looks like and feels like to have your order canceled, or delayed, or the other range of problems customers might have.

An “audience experience” way of thinking has become a major focus for us at Peppercom and one we are going to devote a lot of time to in 2012, both in how we approach our everyday work with current and potential clients and in consulting services we offer to help companies think this way for themselves.

For my wife, Dillard’s and Macy’s did no follow-up for the errors in her shopping experience. Saks sent 10% off as an apology. How do companies communicate their desire to make e-commerce a pleasurable experience, and how do they demonstrate a human and emotional response when things don’t go as the company would hope? This is the role a good employee plays in the store. But many companies haven’t quite figured out how to take that human connection social. That means more than just responding to a disgruntled customer who tweets at you. It means meeting the customer where they are at. And, above all, it means putting empathy at the center of the organization.

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This Holiday Brought to You by Best Buy

By Sahana Jayaraman, PepperDigital

BestBuy_package In keeping with the spirit of the 12 Days of Digital, I’d like to highlight a particular retail brand benefiting from a sound social media program rooted in strategy rather than tools.

Best Buy’s Holiday digital marketing campaign, which was also recently featured in the New York Time’s Bits Blog, is worth sharing for its creative strategy and impeccable execution.  Although there isn’t anything new or innovative about the platforms Best Buy chose to use for its social media campaign, the underlying theme and tactical approach is.  Here is a glance at some of the campaign’s core initiatives and a look at how they were each built to engage enthusiasts in a fun and interesting way.

Twelpforce: Staffed by more than 2,500 “blue shirt” sales force and Geek Squad tech support service members, Best Buy created the Twelpforce, to offer tech advice using Twitter. As part of their daily responsibilities, employees are asked to provide answers. According to the New York Time’s the company used Twitter to answer 20,000 service questions between July and October of 2009 and is expected to answer thousands more before the holidays. In fact, Best Buy has incorporated the Twelpforce Twitter URL into its holiday TV ad campaigns to help increase awareness during this shopping season.

Facebook: Best Buy redesigned its Facebook page to make it easy to ask other Facebook friends for advice about a product. All of the items the store sells are available within Facebook using TinyURLs that detail more information about them and allow you to shop directly from the Best Buy Web site or share the product with other friends for feedback. In addition, the company has created a Holiday Fun section of its Facebook page with helpful resources to make the gift giving season easier, for example:

  • Hint Helper – Taking targeting to the next level, Best Buy allows users to send their friends and family helpful hints on what they’d like for the holiday. You go in and tell Best Buy what gift you want this holiday. Then Facebook sends a tailored email to whomever you choose hinting them about what you’d like. Using basic retargeting technology, Best Buy serves ads on the Web sites your friends frequent saying things like, “Sahana would love an Xbox360.”

Nagging messages have the potential to get annoying, but considering kids do it all the time anyway offline, why not make a case for yourself online too?

  • IdeaGiftR – According to the page, Best Buy IdeaGiftR is an aggregated list of top gift picks by real people from the hottest items all over the Internet. People can get gift advice, be inspired to find a perfect present and share what’s on their wish list too.

Where was this when I needed it last year?

  • Secret Santa – Simplifying Secret Santa using high-tech, Best Buy has developed a way for its fans to easily set up their own personal gift exchange programs. You can name your Secret Santa program, pick a budget, set a date for your exchange and decide which Facebook friends you would like to include in your celebrations. The gifts don’t have to be Best Buy gifts, but of course in using Best Buy’s Secret Santa application you will be seeded with many Best Buy gift ideas.

Can’t hurt right?

  • Christmas Morning Simulator – If you are not a good gift giver or aren’t sure if your gift will be received well, Best Buy has created a way by which you can select a gift and send it virtually to a friend to see how they react to it.

That’s one way to avoid Christmas morning disappointments!

Videos: In an effort to generate “viral” content, Best Buy has also featured videos of Christmas songs, reworded to talk about high-tech gift ideas. Links to these videos are featured on the company’s site and shortened URL’s are offered making it more suitable to spread via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

“Pitch In” Social Gift Card: This is a really neat gift-card service that is featured on their Web site.  It allows customers to email all their friends and relatives asking them to contribute to a fund to buy some of the pricier presents.

All in all I would say this is a very practical campaign. By offering brand advocates useful and relevant tools which genuinely help make holiday gift giving a little easier, Best Buy is able to draw positive attention, increase awareness of its products, establish its expertise in electronics, and expand its audience base. Moreover, people will remember using these tools during the holiday season in 2009 and hopefully revisit its fan page in 2010, even if they don’t visit any other time of the year.  Either way, Best Buy has at least created a really cool program to connect with its fan base of 1,028,798 people during the most critical time of the retail year.

If you have or are currently using any of these Best Buy tools this holiday season, let us know your experience.

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