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Retail Trends

20 Ideas Worth Stealing in 2012

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Kiddicare knows dads don’t like to read directions. That’s why the U.K. retailer has more than 2,000 videos on YouTube, made a strong mobile video push and added QR codes to the mix.

“Customers can use their mobiles, select the QR code and watch the video on their mobile on the shop floor, rather than having to wait for staff during busy times,” Chris Wood, video production/project manager for Kiddicare, told “Sometimes the floor can be really crammed with people, and staff can’t keep up with demands.”

Developed by video technology firm Liveclicker, Kiddicare’s video QR solution has led to about one-third of mobile visitors watching videos and a 20 percent higher conversion rate on products whose videos were viewed, Wood said in a press release.

While in the store, users can pay for products via phone and receive delivery within an hour. Perhaps most impressive: Kiddicare has an app allowing potential customers to scan barcodes in any store to learn the Kiddicare price or find similar products.

“The extension of video to mobile channels helps commerce sites reach a wider smartphone and tablet audience with the world’s most persuasive selling medium,” says Justin Foster, co-founder and VP of market development for Liveclicker. “Mobile video also bridges a critical experience gap between online and offline, especially for multi-channel retailers that wish to reduce in-store selling costs while creating a more personalized and informed shopping experience for customers.” — Fred Minnick

Back to the Future
Judy Jetson never had it so good. Thanks to 3-D virtual dressing room Swivel, a shopper can “try on” multiple products without visiting multiple stores.

Swivel allowed shoppers to try on thousands of clothing and apparel items and see themselves from different angles. Customers could share the photos via text or social media, and a QR code allowed for easy purchase directly from retailers’ websites.

Mall owner Forest City, which hosted a seven-day, three-mall tour in September, is considering rolling the technology out to other centers. “We are always looking for ways to integrate technology into the bricks-and-mortar retail shopping experience,” says vice president of digital strategy Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl. “We brought Swivel to our properties as an introduction to a new channel for shops and retailers to stay connected in person as well as online between in-store visits. Based on early reactions, it was a hit.”

It’s well known that getting customers into the dressing room provides a significant lift in sales. The virtual dressing room provides limitless options and potential for competing stores to work together. — Sandy Smith

Coupon code convenience
It’s no secret: Coupons and promo codes can help build customer loyalty and improve the shopping experience. But what happens when a customer discovers that someone else received a discount they didn’t?

A simple phrase on the checkout page is letting some online retailers ensure that doesn’t happen. It’s not just, “Do you have a promo code?” — it’s what comes next: “How do I get one?” or “Find one now.” This consumer-centric approach helps buyers feel that they’re getting the best possible deal each and every time.

Customers who land on checkout at will find “Have a promo code?” in the retailer’s signature red. By clicking on “Find one now,” visitors are taken to a dedicated page listing all current promotions, codes and expiration dates.

What’s in it for retailers? As Linda Bustos of e-commerce blog pointed out in 2010, the creation of dedicated landing pages optimized for retailers’ own coupon codes could help the store’s domain outrank affiliate sites. If that happens, it may be a more appealing choice for consumers — meaning the commission won’t go to the affiliate.

According to Bustos, there are a number of additional ways to minimize the potential damages of promo code entry box visibility, such as asking the question on the checkout page to build e-mail lists for future promotions or issuing private codes accessible only through affiliate links or e-mail campaigns. — Fiona Soltes 

The Need for Mobile Speed
Speed has been atop the list of must-haves since the earliest days of desktops and laptops. But mobile is pushing the need for speed to another level of consumer expectation. Chinese fashion merchandiser and retailer 7GeGe Top Fashion understands the sentiment, working with mobile commerce vendor Digby to mobile optimize its website.

Key for 7GeGe will be delivering a unique and engaging mobile shopping experience to its hip, savvy and youngish Chinese consumer base while strengthening customer loyalty and delving into critical buying behavior data. To make it work, 7GeGe has determined it needs to give its customers the freedom to easily research and purchase items in as little as 60 seconds — all with features that include product images and descriptions, shop-by-category functionality, store locator, e-mail signup, order tracking, site search, ratings and reviews and promotional offers.

