Social media pays off for Chico’s

Women’s retailer knows customer sentiment, identifies influencers and more with social media analytics

Using social media analytics, retailers can identify and profile influential customers to determine what customers really want. And a number of successful retailers, including Chico's FAS, are seeing positive results. "Our success is rooted in a heritage of listening and responding to what our consumers want," Jessica Wells, Vice President of Social Marketing for Chico's FAS, told Retail TouchPoints. To help maintain that success, "we've implemented a social media analytics tool to better understand what's being said about our brands and where people are saying it. We then apply this intelligence to our core decision making."

Chico's FAS is a specialty retailer of private branded women's apparel marketed under the Chico's, White House|Black Market (WHBM) and Soma Intimates brands. The company operates more than 1,100 boutiques and 125 outlets, with each brand maintaining its own e-commerce website.

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Real-time answers

With the ability to listen to and uncover sentiment about key aspects of its business – across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, discussion forums, blogs and more – Chico's learns how customers feel about its products and brands. Social media analytics helps identify key influencers and uncover how social media conversations affect business results. In real time, the company can apply answers to brand strategies, media placement, public relations and customer service activities.

Using social media analytics tools from SAS, Chico's captures tweets in real time and identifies the ones significant to its brands based on sentiment and the influence of the Twitter author. Key tweets are routed to Chico's customer-facing personnel for response.

Overall, social media analytics allows the company to extend its customer insights beyond the boundaries of its physical stores, websites and call centers into the social channels where relevant apparel conversations are occurring.

Wells said Chico's engages its social media analytics tool with the following overarching goals:

  • See the bigger picture, understand how social media conversations affect business results and apply this intelligence to decision making.
  • Enhance the internal social media reporting strategy.
  • Identify key influencers.
  • Ensure more timely responses to customers and maintain its high standard of customer service.
  • Better allocate time and resources spent on social media management.

How it works

In an example related to Chico's White House| Black Market spring 2012 TV advertising campaign, Wells provided a scenario in which the SAS® Social Media Analytics tool positively affected the business:

"With these in-depth analytics, we immediately could gauge the public's response to this TV spot, which focused on WHBM's 'Work Kit' collection and featured well-known fashion model Coco Rocha," explained Wells.

"We immediately accessed snapshots of Web conversations on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other media outlets, and reported the responses directly back to key stakeholders within the brand, including marketing, merchandising and customer service. Because we could see where these conversations were taking place, media placement and public relations strategies could be modified," said Wells.

Training the tool

Wells noted that training is a necessary component in social media analytics; she underscored that retailers have to work with their software vendors to advise and ensure that the tool itself captures proper terms and sentiment related to that brand.

"Like most aspects of social media, analytics is not an exact science," Wells remarked. "Since these tools use linguistics, you have to learn how to understand text analytics and best interpret the findings, then take the appropriate response/action based on the relevant data.

"For example, for the Chico's brand, we had to work with SAS to train the tool to pull in conversations about Chico's, the specialty retail fashion brand, not the Mexican restaurant. We also had to train it to filter content containing the word 'chicos' when a post was referring to 'boys' in Spanish."

E-COMMERCE GROWTH: Volumes of social intelligence to mine

At SAS, Wilson Raj, Global Customer Intelligence Director, told Retail TouchPoints that in conversations with customers and at industry conferences, he sees e-commerce as "hotter than ever." He pointed to a February 2012 study from Forrester Research reporting that online sales are expected to grow from 7 percent of overall retail sales to close to 9 percent by 2016. The report stated US e-commerce sales will grow 62 percent by 2016, to $327 billion, up from $202 billion last year; European e-commerce will grow by 78 percent by 2016, to $230 billion.

"With that growth come the volumes of intelligence to be mined from e-commerce," said Raj. "This includes not just listening to and recognizing trends in social media, but identifying sentiments such as why people are buying and how they feel about the shopping experience; how to reach them; what kinds of products, services and support they want; and much more."

Customers want a brand experience

Raj said he's seen retailers, armed with this intelligence, develop a brand experience resulting in tremendous growth in terms of loyalty and brand advocates, repeat purchases, and overall sales across the board. "That brand experience," he added, "goes way beyond offering a dress at 20 percent off and running a promotion on it."

For retailers, the focus of the online space no longer is about choice, price, convenience and reviews, Raj emphasized. "Those elements are still important, but now customers are asking for a relationship; they want a compelling experience added to the mix," he said. "Retailers must concentrate not just on selling products but offering real-time, personalized brand experiences across the social channels. The retailers that focus on these experiences will do very well."

Raj elaborated that while the information gleaned from social media analytics is valuable, it must connect to merchants’ other systems and data points to produce the most compelling retail experiences. “More often, we are seeing the retail CMO and CIO working closely together,” said Raj. “That’s where the real opportunity lies.”

* Reprinted from Retail TouchPoints, June 2012. Written by Lorna Pappas, Contributing Editor, Retail TouchPoints.

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