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Monthly Issue

From Home Furnishing Business

Publisher's Letter : Merchandising Can Set Stores Apart

Consumers have more choice than ever before, and everyone is trying to get their money.

Most retailers are quick to say the ecommerce business models are difficult to compete against. They have lower overheads and in most case, fewer employees, both which allow them to offer the same products at lower prices. So what is a brick–and-mortar retailer to do?

When I did my holiday shopping last month, I bought no gifts online, not even one. Yes, it would have been easier to sit on my sofa, watch TV in my warm house and shop online. No crowds to deal with, no worries about parking, no strollers getting in my way, just me and an iPad knocking out my list of gifts.

Instead, I ventured out to the mall and small retail locations to shop. Why you ask? Because I wanted to see what was new, and what retailers were doing to promote these items.

I needed to learn the latest kid friendly items, so I could get those gifts for my nieces and nephews. Not having (or wanting) kids of my own, I needed to find out what was available. I needed help because the kid’s department is not a familiar stop.

While shopping, knowing this retail merchandising was coming up this month, I looked at things a bit differently. How were these stores merchandising? I began my “surveying” as I approached every store. What did the outside of the building look like? Were the windows clean so I could see in them? Were the aisles clean and passable? Was the presentation of products appealing to me? Could I find an associate to help me with questions? (Remember I’m in the children’s section.)

These are the differences between a retail location and shopping online. This is where you have the advantage. You have the opportunity to have grand displays, whether it is seasonal or not. You have the chance to create an ambience that can’t be duplicated on a Web site.
You invested in the premium location, now you need to offer a premium shopping experience, that’s how you separate yourself from other retailers and Web sites. Merchandising is more than placing your products on a shelf, it’s about the image you want your business to have. The businesses I like to shop are clean, neat, well-maintained and always ask me to please come back again. These are the things that will get shoppers in your door and back again.

This month’s issue covers the merchandising angle and is a great read to gain a better handle on store merchandising. Learn from your peers about what they are doing to create an environment that attracts customers and helps get products moving out your doors. I’m sure many of you believe you are hitting all the right buttons to make this happen. If you feel this way, walk out your door and do your own “survey” with your location and then go to your largest competitor’s store. If you are so busy you can’t find the time, just ask a customer on the showroom floor for an honest opinion, that could be interesting.
Hope to see you around market!

On Bedding : A Few Minutes with ‘The Sleep Doctor’

 Known as “The Sleep Doctor,” Dr. Michael Breus , Ph.D. certainly has substantial cred to justify that title. A clinical psychologist who has specialized in sleep disorders, Dr. Breus is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. His 2011 book, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, details the connections between sleep and metabolism, and he has appeared on a variety of TV talk shows, including “Oprah” and “Dr. Oz.”


Dr. Breus has applied his expertise to a mattress collection, The Dr. Breus Bed, now at retail. He recently spoke with Home Furnishings Business about his beds, their benefits, and their retail potential.

HFB: Let’s say I’m a new customer walking into a store.  You’re a retail sales associate. How do you guide me to your beds?

Dr. Breus: I would say that probably the most salient points of the beds are, warm people sleep cool and cool people sleep warm. So one of the first questions that I teach RSAs about, is to ask people ,“How did you sleep last night?” Not what price they want to pay or what size—we’ll get to those questions later. I really want them to get into a conversation about health. And there are some easy questions to ask:

“How many times did you hit the snooze button?” That’s actually a telltale sign of how sleep-deprived somebody is. If you hit the snooze button more than once, your body doesn’t want to get out of bed, which means you haven’t gotten enough sleep yet.

I ask people questions like, “How long did it take you to fall asleep?” Somebody will say, “Oh, less than five minutes.” That’s actually not a good scenario. Your body should take somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes to fall asleep. So if it’s not taking that long, again it means you’re sleep-deprived and your body’s forcing you into sleep very quickly.

