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From Home Furnishing Business

Fresh Thinking

National Retail Federation’s 20 Ideas Worth Stealing for 2013.

Each new year, we at Home Furnishings Business like to tip our hat to the National Retail Federation, which compiles a list of “Ideas Worth Stealing” for the organization’s Stores magazine.

Following is a condensed version that we hope will inspire some creative thinking in your business.

New York-based intimate apparel specialist Freshpair is offering customers an “entirely new way to shop.”

Its Freshpair At Home Bra Fitting Program gives each customer what it calls “access to the largest selection of brands and sizes found anywhere and the opportunity to try them on at home, totally free.”

Freshpair carries more than 50 brands of bras in a variety of price ranges and styles. Those include maternity, strapless, sports and traditional bras.

Consumers speak via phone with a bra-fit specialist to determine preferences, fit issues and size. The specialist chooses a selection of bras that might work, sending as many as 15 to the customer, allowing her to try them out for a week. 
The customer then returns what she doesn’t want and pays for what she does. Shipping is free both ways, and there’s no upfront charge.

Netherlands-based security, management and information systems solutions specialist Nedap Retail has developed a tool to help retailers meld the physical and online shopping worlds.

Shoppers visiting a store to try on apparel can use Nedap’s “Tweet Mirror” to take snapshots of the outfits and send the images via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail to friends, family and acquaintances to get their feedback on their choices.
The Tweet Mirror is a natural for the merging of social networks’ influence into the retail experience.

“Every time a customer posts a photo, your company logo and items from your collection are beamed across the world,” says the Neda retail Web site.

Clothing stores in Europe with Tweet Mirrors include WE fashion stores in Belgium; and the Netherlands and Cache-Cache boutiques in Italy.

“Fast food” and “healthy meals” aren’t always paired in the same sentence, but the My Wendy’s App is making it easier for the burger chain’s customers to count their calories.
The free mobile nutrition app, developed with Resource Interactive, allows Wendy’s customers to personalize meals based on the amount of calories they want to consume.

Customers can either select from a list of options based on their calorie range, or choose items to reach a specified calorie goal. The app allows personalization, such as adding pickles or opting for a lower-calorie salad dressing, and gives customers the option to store their creations in a “Favorites” section.
The app had more than 26,000 downloads within a month of its launch.
Coffee giant Starbucks wants its customers to associate its name with sustainability.
In addition to recycling and reducing water and lighting, Starbuck’s is generating buzz with a new drive-thru and walk-up-only store format.
These new 600-square-foot, or less, mini-stores, eschew Wi-Fi and sofas—they’re for moving product in an efficient, cost-effective way.
Starbucks has a modular, LEED-certified drive-thru in Colorado made from recycled snow. Other LEED-certified concept shops are springing up in Japan and the Netherlands.
The Dynamics ePlate, which bills itself as the first fully card-programable magnetic stripe, is looking to enhance a shoppers’ point-of-sale experience.
ePlate, a battery-powered rewards credit card device, features two buttons. At the POS, shoppers can press one of the buttons to select a reward, which can range from digital songs and charitable donations to points for vacations, plane tickets or electronics, for purchases.
ePlate is designed to be read at any existing POS magnetic stripe reader. ePlate provider partners include Upper Deck and its digital trading card system; Dark Horse, which allows users to earn points toward exclusive digital comic books; and Evil Genius Designs, an iPhone/Android game developer.
Outdoor outfitter Gander Mountain held a crowd-sourcing promotion called Camo Thursday for five consecutive Thursdays during the holiday season.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 29, five Gander Mountain items—including apparel, footwear and accessories—were posted on the Camo Thursday microsite. Shoppers could share items via Facebook and/or Twitter in hope of reducing the price. The higher the number of shares, the more the price dropped.
Shoppers could purchase at specific percentage-off intervals during the price drop, or wait until the number of shares drove prices to the lowest point— the amount of inventory was unknown, adding a gaming element.
During the first week every item was shared often enough to cut the price in half; and Gander Mountain reported 20 percent bump in unique Web site visitors.
AG Interactive, the maker of American Greetings cards, is using justWink to combine traditional paper greeting cards with the flexibility and innovation of digital processes.
justWink is an on-demand greeting card platform that lets users send custom greeting cards when they don’t have time to buy a paper card

Users can customize digital cards with personal messages, a photo and digital signature. The free app also takes users through the process of finding appropriate cards for certain moods and occasions. Seasonal holiday themes are also available.

