20 Ideas Worth Stealing in 2013
A Special Report Sponsored by
Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes that light bulb in your head goes on as you’re browsing the Internet, strolling the mall or thumbing through the magazines and catalogs piled high on the coffee table. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen retailers demonstrate just how inventive, resourceful and imaginative they are when it comes to new concepts. There have been ideas for problem solving, ideas for using technology to improve the customer experience and ideas intended to generate new business. They’ve developed new formats, engaged shoppers using social media and found inventive means of product placement. Believing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (not to mention a pretty effective business survival tool), we have cherry-picked some of the best of the ideas that have come to our attention over the last year, hoping to inspire, start a conversation and encourage creativity. Start with the concept, twist it, turn it and pop it inside out. Use them as the stimulus to come up with your own great idea. Let the brainstorming begin. Offer More Options Introducing an “entirely new way to shop”? It doesn’t happen all that often, but intimates company Freshpair is setting new standards. The New York-based company ups the level of personalized customer service with its Freshpair At Home Bra Fitting Program, “giving each customer access to the largest selection of brands and sizes found anywhere and the opportunity to try them on at home, totally free.”
Freshpair carries more than 50 brands of bras in a variety of price ranges and styles, including maternity, strapless, sports and traditional. Consumers speak with a bra fit specialist over the phone, going over preferences, fit issues and size. That specialist then chooses a variety of bras that might work, sending as many as 15 to the customer, allowing her to try them out for a week. At the end of that time, the customer sends back what she doesn’t want and pays for what she does. Shipping is free both ways, and there’s no upfront charge. One blogger, thrilled by her experience, dubbed the service her “fairy bra mother;” eight of the 10 bras she received were “perfect. Not okay or acceptable; perfect. Supportive, comfortable, beautiful, quality bras. I felt like I hit the lingerie lottery!” – Fiona Soltes
Meld Physical with Virtual Netherlands-based Nedap Retail, which supplies retail security, management and information systems solutions, has developed a tool to help retailers meld the physical and online shopping worlds. Shoppers come into a store and try on something – a blouse or two-piece suit, maybe for a hot date or job interview. But does the outfit work? Does the aqua blouse work better than the rosemary? Now shoppers can try on all the options, amble up to the Tweet Mirror — a large touchscreen – to take snapshots of the outfits and send the images via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail to friends, family and acquaintances and wait for the “likes” to come rushing in. The Tweet Mirror “turns shopping into a hip experience” by leveraging the growing importance of social networks into the retail experience. “Every time a customer posts a photo, your company logo and items from your collection are beamed across the world. What better way to spread the word about your brand?” Nedap Retail asserts on its website. Tweet Mirrors have been placed in clothing stores across Europe, including WE fashion stores in Belgium and the Netherlands and Cache-Cache boutiques in Italy. – M.V. Greene Healthy Choices at Hand For fast food aficionados, making healthier meal choices typically comes down to best-guesses based on available calorie counts. Wendy’s fans have a much improved option: the My Wendy’s App.
This free mobile nutrition app, developed with Resource Interactive, lets Wendy’s customers personalize meals based on the amount of calories they want to consume. Customers can either select from a list of options based on their calorie range or choose items to reach a specified calorie goal. The app allows personalization, such as adding pickles or opting for a lower calorie salad dressing, and gives customers the option to store their creations in a “Favorites” section. There’s even a geo-location component built to help users find the nearest Wendy’s. Fast food operators are accustomed to taking it on the chin when it comes to providing healthy options. My Wendy’s App gives consumers the power to create nutritious meals. It’s no wonder the app had more than 26,000 downloads within one month of its launch.
This app can assuage the guilt some calorie-counters feel when they opt for fast food; it drives home the message that it is possible to make good choices at quick-serve restaurants. – Susan Reda Right-size the Footprint Besides being synonymous with coffee, Starbucks believes the company’s name should be associated with sustainability. The company is most aggressive in areas that include recycling and reducing water and lighting. But a new concept — the small drive-thru and walk-up only store — is creating a buzz. These new mini-stores, coming in at 600 sq. ft. or less, aren’t for lounging or Web browsing; they’re for moving product in an efficient, cost-effective way. In Colorado, Starbucks is operating a modular LEED-certified drive-thru made from recycled snow fences that give the store a distinctive rugged and weathered look. Similar LEED-certified concept shops are springing up in Japan and the Netherlands. In Seattle and suburban Chicago, the mini-store for Starbucks subsidiary Seattle’s Best Coffee is built to speed customers along. Jim McDermet, senior vice president and general manager, Seattle’s Best, touts the mini store’s offering of “car-friendly beverages and food for customers who need a one-stop destination without any compromises, any time of the day.” – M.G.
