Retailers are pulling out all the stops this year in terms of social media for the holiday season. From purchasing Twitter hashtags to a general push through social channels to get shoppers in stores, the online buzz around shopping deals this season doesn’t seem to be slowing at all. To take a holistic look at retailers who are social media superstars, we asked Josh Bernoff, Senior Vice President of Idea Development at Forrester Research and co-author of the popular book “Groundswell” and the newly released “Empowered,” to share his thoughts on the best of the best when it comes to retail social media.
Retailers were among the first companies to include customer contributions in their sites through ratings and reviews, Bernoff said. By now, most retailers have embraced ratings and reviews as a proven (online) moneymaker. But some – both online only and store-based – have taken social applications and outreach further. Here are his eleven standouts.
1. Best Buy: Best Buy has built its brand on customer service, and has reflected this in the way it interacts with customers. Bernoff says a great example is Twelpforce: Just send a tweet about any consumer electronics or customer service problem to @twelpforce and you’ll get an answer from one of the 2,500 employees who share this account. Best Buy has also been notable for a service called “Remix,” which opens up the application programming interface to the Best Buy website so other sites can link into information on specs and prices. These other sites then drive traffic to BestBuy.com. The company also puts links to social media, community forums, and its mobile applications on the site.
2. Amazon: Bernoff says the most successful online retailer is also one of the most advanced. Its ratings and reviews are among the most sophisticated on the Internet, with features including reader responses to reviews posted by others, verified reviewer identities, and the ability to see all reviews posted by a reviewer. The recommendations featured on the site – ie: “people who bought this also bought these other products” – represent a social feature that works without requiring any activity from consumers – they’re generated automatically from its vast collection of customer data. Amazon also just announced a feature in which reviewers can post gift cards on the walls of their Facebook friends on special occasions like birthdays. Amazon’s Kindle includes social features, too: while reading, you can see what passages other readers have highlighted.
3. Zappos: While this online shoe and apparel retailer is now owned by Amazon, it operates separately and includes its own social features. Zappos encourages all of its employees to tweet and many of them to blog, allowing the employees to share the customer service interactions they undertake to provide Zappos’s legendary service. What other company has the courage to put all the tweets that mention it right on its own site? Zappos’s site is filled with Twitter and Facebook Like buttons so users can share their opinions of selected items.
4. Dell: Because Dell sells mostly direct, it has to do everything possible to extend the online relationship it has with customers, Bernoff said, and the company has more than a hundred social applications throughout the world. Among these are extensive customer-to-customer support communities, a crowdsourced site called “IdeaStorm” that collects product ideas from customers, and one of the most well-established and personal company-to-customer blogs out there, “Direct2Dell.” Dell’s “DellOutlet” Twitter feed has sold over $7 million dollars’ worth of overstock and refurbished computers. Dell is unique in that CEO Michael Dell provides strong support from the top, and social media head Manish Mehta coordinates its hundreds of social applications across departments and geographies with an internal social media council.
5. Nordstorm: Nordstrom, known for its legendary service, dedicates a whole section of its site to user social interaction, displaying current tweets, fashion forums and popular blog ‘threads.’
6. Threadless: Customized T-shirt retailer Threadless stays hip and connected with its users through a community with features such as picture galleries of fans in tees (with celebrities casually mixed in), as well as original designs that you can submit, browse, or vote to create a new T-shirt design. The company now uses its Facebook page for customer service.
7. Starbucks: Starbucks solicits customer ideas on mystarbucksidea.com, an extremely active discussion site with close to 100,000 suggestions, and the company recently announced it had implemented one hundred of those ideas. To embrace connected visitors using the free WiFi in its coffee shops, Starbucks launched the Starbucks Digital Network in partnership with Yahoo!, a site and set of apps that bring exclusive content to Starbucks visitors. And if you’ve used location-based service FourSquare to check in so frequently at a Starbucks that you’ve become the “mayor” of that location, you can get product discounts.
8. Dunkin’ Donuts: Dunkin’ has energized its customers with its 60,000 Twitter followers and 2.5 million Facebook fans. Customers reaching out with questions are delighted to find the company responding in real-time. A typical story: Dunkin’ learned from Twitter that a couple of Dunkin’ Donuts fans from Buffalo had decided to take up Jet Blue’s offer of an “All You Can Jet” pass ($600 to go wherever you want) to visit dozens of cities for twelve hours each. The company decided they represented the spirit of its ad campaign “America Runs On Dunkin’,” sent them gift cards for the different cities, and met them when they landed in Boston and took them to the company’s corporate box for a Red Sox game. Dunkin’ also sponsored a contest in which customers vied to create the company’s next doughnut.
9. Burberry: At Burberry’s Art of the Trench, you can pick out a coat, share it in your Facebook or Twitter stream, and upload photo of yourself. In the first 8 weeks of the campaign, they had 330,000 visitors from 191 countries. Their online stores saw a 85% increase in sales during that time.
10. Walmart: Bernoff says that, despite early failures in social media – including a faked blog – Wal-Mart has persisted in innovating. In addition to the largest collection of reviews anywhere, the company has a Walmart Specials Twitter feed with 92,000 followers and five more corporate Twitter accounts. Also notable: a shared collection of mommy bloggers who syndicate their content to the company, available at elevenmoms.com.
11. Loblaw: Canada’s largest food distributor is notable for its food ratings and reviews – not a typical feature for a grocery store. But these reviews aren’t just for online shoppers. The company highlights the reviews in in-store signage, and frequently revises and improves products from its popular “President’s Choice” store brand based on customer feedback.