The site promises to be so timely that it will be able to monitor the fashions its customers are buying immediately. If certain items are selling more briskly, 7GeGe shifts merchandising within one day to accommodate the trends.

“Our customers want access to our product in real-time as we create new fashions on an hourly basis from our on-premise design and production facility,” according to 7GeGe CEO Louise Cao. — M.V.G. 

Most Interesting to Men
You’ve probably seen commercials featuring a Hemingway-like older gentleman accomplishing extraordinary feats, such as making dinner while his pet cougar climbs on the counter or skydiving from a rickety plane. All the commercials end with the man’s hands wrapped around a beer bottle while he says, “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends.”

The Most Interesting Man campaign started regionally in 2006 and went national in 2009; the once-obscure Mexican beer brand has experienced double-digit annual sales growth since the campaign began.

But the Dos Equis executives didn’t rest on this television campaign. They paired it with in-store marketing, radio spots, social media strategies, print advertisements and an innovative approach to experience marketing: The League of the Most Interesting.

Considering today’s 21- to 34-year-old male is accustomed to Facebook and/or video gaming, the league was spot on. Players were given challenges for which they earn points and medals. Seven players, referred to as Exemplars, earned enough points for the final Dos Equis league challenge in Mexico.

This is certainly not the first brand to capture its audience with a contest or social gaming. But it must be the first campaign that has influenced the audience to be just like the campaign’s main character. — F.M.

No Retailer Left Behind
No company is immune to the need to get involved with its customers via social media. Neiman Marcus dove in headfirst in 2011, teaming with SCVNGR to launch an interactive mobile challenge.

After downloading an app, customers were sent questions that could only be answered by completing tasks in a Neiman Marcus store. After completing each of three levels, the customers received free gifts.

Later in the year, the company partnered with location-based check-in app foursquare. Nancy Gonzalez clutch bags were hidden in stores; users who checked-in were told whether they were “hot” or “cold” in relation to the hidden bags. The first 15 customers to find a handbag took one home. The company also offered ways to enter a drawing via foursquare; in all, Neiman Marcus handed out 56 of the four-figure handbags.

No matter how enduring the brand, social media is becoming a “must” for retailers. — S.S. 

No Complacent Consumers
When the residents of Saranac Lake, N.Y., held a ribbon-cutting in late 2011, their new department store was already on its way to meeting community needs. The result of five years of capital-raising and six months of renovations (much done by local volunteers), The Community Store is New York’s first community-owned department store.

Aimed at enhancing the sustainability and self-sufficiency of the area’s retail economy, it was built by more than 600 investors purchasing shares at $100 each. Community members have a say in the merchandise; the aim is to source as many American-made products as possible.

When the Ames Department Store closed its doors in 2002, the Adirondack town was left without convenient access to sundries, affordable clothes, craft supplies and the like. A group of residents formed a committee to help solve the problem, and discovered the community store concept. They welcomed a representative from Powell Mercantile, a community-owned store in Wyoming, and moved ahead.

It would be easy to think consumers will simply blindly accept whatever is available. But in the case of Saranac Lake, it would be wrong. As one store investor told The New York Times, “This is more authentic capitalism.” — F.S.

Your Friends’ Seats
Ticketmaster has found a way to market to its customers’ friends.

As soon as they buy, Ticketmaster customers can tag themselves into their seats, enabling Facebook friends to see where they are sitting and which nearby seats are available for purchase. The feature is currently available for more than 9,000 events.

Ticketmaster rolled out interactive seat maps in 2010; integrating Facebook into these maps will create a community around each live event, beginning with the on-sale and building up to event itself.

“When we launched the Interactive Seat Maps in 2010, we learned that people used them to buy seats near their friends and family,” says Kip Levin, executive vice president of e-commerce for Ticketmaster. “We thought, let’s make it easier for them to share that information by using Facebook.”