Picture Success For a moment, forget high-end, professional photos. Some retailers are finding marketing success through consumer use of Instagram, the free photo-sharing social media platform. As part of its “Kiss for a Cause” Fashion Against AIDS campaign last spring, H&M encouraged attendees at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to take Instagram images of themselves kissing someone, which were then printed and posted inside H&M’s on-site igloo oasis. For each image chosen, H&M donated $1 to the Fashion Against AIDS cause. A flat-screen in the igloo showed the latest Kiss for a Cause collection. Urban Outfitters’ fashion label Free People, meanwhile, includes Instagram photos from consumers on its website product pages. The company assigns Twitter hashtags to various products, and consumers are invited to upload photos of themselves wearing the products. The idea is not only to show how the same product works on different bodies, but to increase engagement overall. For those wondering whether Instagram will be just a flash in the pan, the picture-sharing site reportedly surpassed Twitter in daily active use for the first time in August. As of October, when Instagram celebrated its second birthday, it had more than 100 million registered users, and more than 5 billion photos had been uploaded. – F.S. Add Zing to Rewards
Billed as the world’s first fully card-programmable magnetic stripe, the Dynamics ePlate promises to enhance a shopper’s POS experience. ePlate is a battery-powered rewards credit card device that features two buttons. At the POS, shoppers can press one of the buttons to select a reward for purchases; rewards range from digital songs and charitable donations to points for vacations, plane tickets or electronics, says Dynamics president and CEO Jeff Mullen. “Whenever they are in the mood to donate and they make a purchase, they can,” Mullen says. “The reason we have the buttons on the cards is that people do want choice and selection at the point of sale, and they want it to be very easy.” What makes the ePlate compelling, he says, is the choice and selection shoppers have while “enjoying their rewards in real time.” ePlate is designed to be read at any existing POS magnetic stripe reader. Among ePlate provider partners are Upper Deck and its digital trading card system; Dark Horse, which allows users to earn points toward exclusive digital comic books; and Evil Genius Designs, an iPhone/Android game developer. – M.G. Crowdsourcing Goes Social
For five consecutive Thursdays during the holiday season, Gander Mountain shoppers had the chance to participate in a crowdsourcing-style promotion dubbed Camo Thursday. Beginning at 12:01 a.m. November 29, five popular Gander Mountain items including apparel, footwear and accessories were posted on the Camo Thursday microsite. Shoppers were invited to share items via Facebook, Twitter or both in the hopes of reducing the price. The higher the number of shares, the more the price dropped. Shoppers could purchase at specific percentage-off intervals during the price drop, or wait until the number of shares drove prices to the lowest point. Still, it wasn’t as simple as waiting for items to reach 50 percent off — the amount of inventory was unknown, adding a gaming element. During the first week every item was shared often enough to cut the price in half. Steve Uline, executive vice president of marketing, reported a 20 percent bump in unique visitors to the website. “Gander Mountain shoppers are passionate about hunting and fishing and other outdoor hobbies,” he says. “This promotion allowed us to tap into that enthusiasm and extend the excitement of the Black Friday to Cyber Monday period where we always see a nice lift in sales.” – S.R.