After creating a card, users can forward it to the recipient electronically; or send it to a vendor who will put the card together and mail it to the recipient for $2.99 including postage.

SeamBI, short for “seamless brand integration,” is an advertising technology innovator that turns “digital brand integration into a scalable business that benefits both local and national advertisers.”

The SeamBI Web site gallery offers examples: a billboard that’s now behind a car stopped on the road, an open pizza box placed next to a main character, a screenshot added to a phone, or a new car model replacing another on the street.

Starting in January, SeamBI also offers its trademarked Underlay, which involves inserting standard/rich media ads behind the main action of a video—but still in front of the background, making the message central to the viewer’s attention field.
SeamBI works directly with broadcasters on the placement of both national and localized ads; and as those ads are part of the show, they’re not as likely to be skipped.

Japanese mall and supermarket chain AEON Co. has created a hypermarket shopping center dedicated to older lifestyles.
With people aged 65 or older representing almost one-third of the Japanese population within 20 years, AEON’s new facility in a Tokyo suburb has products and services geared toward seniors.

Retail offerings include an optical store that can produce bifocals on the day of the order; and slower escalators are more senior-friendly.

AEON has more than 12,000 stores in Japan and 2,315 other locations in South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Fashion bag and luggage designer Vera Bradley and social networking platform Brickfish teamed in August to allay dorm-room grunginess.

Their 30-day “Dress Your Dorm” Facebook campaign generated more than 222,000 engagements, more than 200,000 views, 3,807 entries and 12,075 votes.

The campaign took a simple idea to a targeted audience—college students—and asked them to perform an inviting task. Participants went online and signed up to dress their dorm with Vera Bradley products, and then posted the information to the company’s Facebook page in hopes of winning the grand prize of a dorm room makeover. Users submitted their creations for viewing by others to signal their popularity.

Brickfish, which developed and led the campaign, created a viral map that let participants see how many people viewed their submissions.

Adapting store designs to their space, neighborhood and unique customer base is key for brick-and-mortar’s future.

British retailer John Lewis’ flexible-format, 65,000-square-foot department store in the U.K.’s Exeter City Centre is a move in the right direction.
While it has a traditional full-line store’s range of departments—apparel, home and electronics—it pulls back on the assortment’s breadth.

The design team used digital technology to highlight multi-channel retailing. Interactive information screens provide product information and quick access to online ordering.

In some instances the technology engages shoppers differently; some screens are equipped with a series of questions intended to help shoppers find the best product to match their needs. Some departments feature wall displays near the screen where samples of items like towels and bedding can be seen and touched before ordering.

Mercy Health System now has an ambulatory medical facility at Plymouth Meeting Mall in suburban Philadelphia. The two-story, 23,500-square-foot satellite location has offices for primary care physicians and specialists; suites for physical therapy and non-invasive procedures; imaging facilities; and a walk-in clinic.

The facility is said to be the Northeast’s first full-scale medical health and wellness center in an enclosed mall. Mercy Health System also promoted the idea with fresh marketing; its Web site teases a “healthier shopping experience” with phrases such as “Jewelry, Shoes, MRIs,” and “Good Health is Always in Fashion.”

Shoe and apparel retailer Zappos wants to convert Pinterest enthusiasts into e-commerce shoppers.