Levin says the response has been fantastic. “We have found that more than 80 percent of fans that tag their seats choose to share their seat location with everyone on Facebook,” he says. “Engagement around the Facebook wall posts that fans share with their friends drives greater than 30 percent more fan engagement vs. a simple event RSVP post.” — F.M.

Snow in August
Last summer, Burton Snowboards seemed to know something meteorologists didn’t: Snow was coming. Its “television anchors” tried to convince snowboarders from New York to Alaska it was soon to pour down. “Historically, there has been a winter every single year,” the presenters intoned over video clips of snowboarders ripping up the slopes.

The innovative 8/13 Winter Storm Warning campaign supported the release of Burton’s 2011/12 product line. “We’ve always launched our new line, catalog and website in August. However, I felt we were missing a hard target date that we could rally around as a company, to help get our dealers, riders and customers energized for the new season like never before,” company founder and CEO Jake Burton said in an interview with

On a live broadcast via Burton’s Winter Storm Warning webcast hosted on Facebook, riders saw sneak peeks of the new 2012 gear, live event updates, antics by Burton “anchormen” Jack Mitrani, Kevin Pearce and Mikey Rencz and a live chat with Jake Burton. Snowboarders also went to “Party Bunkers” for the 2012 gear catalogs, food, drinks, prizes and the chance to win $1,000 of Burton products at each location. — F.M.

Mind Your Manners
On a personal level, expressing thanks may improve your reputation; on a business level, it can be a crucial aspect in building customer relationships. A study published in the scientific Journal of Marketing found that expressing thanks was a powerful tool in building trust between the customer and the company.

Gratitude can range from extravagant, one-time only events to inexpensive, every-day occurrences. J.Crew Boutique Collection celebrated its newly revamped Madison Avenue location by providing pedi-cabs — open-air bicycle-powered carriages — one Saturday. Those who hopped into a pedi-cab were given a postcard providing shoppers with a special gift.

Home decor flash sales site One Kings Lane surprised 6,900 of its best customers with a special gift that shipped the first two weeks of November. Based on purchase history, shoppers received taper candles, a silver pitcher or an inlaid bone box.

But the gratitude doesn’t have to be oriented to an event or holiday. Some of the most successful campaigns are designed to be routine parts of the customer experience. Perhaps it’s a beverage or chocolate sample while shopping, or a handwritten note from the sales associate after a purchase is made. For an extremely minor investment — the cost of stationery and a stamp — an important relationship is enhanced. Miss Manners would be proud. — S.S.

Facing Forward
The eyes may be the window to the soul, but the face surrounding them may be the key to effective marketing. Facial recognition technology has continued to develop, and possibilities abound for targeted communication based on age, gender and even mood.

Last summer, an article in The Los Angeles Times explored how facial recognition was being used. A Las Vegas hotel and casino employs it to make suggestions for entertainment or dining options. A group of Chicago bar owners uses it to let people know the gender ratio in their clubs; an app is available to help clubbers decide where to go.

More recently, the Interpublic Group Media Lab opened in New York; the 5,000-sq. ft. “fully loaded tech center” is designed to “put marketers’ hands on, and their budgets into, an array of up-to-the-minute tech,” according to

Privacy concerns continue to increase along with technology (The Federal Trade Commission was scheduled to hold a forum on the privacy and security implications of facial recognition technology last month). Perhaps the future will hold some sort of compromise — or the benefits will outweigh the risks. In the meantime, much can be gained by paying closer attention to consumers and how they act and react, whether or not it’s caught on camera. — F.S.

Catch a live show at the last minute (at half the price).”

That’s the pitch for a new service that figures to be a boon to those procrastinators who decide they want to see a show almost as the curtain is being raised.

Donnie Dinch, founder of San Francisco-based WillCall, says 40 percent of all event tickets go unsold each year. His mobile app makes consumers aware of events and available seats, and then allows them to buy those tickets at a discount.