A Wink and a Nod Toward Innovation Cleveland-based AG Interactive, the maker of American Greetings cards, believes it has a way to combine the traditional paper greeting card business with the flexibility and innovation of digital processes. justWink, an on-demand greeting card platform, allows users to send custom greeting cards when they may not have time to get to the store to buy a paper card. It is touted as the first greeting card brand that lets users “connect anywhere, anytime.” Users can easily customize digital cards with personal messages, a photo and digital signature. The free app also takes users through the process of finding appropriate cards for certain moods — heartfelt, funny, bold, cute, trendy, sassy, sweet and beautiful — and occasions. Seasonal holiday themes are also available. After creating a card, users can forward it to the recipient electronically or send it to a vendor who will put the card together and mail it to the recipient for $2.99 including postage. AG Interactive also offers a justWink line of cards in stores. Greeting cards are a $7.5 billion industry with more than 3,000 large and small publishers in the United States. Americans purchase more than seven billion greeting cards annually. – M.G. Place Ad Here
It’s one thing to have products placed in television shows, movies or web content. But what about being able to go back and insert products and/or messages in already-existing programming? SeamBI, short for “seamless brand integration,” is an advertising technology innovator that turns “digital brand integration into a scalable business that benefits both local and national advertisers.” The SeamBI website gallery offers plenty of examples: a billboard that’s now behind a car stopped on the road, an open pizza box placed next to a main character, a screenshot added to a phone or a new car model replacing another on the street. Starting in January, SeamBI also offers its trademarked Underlay, which involves inserting standard/rich media ads behind the main action of a video — but still in front of the background. In other words, the message becomes central to the viewer’s attention field. SeamBI works directly with broadcasters on the placement of both national and localized ads; the goal, co-founder and CEO Roy Baharav says, is to leverage SeamBI’s image processing technology to provide advertisers with a high-performance ad format that remains respectful of the viewing experience. The best part for those advertisers? As the ads become part of the show itself, they’re not likely to be skipped. – F.S. Seniors as Featured Attraction For mature shoppers, a Saturday afternoon visit to the mall can turn into an adventure, overrun by the younger generation texting away on their smartphones, rummaging through apparel stores and hanging out in the food court. AEON Co., one of Japan’s largest mall and supermarket chains, has an interesting solution — a hypermarket shopping center dedicated to the older lifestyle. It cites statistics that indicate people aged 65 or older will represent nearly one-third of the Japanese population within 20 years, and its hypermarket facility in a Tokyo suburb features products and services geared toward senior customers. Retail offerings include an AEON optical product store that can produce bifocals on the day of the order; escalator speeds in the facility are slower so as to be senior-friendly. Asian hypermarkets are growing, according to AEON, which has more than 12,000 stores in Japan and 2,315 other locations in South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The company aims to expand the concept to these locations as well, as the elderly population throughout Asia is expected to reach 400 million in 2020. – M.G. Flexible Format
Cookie-cutter store designs are a vestige of retail’s past. Today, companies need to design stores with an eye toward adapting to the space, the surrounding neighborhood and its unique customers. That’s what makes John Lewis’s flexible format department store so noteworthy. The 65,000-sq.-ft. store, which opened last fall in the U.K.’s Exeter City Centre, offers the complete range of departments available in a traditional full-line store – including apparel, home and electronics — but pulls back on the assortment’s breadth. Most remain the same throughout the year, though some seasonal departments will expand and contract accordingly. The design team makes ample use of digital technology, driving home the retailer’s focus on multi-channel retailing. Specially designed interactive information screens provide product information and quick access to online ordering. In some instances the technology engages shoppers differently; some screens are equipped with a series of questions intended to help shoppers find the best product to match their needs. Some departments feature wall displays near the screen where samples of items like towels and bedding can be seen and touched before ordering. Executives recognize that customers shop however is most convenient for them. It’s no wonder the flexible format is doing well; the company has already identified at least 10 locations that could support this format in the future. – S.R.
