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    Published on: March 14, 2012

    by Kate McMahon

    Gone are the days when having a social networking presence was cutting edge for retailers and marketers. Today, not having a foothold on Facebook is like trying to slice sushi with a snow shovel."

    But just being there isn’t enough. A recent USA Today article cited Smashburger and Palmetto Cheese as small company social media success stories. A review of both on Facebook shows why, and reinforces what has become a mantra here at MNB – that social networking is all about engaging the consumer in a two-way dialogue.

    Both Smashburger and Palmetto Cheese share a key ingredient for success – an innovative, distinctive product. A Smashburger starts with a fresh 100% Angus beef meatball that is literally “smashed” and seared when it hits the grill and then served with an array of toppings. Palmetto Cheese takes the classic Southern pimento cheese spread and adds a soulful kick.

    Both companies credit social media with helping to push their sales growth to the next level. Smashburger can only be described as wildly enthusiastic in its outreach on Facebook and Twitter, where patrons also share their raves and rants. This is a prime example of the unedited, unpredictable nature of social networking: for every 20 or so posts singing the praises of a Smashburger experience, there is one complaining about service, taste or price at one of the Denver-based chains 150 locations.

    All of which keeps Smashburger’s Doug Thielen a very busy guy. Thielen responds to approximately 75 to 100 Twitter and Facebook posts a day, acknowledging the good and encouraging authors of the negative posts to contact him further.

    “We look at social media as a way to build a community, and create a conversation or relationship with that community as a better way to serve our customers and fans,” he told MNB.

    And in a sure sign of growth, Smashburger is looking to hire a social media staffer, a reality every company should hope to anticipate.

    Palmetto Cheese, which bills itself as “The Pimento Cheese with Soul” straight out of Pawley’s Island, S.C., is also in growth mode.

    Its Facebook page serves as a promotional site, with contests, chats and recipes, and a product availability guide. Consumers can click on a tab to find Palmetto Cheese in their area, and are encouraged to take specific requests to their local grocery store (for example, the addition of the new bacon-flavored spread).

    Note to retailers -- The comments also provide a spontaneous price check, such as this exchange:

    “Okay so I went to Kroger this weekend. They wanted $7.99 for PC, almost double the price of Food Lion! Needless to say we made two grocery store trips this weekend so I could get two flavors for the price of one. :)”

    Palmetto Cheese responded: “We apologize for the inconvenience of having to make two trips. Each store has control over the price they charge for PC. We'll see if there is anything we can do about that.”

    Then another consumer posted: “$3.99 at Costco in Charlotte vs. $5.99 at Harris Teeter!”

    Brian Henry, who founded Palmetto Cheese with his wife Sassy, told USA Today their social media education has been a work in progress.

    "Once we started truly interacting with our customers and created a community, we began to see an increase in interest and customers," he said.

    It’s not a coincidence that both Smashburger and Palmetto Cheese talk about creating a community, which can only be built on a dialogue.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Apparently, it is the 245th year that is the hardest.

    The New York Times reports that the Encyclopaedia Britannica - the oldest English language continually published encyclopedia of its kind - will cease publishing a print edition. The 2010, 32-volume set of books is the last to be printed; from now on, the encyclopedia will be moved completely online.

    Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., seems to be okay with the shift: ““Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

    According to the story, “sales of the Britannica peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold in the United States.” Some 12,000 copies of the 2010 volume set were printed, but only 8,000 were sold. The others are being stored.

    Of course, economics also played apart.

    It cost $1,395 to buy the 2010 print edition. Going on - or countless other online sources - is free.

    It is important to realize that nothing important has changed. Only the delivery system has been altered. In the end, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is really about words and ideas ... the delivery system is pretty much irrelevant.

    It’s an eye-opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    New research from The Nielsen Co. shows that “smartphone owners are increasingly using their devices for shopping, from researching products and reviews, to comparing prices, finding retail locations, and redeeming coupons. And retailers are responding with mobile apps and websites designed to attract smartphone shoppers.”

    Indeed, the company says that its metering of the smartphones of 5,000 U.S. volunteers participating in Nielsen’s mobile research “shows that during the 2011 holiday season, the top retail apps and websites combined - Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Target and Walmart - reached nearly 60 percent of smartphone owners.”

    Additional findings from the study included the following:

    • “Smartphone owners of both genders prefer retailers’ mobile websites over mobile apps, with men slightly more likely to try retailers’ mobile apps than women. However, consumers who use retailers’ mobile apps tend to spend more time on them.”

    • “Target and Walmart skew female when it comes to their mobile websites, while Best Buy skews male. Amazon and eBay appeal to both genders.”