The service was still in beta late last year, but Dinch was talking it up via, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He told venture capital group 500 Startups that ticket brokers would allow a 50 percent markdown for consumers filling up seats at the last moment.

WillCall is replicating a business model that also received funding from 500 Startups; Hotel Tonight lets travelers book unsold hotel rooms at the last minute for discounts as deep as 70 percent.

One thing is for certain: Dinch seems to be hitting the right nerve in the marketplace. Nationally, 46 percent of theatergoers have annual household incomes in excess of $100,000, according to The Broadway League, a national trade association, and nearly 16 million attendees took in touring Broadway shows during the 2009–2010 season. — M.V.G.

Fresh Produce – and Pin-Stripe Suits

In the United States, supermarket wars usually involve price cutting and weekly specials on standard fare — meats, vegetables, dairy, etc. In the U.K., major players like Tesco and Asda also duke it out over all things apparel.

While mass merchandisers like Walmart, Kmart and Target carry clothing, traditional U.S. grocers have stuck to what they know best. Now imagine a Giant, Safeway or Kroger selling Brooks Brothers suits or Ann Taylor leather boots within sight of the soup aisle. It’s not that great a reach when you realize Americans go to the supermarket 1.7 times a week in an industry that generated $562.7 billion in sales in 2010, according to the Food Marketing Institute.

Both Tesco and Asda (a British division of Walmart) have been selling apparel in their stores since the early 2000s. Tesco designs its stores a little bigger to accommodate the clothing segment, even employing a “chief executive of clothing.” And as marketshare and price competition for food tightens, clothing increasingly is an important category for sustaining margins. — M.V.G.

Vending Never Smelled So Good
It seems that just about anything can be placed in a vending machine: soft drinks and snacks, DVDs — even technology hardware. It was a $19.25 billion market in 2010, according to industry group Automatic Merchandiser. And at some point soon, Google Wallet payment terminals will likely be available on machines.

In Paris, a baker is pushing the vending envelope. Jean-Louis Hecht’s automated, 24-hour baguette dispensers target those who want the staple French treat after traditional bakery hours. Hecht partially cooks the baguettes before placing them in the machine for final cooking, thus allowing them to be delivered piping hot. Calling the machines the “bakery of tomorrow,” Hecht says he sold as many as 4,500 baguettes in a month; selling just 100 baguettes per day brings a 33 percent profit.

Advocates say that after some recessionary times, the industry is poised to pick up as consumers’ incomes rise and operators roll out new, high-tech conveyances. Surely we would buy our doughnuts from a vending machine if we could get them fresh, right? — M.V.G.

Harley Experience

When Orlando Harley-Davidson opened its Downtown Disney West Side location in June, it was said to be one of the area’s main draws. And for good reason.

Instead of music, arriving customers hear a Harley V-twin engine idling and the roar of one accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour — sounds Harley-Davidson enthusiasts crave.

The 3,635-sq.-ft. store boasts a hands-on format, where visitors can “ride” a motorcycle in front of a variety of green-screen backgrounds (Daytona Beach, along Route 66) and create photos to memorialize the experience.

In addition to selling typical Harley merchandise — adult shirts and jackets, baby bibs and dog collars — the store offers personalized leather Harley vests by a full-time seamstress who sews while customers wait.

Store reviews have mostly been positive, but Harley riders have been largely elated at finding the store while on vacation at Disney. This type of store might also become a greater trend. As today’s shoppers look for new, more convenient, informative and engaging in-store experiences, technology providers cater new solutions to meet that demand. But, as this location has shown, a great in-store experience with a little pizzazz and innovation can go a long way. — F.M.

Out-of-the-Box Marketing

After eight years, Dr. Bob Wagstaff’s halitosis-curing invention seemed destined for the scrap heap. Nothing had worked to sell the Orabrush — a $50,000 infomercial brought only 100 orders — so Wagstaff took his idea to a Brigham Young University market research class.

One student, Jeff Harmon, built a team that included a coworker prone to ranting, a scriptwriter and a film major, and created content for a YouTube channel — Cure Bad Breath — that has more than 160,000 subscribers and generated more than 44 million views.

After some Utah Walmarts began carrying the product, Orabrush purchased magazine advertising and targeted key Walmart executives with a marketing campaign. But it took yet another outlandish idea to seal the deal.

Orabrush purchased Facebook ads targeting users in Northwest Arkansas, home of the retail giant. The ad read: “Walmart employees have bad breath ... Walmart needs to carry Orabrush! It will sell better than anything in your store.”

Within 48 hours, Walmart e-mailed; after a few more e-mails, Orabrush geared up production to meet the 735,000-unit order.

In two short years, Orabrush went from a failed idea to one that’s taking on bad breath one tongue at a time in nine countries — all because of a minor investment in a crazy marketing idea. — S.S.

Show and Tell

Among the products Connecticut building supplier Washington Supply sells are sustainable building solutions like photovoltaic (PV) systems, which use solar panels to convert sunlight into energy. Washington Supply uses a PV system in its own buildings.

The company installed a TE/ELO touchscreen that displays the company’s PV data, including how much energy is being captured at any given hour – as well as the volume of oil saved and carbon emissions eliminated. Because the display is a touchscreen, the user also can initiate a slideshow displaying how the PV products works and segment the data.

“As an information resource to our community of architects, builders, remodelers and homeowners, we are always looking for innovative ways to deliver information,” says Washington Supply CFO Bob Whelan. “Our implementation of renewable energy systems here at our location has substantially differentiated us from our competitors and has us involved with a different, more engaged clientele who appreciates our expertise in navigating the opportunities.”

It may not be easy being green, but a company that goes to the effort should find ways to put that information at customers’ fingertips. — S.S.

Finding the Fit

Ten seconds. That’s how long the Me-Ality Size Matching Station takes to figure out the best-fitting clothes for shoppers.

Here’s how it works: A fully clothed shopper steps into the scanner, where 196 small antennae map her size. Her exact body measurements are captured via 200,000 “points of reference” and she’s soon able to view a custom shopping guide, filterable by brand, style, price and retailer.

The Me-Ality (Measured Reality) kiosk, developed by Nova Scotia-based Unique Solutions Design, premiered in 2010 at Pennsylvania’s King of Prussia Mall. Since then, they’ve been popping up in major cities nationwide, and are expected to reach 300 malls within the next few years.

Unique Solutions has offered body fit solutions since 1994, and is said to maintain the largest database of body measurements that accurately reflect “the real size and shape of consumers.” Retailers that have signed on to participate include bebe, Chico’s, Levi’s, White House Black Market, Lane Bryant and DKNY Jeans. Potential benefits include higher customer satisfaction, increased sales, fewer returns — and most likely, much less frustration in the dressing rooms. — F.S.

Generating Authentic Buzz

I nternational word-of-mouth (WOM) media network BzzAgent encourages its more than 800,000 volunteers to generate positive buzz for the products it represents. Moving beyond “likes,” BzzAgent offers advocates a full-brand experience through free or discounted products, then provides the tools for them to share that experience.

A Burt’s Bees Acne Solution campaign involving 15,000 agents resulted in more than 900,000 people reached through in-person conversations. There were also more than 180,000 unique testers during the eight-week campaign; all told, it “influenced the purchase of five-plus units per agent, achieving a measured lift in sales and a positive ROI.”

Agents involved are under no obligation to promote anything they don’t like and are required to disclose their BzzAgent affiliation.

In a time when “likes” can be driven by a variety of motivations, an honest admission of affiliation is a fresh idea. As a recent AdAge article by Malcolm Faulds pointed out, however, companies “have to connect with people and make the brand come alive with ideas for activities and suggestions for using the product in more creative ways.” — F.S.