Quality Facebook Time Dorm rooms are notorious for their inelegance, but fashion bag and luggage designer Vera Bradley and the Brickfish social networking platform joined forces in August to combat grunginess with a 30-day “Dress Your Dorm” Facebook campaign. The campaign generated more than 222,000 engagements, more than 200,000 views, 3,807 entries and 12,075 votes. Observers say the campaign’s success hinged on taking a relatively simple idea to a targeted audience — college students — and asking them to perform an inviting task. It gave Vera Bradley an entree into home design, while also boosting Brickfish’s social media credentials with young people. The campaign fit Vera Bradley’s mode of doing business; rather than using traditional advertising, the company prefers to gain exposure through event marketing strategies. Participants went online and signed up to dress their dorm with Vera Bradley products, and then posted the information to the company’s Facebook page in hopes of winning the grand prize of a dorm room makeover. Users submitted their creations for viewing by others to signal their popularity. Brickfish, which developed and led the campaign, created a viral map that allowed participants to see how many people were looking at their submissions. The initiative fostered community involvement and engaged consumers within social media. – M.G. Engage the Whole Shopper
With society’s emphasis on the young and healthy, at least one mall is considering the rest of the population, too. Mercy Health System now has an ambulatory medical facility at Plymouth Meeting Mall in suburban Philadelphia. The two-story, 23,500-sq.-ft. satellite location includes offices for primary care physicians and specialists; suites for physical therapy and non-invasive procedures; imaging facilities; and a walk-in clinic. The facility, which opened in October, is said to be the Northeast’s first full-scale medical health and wellness center in an enclosed mall. Mercy Health System has livened up the idea with fresh marketing; the organization’s website teases a “healthier shopping experience” with phrases such as “Jewelry, Shoes, MRIs,” and “Good Health is Always in Fashion.” “Bringing healthcare services to shopping malls is one of our innovative strategies for enhancing the shopping experience, enabling our shopping centers to become the hub of community,” says Joseph F. Coradino, CEO of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT). “Mercy Health System’s center enables consumers to combine medical visits with shopping, dining and other services of everyday living … creating a convenient community destination. Concurrently, it is expected to drive foot traffic, draw new customers and increase shopping time as well as consumer spending.” – F.S.
Catalog Come to Life As efficient and encompassing as digital-world applications can be, there is no way Swedish retailer IKEA would forsake the 211 million copies of its printed product catalog sent every year to consumers just for a digital catalog app. But “this year, the IKEA catalog is alive,” trumpets a YouTube video posted last summer. To leverage the power of digital and social platforms, IKEA added augmented reality to its 2013 catalog. The videogame industry has used augmented reality for many years – the process of overlaying computer graphics and displays on real-world mediums. Observers say augmented reality is changing the way people are viewing the real world, and IKEA has taken the cue. Readers download the IKEA app to their mobile device and scan catalog pages with digital content in order to access additional embedded information on products — turning printed catalog pages into 3D views, videos and how-to information. Special symbols that resemble smartphones printed throughout the catalog invite readers to use their devices to receive the augmented images. The McCann Erickson international advertising agency developed the process, and IKEA is tracking traffic to determine the effectiveness of the project. – M.G. Turning Pins into Purchases
Hoping to convert Pinterest’s social-sharing enthusiasts into e-commerce shoppers, Zappos Labs created PinPointing. PinPointing is a service that recommends Zappos products based on Pinterest pins and boards. The web page, dubbed the unofficial companion tool for Pinterest, suggests compatible items like shoes, dresses and accessories that are available from Zappos. Exact matches of the items “pinned” are rare — at least right now. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to connect the dots between an image pinned and the suggestions offered. Zappos is using the social site to help expand shoppers’ view of its e-commerce site beyond that of a shoe retailer. While the online store got approval from Pinterest for the PinPointing site, there’s no formal partnership. Social shopping and social curation are buzzwords heard now and then, but experts say both are still evolving. Zappos has taken a first step toward parlaying “pins” into purchases. Others including OpenSky and Wanelo are on the same path — an emerging avenue of commerce not to be overlooked. – S.R. Reward Smart Choices In the online rewards game, you can accumulate discounts for just about anything ... including natural foods, thanks to U.S. health foods company Zipongo Life’s Healthy Deals program. Zipongo Life users receive tailored deals based on diet, sleep habits and exercise routines. Subscribers pre-purchase featured brands online and redeem deals at area grocery stores, typically with discounts of 50 to 90 percent. The platform assesses potential food deals using generally accepted nutrition principles from the Institute of Medicine and Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “We developed a simple system of fun, color-coded nutrition badges to help people quickly identity the important positive and ‘watchout-for’ ingredients,” company founder Jason Langheier writes on Zipongo’s website. The program promotes brands that “can be a healthy part of a balanced set of meals, without being tied to narrowly defined diet rules.” Participating brands include Newman’s Own, Evol Burritos, Stonyfield Farms, Zico Coconut Water and Clover Organic Farms. Andronico’s Community Markets, a privately owned regional grocery chain in the San Francisco area, is working with Zipongo on the program. Langheier says the initiative takes the “guesswork” out of grocery shopping through the availability of affordable deals and inspiring recipe ideas. – M.G. Invest in the Community