To wit, Zappos Labs created PinPointing, a service that recommends Zappos products based on Pinterest pins and boards. The Web page suggests compatible items such as shoes, dresses and accessories that are available from Zappos.

So far, exact matches of the items “pinned” are rare; and it’s sometimes difficult to connect the dots between an image pinned and the suggestions offered.

While Zappo’s online store got approval from Pinterest for the PinPointing site, there’s no formal partnership.

Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea is looking to digital technology to bring its 2013 catalog—which goes to 211 million consumers each year—to life.

To leverage the power of digital and social platforms, Ikea added augmented reality to its 2013 catalog.

The videogame industry has used augmented reality, which overlays computer graphics and displays on real-world media.

Ikea’s catalog readers now can download an Ikea app to their mobile device and scan catalog pages with digital content so they can access additional embedded information on products—turning printed catalog pages into 3D views, videos and how-to information.

Special symbols that resemble smartphones printed throughout the catalog invite readers to use their devices to receive the augmented images.

Health foods company Zipongo Life’s Healthy Deals program is offering consumers discounts for health-friendly purchases.

Zipongo Life users receive deals tailored to their diet, sleep habits and exercise routines. Subscribers pre-purchase featured brands online and redeem deals at area grocery stores, with discounts ranging from 50 to 90 percent.

The platform assesses potential food deals using generally accepted nutrition principles from the Institute of Medicine and Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Participating brands include Newman’s Own, Evol Burritos, Stonyfield Farms, Zico Coconut Water and Clover Organic Farms.

Schoola helps cash-starved schools create fresh fundraisers, and it’s worth a closer look from retailers.

The online fundraising platform from Savvy Source connects schools to businesses of all sizes, but unlike other daily deal sites, Schoola does not require 50 percent discounts on products or services. Businesses have greater control over the deals they offer and can work directly with school parents to negotiate prices.

In November, Schoola deals included brands such as Omaha Steaks, clothing retailer zulily and 1-800-Flowers.

Last September, Forbes reported that businesses lined up with Schoola could see $25 million in sales before the fall’s end.

eBay’s “Help Me Shop” bookmarklet is a social-media friendly tool that allows consumers to get help from their friends when deciding what to buy.

Once the Help Me Shop bookmarklet is installed, consumers can shop from any Web site, saving favorite items and sharing them with Facebook friends.

From the bookmarklet they can select up to six items to poll their friends about. The program tallies up poll responses, giving the consumer impetus to make a purchase that has received the endorsement of friends.

eBay calls this approach “social shopping,” counting on the fact that selections can be made beyond products and services sold on eBay gives the approach added appeal.

A key to Help Me Shop: eBay’s use of a bookmarklet, which places a small dialog box on the side of users’ browser windows.

Moda Operandi a way to bring the fashion runway to the consumer, offering shoppers access to designer fashions immediately after they appear on the runway versus waiting six months or more.

Exclusive online trunk shows of just-debuted items are available for three to seven days, then designers produce the pieces based on pre-orders, and Moda Operandi delivers them to shoppers.

Founded by Àslaug Magnúsdóttir and former Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo, Moda Operandi features designers such as Carolina Herrera, Marc Jacobs and Narciso Rodriguez. Membership perks include recommendations from top stylists, access to a personal shopping assistant, and online tools that allow shoppers to view items from every angle.

With existing and new home sales expected to rise this year, realtors are showing more listings to more potential residential and commercial consumers. Agents, buyers and sellers are finding that apps provide more power to see photos and videos and access demographic and mapping information.

Leasing agents from Simon Property Group use an iPad app that provides access to the company’s entire portfolio, including a sales presentation, photos, video and 3D walk-throughs of properties. Simon credits the app with helping its agents close deals.

The National Association of Realtors also is into smart applications. Its mobile app offers agents “anytime, anywhere access” to listings information.

Consumers can use apps to see recently sold properties near homes for sale, search out foreclosure properties, receive updates on listings, find reduced property prices, access general news and information and calculate payment.

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