Spectacular gift capsules from Rue La La

Rue La La created holiday capsules on the Gazillion Gifts part of their site in a super creative way. I love the combination of hand-drawn illustrations, typed banners/signs, real merchandise, props and photographs of gift wrapping elements like bows, ornaments and gift boxes with ribbon. The way they styled these capsules and pulled the page together really brought forth feelings of whimsy and and a warm festive vibe.  It feels like you’re in a boutique store with white walls,  practically getting to touch and feel the display. Nicely done!

A few screenshots:

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Lauren Merkin Pinterest promotion: 3 easy steps

I received the below email yesterday from LaurenMerkin.com, announcing a Pinterest sweepstakes. I’ve seen a number of brands conduct Pinterest sweepstakes/contests, and this stood out to me in a positive way as one of the cleaner and easier implementations for users to understand what is required of them.  I particularly liked the way they broke it down into simple steps/directions for users to follow.  All too often, I’ve seen brands include paragraphs of text, where users really need to focus and digest the instructions. Lauren Merkin made it clear and straightforward as to what is required to enter.

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My main suggestion to improve this communication would be to add a prominent call-to-action, like a “go now” or “enter now” button that links to their Pinterest page. Currently if you click the image, it does link there, but this isn’t readily apparent.

When I searched Pinterest for #LMWishlist, nothing came up. This seemed strange to me because I would expect that they’d seed content themselves. Perhaps there is a delay on Pinterest before search results for hashtags appear.  When I search for “Lauren Merkin”, I do see a handful of entrants, but the hashtag is noted in the comments instead of the description so it’s not clickable.  According to articles on Oh So Pinteresting and Hashtracking, hashtags are only searchable and linkable when they are in the Pin description (not the board or account description). I am unclear on what happens if users include a hashtag in the comments section but this may be the problem.  (ex. See sparkly bag in 3rd column below):

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Lauren Merkin’s account does pin quite a bit (1,000+ pins) and have adorable cover photos for each of their boards, but it looks like their Pinterest offering is in its infancy (under 200 followers). I am under the impression that this promotion is an attempt to spark growth in their # of followers. This is likely important for them during the holiday season since it’s so widely reported that Pinterest is effective as a channel for retailers to generate sales.  I’ll be curious to check in a few weeks and see how effective this was for them in terms of new follower growth.

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Stand-out sites in their response to Hurricane Sandy

This has obviously been a week turned upside down for many in the New York area, including several friends/family who are still without power. While I personally am in a neighborhood that was not impacted, and led life in a fairly normal sense this week, not everyone was so fortunate.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it was interesting to see how various NYC-based companies were affected and how they mobilized to relay this information to their customers, despite challenging circumstances to pull this together.

A few in particular stood out:

Delivery.com – I first saw this posting on Facebook and thought this was a creative effort. With the subways largely out of commission, yesterday, buses started running from Brooklyn to Manhattan, but with lines of over an hour in some cases, due to exceptional demand.  Delivery.com reacted quickly and took this opportunity to hand out coffee and morning breakfast to people standing in line in hopes of easing their commute.  I thought this was a smart move and demonstrated their agility and ability to respond quickly.

delivery.com

Fab.com – This was the first communication I received (on Tues 10/30), kudos to Jason Goldberg and team. It was a straightforward and basic text explanatory email highlighting how the Fab.com team was impacted and how the storm may also impact customers.  I am continually impressed with their team for being incredibly proactive, transparent, and the way Jason has established a personal reputation/visibility with the fab.com customers.  I did not receive most other email communications from companies until two days later, 11/1.

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AirBNB.com – AirBNB waived fees on listings that would help those evacuated/without power in the NY-area to find alternate lodging.  While not free (the renters still can make money and set their price), it seemed that AirBNB encouraged people to discount these listings and is not making any profit themselves on this type of usage.

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WSJ.com, NYT.com I first got wind of this on Twitter, but these media sites dropped their paywall for the week, allowing all users to access the content on these sites so they could stay up to date on the latest in NYC.  I think this was the appropriate action from these media companies.

wsj.com

GiltCity.com – GiltCity NYC is donating 30% of profits from this week through Sunday to the Red Cross disaster relief.  They were the first company I noticed to take this action, although I am guessing this is a more widespread effort at this point.

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Additionally, I received a slew of emails revealing how the hurricane affected orders placed online, impacted various companies warehouses, corporate HQ and employees, and expressing the companies’ concern and well-wishes. This information was helpful in some cases where I had placed orders, but also felt routine/standard after a while.  These included communication from J.Crew/Madewell, Tory Burch, ASOS.com, Rent The Runway, Soap.com, ideeli, Botkier, Learnvest, Uncommon Goods, Amex, Chase, Bank of America, and I’m sure others that I neglected to mention here.