    • “All of the top 5 mobile retail websites experienced a ‘bump’ during the days leading up to and following Black Friday, led by Amazon. This seasonal lift did not translate into an increase in regular usage, however. By January, active reach was back to October 2011 levels.”
    KC's View:
    These are the investments that modern retailers have to make ... sort of like making sure that their physical stores have power for the lights and freezers and running water in the bathrooms. It is all part of the infrastructure, because it will increasingly be part of the equation that shoppers judge you on, sharing that info with other shoppers.

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    Business Insider writes that retailers see the iPad as having one major attraction - it is portable enough to bring to bed, which is why one study points to the 10 pm hour as being one in which a lot of shopping gets done before people turn out the lights and get under the covers.

    As the story says, “Consumers who might not gladly sit with a hot, clunky laptop may be converted into casual evening shoppers by the iPad. Those minutes of nighttime browsing could mean billions in revenue for e-tailers, given the whopping $400 billion monthly retail sector in the US. The time you might've spent reading a magazine could be replaced by a quick flip through the mag's beautiful new HTML 5 website, and an impulse-purchase of a new bracelet from an interactive ad. Or you might take a peek at new Facebook photos and then take advantage of a targeted, branded coupon.”
    KC's View:
    Sad to say, there have been more than a few times that I’ve been discovered curled up with my iPad.

    Published on: March 14, 2012 reports on “a study conducted by the food company Unilever and the University of Manchester wanted to find out whether background sounds affect the perception of flavor. They found that people rated foods less salty and less sweet as noise levels increased. When noise levels decreased, the perception of those tastes increased. The results indicate that noise has a somewhat masking effect on taste ... Loud music may make the environment less pleasant to some people, but it can positively affect sales of alcohol. In a study conducted in two different bars, the researchers found that revelers ordered more drinks and drank their beer faster when the music playing in the background was fast and loud. When the sound track was played at a lower decibel level, drink sales were lower and the pace of drinking was slower. In other words, fast tempos beget fast-moving partiers who also, not incidentally, spend more money on drinks.”

    You can read the whole piece here.
    KC's View:
    I think I’ve made this point here before .... that maybe retailers ought to be thinking harder about the music that people listen to in their stores. Instead of one soundtrack for the entire store, maybe there ought to be something different for the meat department, wine department, produce department, etc...

    These days, I’d be looking for every advantage to give me an edge on the competition. Maybe this is one...

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    • The Financial Times reports that Tesco is taking steps to raise the retirement age for its employees from 65 to 67 as a way “to slow the rate at which pension payments rise.”

    According to the story, “Tesco emphasized that an older retirement age did not mean that workers would have to work until 67. Rather, workers will see their earned pension benefits-to date rise, with a target retirement age of 65, but benefits thereafter will see a slower rate of accrual to age 67.

    “Tesco said it believed the changes were necessary to limit risks such as unexpected rises in life expectancy. When the first Tesco pension scheme was created in 1973, the company expected retirees to live until aged 77. Now, a 40-year-old Tesco employee is expected to live until they are 90 years old.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    USA Today reports that Walmart “will launch a new service that lets owners of DVD/Blu ray movies pay $2 to $5 to stream them on Internet-connected devices, including TVs, tablets, smartphones and gaming consoles.

    “Starting April 16, Walmart customers can bring their DVD and Blu-ray movies to the stores and receive ‘digital access’ to the titles from the partnering studios — Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. Converting a title to standard definition viewing, similar the video quality on DVDs and Blu-ray discs, costs $2. An upgrade to high-definition (HD) is priced at $5.”

    According to the story, “The move signals Walmart's support of UltraViolet, an initiative by movie studios and technology companies to move customers' purchased DVD movies into a cloud-based digital library. Launched late last year, UltraViolet seeks to improve and standardize digital rights and authentication for content.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    • Safeway announced that it furthering its commitment to sustainability and the preservation of global forests by saying that “its consumer brand Softly bath and facial tissue and Ultra Thirsty paper towels are now produced to the high environmental and social responsibility standards of the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance. Shoppers can identify FSC-certified and Rainforest Alliance-certified products by the respective FSC logos and seals on every package.”

    • BJ's Wholesale Club announced its commitment to members and the environment by implementing a new sustainable seafood policy ensuring all seafood products sold in BJ's Wholesale Clubs are sourced from seafood suppliers identified as sustainable or on track to meet sustainability standards by 2014.  In partnership with leading non-profit organizations including Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), the company says it “is taking measurable steps to safeguard the ocean's natural resources while continuing to provide consumers the highest quality fish and seafood available.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    • Kroger announced that Suzanne Lindsay has joined the company as Director of Sustainability, responsible for directing Kroger's internal sustainability initiatives and leading the company's Sustainability Leadership Team. Lindsay previously had the same role at PetSmart.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2012

    ...will return.
    KC's View: