US retailers turn to social media

28 July 2009

NEW YORK: Major US retailers such as JCPenney and American Eagle, and high-profile apparel brands like Nike, are increasingly turning to social media as they try to connect with teenage consumers in the US.

In an effort to boost "back-to-school" spending – which will fall by between 8% and 12% this year according to a forecast by the Research Group and UBS – many retail chains are looking to embrace a range of interactive platforms.

Recently, Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group issued a report assessing how "engaged" a variety of brands were on social media, and this channel is seen as being a particularly effective tool for communicating with specific age groups.

Charlene Li, of the Altimeter Group, argued "young people are turning to social networks first to make decisions about what to buy for back-to-school. If you're not there, you're not reaching them."

JCPenney has developed its own brand page on Facebook, which is targeted at teenagers and features its TV and cinema ads, as well as giving members of the platform the chance to express their opinions on the products it sells.

It has also launched a new section of its own website bringing together information on various brands popular with this demographic, such as its Decree and Arizona lines, as well as RS by Sheckler.

Mike Boylson, JCPenney's chief marketing officer, said "younger consumers are not consuming traditional media. What we're spending in digital space is so much more than we did three years ago that the percentage would be off the charts."

American Eagle has similarly established a feed on Twitter, the microblogging website, as well as a presence on Facebook, and is drawing on the skills of its PR, marketing, design and merchandising departments to develop its social media strategy.

The company has also run web ads featuring "real-time" updates from its Twitter account, as well as scheduling a competition on Facebook where it will give away a pair of jeans every hour.

Mike Dupuis, its vp of digital marketing, said this approach is effectively "mirroring the way" young people "communicate with each other when we communicate with them."

Nike, the sportswear brand, is also set to launch an application for Apple's iPhone enabling consumers to customise some of its products, and distribute the results to their contacts on Facebook.

Stefan Olander, global director for brand connections at Nike, argued "it's all about making sure that we're part of our customers' lives. Social media is a very natural extension of that."

Bebe has used Facebook to host a feature allowing users to upload pictures of their own faces onto the site, and which then effectively means they can "star" in their own "rock video".

Furthermore, the company has attempted to establish relationships with 50 bloggers that it views as being particularly influential among its core consumers.

Barbara Wambach, its chief administrative officer, argued "social media creates much more depth to the entire rollout."

Staples also broadcast its latest TV ad on Facebook before airing it on television, as well as using its brand page on the social network to encourage teens to donate mone

Data sourced from USA Today; additional content by WARC staff