LOFT Enhances Product Reviews

Looks like LOFT is updating/showcasing their peer-generated product reviews in a much bigger way.  I received an email today with a promotion where you can enter to win $1,000 by writing a product review.

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Seems they have made this aspect of their site more prominent, and bulked up the number of reviews recently. I couldn’t honestly recall if they always had reviews on their site or not, but the earliest I could find a review from is late September 2012, so seems that they are relatively new. I think the way they are treating them on site is clean, easy to read, and overall a great enhancement. Now shoppers can use the reviews in conjunction with the product descriptions to add a “real-person” element to their shopping decision. LOFT has nailed both the quantitative (# of hearts) and qualitative elements (allowing users to create their own headline and description of the item).  Similar to Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy, I love how LOFT has incorporated the reviewer’s age and body type along with their review itself.

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I also thought it was helpful that on the left hand side they have advanced filters to narrow which reviews you see, and in addition to an overall star rating, you can see the % of users that recommend this product overall. I definitely read the product reviews when they are available, particularly to decide if I should size up or down, and to get a better sense of the fabric.  Great addition!

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In-Store Discounts, Today Only

I received two emails this morning within hours of one another, each promoting discounts for in-store purchases, today only.  Both LOFT and Banana Republic served up these offers to my inbox.  I had a few hypotheses on why this may be:

– Retailers are trying to drive mid-week sales to their physical locations on typically slower traffic days

– The end of October is quickly approaching (which is when retailers report monthly sales, and also end of October is typically when retailers close their books for fiscal third quarter).  This means there may be even more emphasis/urgency around driving comp store sales

– Sheer coincidence?!

Anyone else seen promotions for mid-week discounts, only redeemable in stores (not online)?  Have theories on the “why” behind this?

Subject line: 50% off EVERYTHING (in stores only)

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Subject line: Today only: 40% off in stores.

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Gap Inc. beta tests “Find In Store” functionality

Looks like the Gap Inc. brands are piloting “Find in Store” functionality.  I just noticed this on their site last week.

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See “Find In Store – Beta” button underneath “Add To Bag” (click to enlarge)

For now, it seems this feature is restricted to information-gathering only. Once you click the “Find in Store” button, there’s the option to enter your zipcode and it then shows you which stores have that inventory available in your size. However, as of right now, you cannot put an item on hold at the store, or purchase/pay for it online and have the store keep it for you (like Nordstrom offers).

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After entering zipcode and size, see the stores that have that item in stock (click to enlarge)

I’m guessing this is a first step toward a more robust “find in store” functionality.  Seems they’ve integrated their online/offline inventory systems which is an important starting place. If Gap Inc. demonstrates enough appetite for this feature (if they see a significant # of users utilizing this functionality), then they’d likely build out the fulfillment aspects so individuals can purchase and pick up from any store.

Makes sense from a lean start-up methodology to try to assess whether the demand is there before fully building out the feature set.  I’m excited to see how this evolves, and would wager that we’ll see this introduced with the e-commerce functionality build in at some point this year.  Online/offline integration is bound to only be more prevalent and seamless in the future.

Rise of the Fall Preview Sale?

I excitedly paged through the Nordstrom Anniversary catalog mailer that arrived last week, promoting their Anniversary sale which begins July 20.  Beginning that day, lots of fall merchandise is marked down, and will then return to regular price on August 6th.  Each year, it’s a great opportunity to buy boots, bags, jackets, and other fall necessities.  While it can be challenging to get in the fall spirit when it’s 90 degree+ weather outside here in NYC, something about shopping for the upcoming season is always emotionally thrilling.  I already have my eyes on the Botkier Valentina satchel and some Coach boots.

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I noticed that Nordstrom isn’t alone this year in holding a fall preview sale. Piperlime held an early Fall shoe preview sale last week, following a similar model – mark fall items down to build excitement, and then bring them back to regular price for the core of the shopping season.  Early bird gets the worm!

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Has anyone seen other retailers holding early fall preview sales?  A quick Google search looks like it’s mostly physical malls and outlet centers holding in-person preview events. I’m wondering if fall preview sales will become a trend, and if baking markdowns into the calendar early makes financial sense, or whether the shoppers who buy ahead of season are less price-sensitive and this isn’t worthwhile.

Funny enough, after writing this entry and having it ready to post today, I also received an email this morning from Timehop, a service I use that emails you your tweets/status updates from one year ago.  On July 18th last year, I tweeted the below:

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I guess it’s that time of year!