Schoola has already gained attention for the way it helps cash-starved schools create fresh fundraisers, but it’s worth a closer look from retailers. The online fundraising platform from Savvy Source connects schools to businesses of all sizes, but unlike other daily deal sites, Schoola does not require 50 percent discounts on products or services. Businesses have greater control over the deals they offer and can work directly with school parents to negotiate prices. The San Francisco-based company was founded by Stacey Boyd, a former school principal and CEO of Savvy Source, a by-parents/for-parents advice, information and ratings site. In November, Schoola deals included brands like Omaha Steaks, clothing retailer zulily and 1-800-Flowers. The Schoola platform is set for simplicity; after parents partner with businesses to create the best deal for their community, Schoola handles purchases, fulfillment and check-writing to the schools and the merchants. Last September, Forbes reported that businesses already lined up with Schoola could take in up to $25 million in sales before the fall was through — meaning $13 million in donations for the 10,000 schools already part of the picture. With public schools budgets becoming increasingly tight and parents looking for creative ways to supplement them, those figures should only increase. – F.S.
Friends Helping Friends eBay has set up a “Help Me Shop” bookmarklet, a social-media friendly tool that allows consumers to get a little help from their friends when they can’t decide what to buy. Once the Help Me Shop bookmarklet (a one-click tool that adds functionality to browsers) is installed, consumers can shop from any website, saving favorite items and sharing them with Facebook friends. From the bookmarklet they can select up to six items to poll their friends about. The program tallies up poll responses, giving the consumer impetus to make a purchase that has received the endorsement of friends. eBay calls this approach “social shopping,” believing the fact that selections can be made beyond products and services sold on eBay gives the approach added appeal. Shoppers are constantly asking others in the physical world for ideas and perspectives when making purchases; now they have another conduit to do the same online. The key to Help Me Shop seems to be eBay’s decision to go the bookmarklet route, which places a small dialog box on the side of users’ browser windows. Observers note that bookmarklets have more functionality than normal bookmarks because users can do more on the pages they are viewing. – M.G
Bring the Runway to the Consumer Fashionistas typically had to wait six months or more to purchase an item they saw on the runway. Not anymore. A company called Moda Operandi has come up with a way to bring the runway to the consumer, offering shoppers access to designer fashions immediately after they appear on the runway. Exclusive online trunk shows of just-debuted items are available for three to seven days, then designers produce the pieces based on pre-orders and Moda Operandi delivers them to shoppers. In most cases shoppers can be wearing these designer items months before they are available anywhere else. Founded by Àslaug Magnúsdóttir and former Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo, Moda Operandi features designers like Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez. Membership perks include recommendations from top stylists, access to a personal shopping assistant and online tools that allow shoppers to view items from every angle. Are there a lot of shoppers who can afford to purchase designer fashions? Probably not, but there is a market out there for shoppers who crave the latest fashions and are willing to pay to have them first. Daily Deal websites created a competitive event for fashion at a price. Moda Operandi found a way to tweak that concept and deliver unprecedented access to designer collections. – S.R. Location Apps, Location Apps, Location Apps Existing U.S. home sales are expected to reach 5.05 million units in 2013, up from 4.64 million in 2012, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Economic Forecast released in October. New home sales are also forecast to be up in 2013. All those numbers mean realtors are showing more listings to more potential residential and commercial consumers. Agents, along with buyers and sellers, are finding that apps provide more power to see photos and videos and access information like demographics and mapping data. Leasing agents from Simon Property Group use an iPad app that provides access to the company’s entire portfolio, including a sales presentation, photos, video and 3D walk-throughs of properties. Simon credits the app with helping its agents close deals. The National Association of Realtors is also farming out smart applications to the industry. Its mobile app offers agents “anytime, anywhere access” to listings information, the industry group notes on its website. Consumers can use apps to see recently sold properties near homes for sale, search out foreclosure properties, receive updates on listings, find reduced property prices, access general news and information and calculate payments. – M.G.