We ask consumers if temperature is a problem for them. Also, “Do have any pain when you sleep?” So again, we’re talking about physiology-based questions. “How old is your mattress?” sometimes is a very interesting sign. I don’t believe there’s a particular number of years a mattress should be held onto by a consumer. I think your body tells you when you need a new bed. So when you wake up with aches and pains, it’s probably time to think about a new bed. I will say, I think there’s an upper-level limit, but I don’t like people holding onto their beds more than seven years.

HFB: Price is going to be a part of this conversation, especially in a tough economy.

So how do RSAs get past that and sell the benefits you’re trying to bring to this industry?

Dr. Breus: One of the things that I always talk to with RSAs is that we have to give people an understanding of what the value of sleep really is. For me, I think it is immeasurable, but I’m a sleep doctor, right? I understand that people have a fiscal responsibility that they have to know and understand. These products were designed to help you sleep better and sleep longer and deeper for an extended period of time.

This is not a product that you’re going to buy again in two years, three years, four years. It’s really an investment in sleep, so that’s how we have people talk about it. Price is really the last thing that they come to. It’s really about, “How important is sleep in your life?” And if sleep is important in your life, then this makes sense. It’s like eyeglasses to me.

This absolutely has been effective so far. There are definitely consumers out there who say “I’m not spending more than $599 on a bed.” I understand that. I’m responsive to that. That’s not where these products lie. Will we ever get there? Maybe. I’m not sure. Here’s my problem: The materials in these beds are so specific, and I spend so much time finding the right (ones), that if I actually get the right material in the bed, the raw materials cost more than $599. So I can’t get down to that price unless I cheapen the materials, and I’m just not going to do that.

HFB: How has the response been at retail for your line?
Dr. Breus: It’s been excellent. We’ve been thrilled with what’s been going on with people.  … We’ve been very thrilled with the response—and it’s interesting, people are much more interested in selling health as opposed to selling a puffy rectangle.

And I like that idea. I’m here to try to change the industry, with the industry. I want to educate the industry and all of the RSAs out there. I believe that everybody who owns a sleep shop or a furniture store that sells mattresses is actually a healthcare professional. This is a piece of healthcare equipment, that’s how I look at it. I always say, “If you were going to run a marathon, you wouldn’t do it in flip flops, right? You’d do it in good shoes.” The same holds true for a bed. The people should be matched—the right bed for their sleep needs, and they will perform better and be healthier.

Editor's Letter : Dining Inspiration

Lately in my travels, as well as here at home, I’ve been to a few restaurants. Some of them new; some of them well-established spots. Each of them sport their own special slant on eats, and some offer drop-dead, gorgeous décor. The design in a few give you the feel of walking into a RH catalog or, better yet, someone’s well-appointed, comfortably dressed home. How welcoming and calming.

While in Philadelphia for a team pow-wow last month, we went to a relatively new spot, Route 6 (Route6Restaurant.com) named after the highway that begins in Provincetown, Mass., and meanders through Cape Cod.  The restaurant is located just South of our offices in Philly, in an area that is undergoing a resurgence. A number of great eateries have popped up and more are sure to follow.

Walking through the door, it hit me that there is an abundance of decorating ideas staring every one of Route 6’s diners in the face. Cozy, linen covered banquettes coupled with a feast of blond wood and metal accents. The welcoming décor makes you want to move right in. It’s an upscale beachy feel, without being kitschy—or sandy.

Another favorite in the city of Brotherly Love is The Continental Mid-Town (ContinentalMidTown.com) on Chestnut Street, not far from the famed city hall. A small-plates joint with a great mix of food to meet a variety of tastes.

Both restaurants are owned by Starr Restaurants, but the vibe of each is quite different. The Continental Mid-Town offers a more retro feel with 1960s-era chairs, curved banquettes and brightly colored tables. Upstairs you’ll find hanging wicker swing seats that allow diners to gently sway while dining.

It’s just a hip, relaxed space that serves a mean lobster mac n’ cheese and scrumptious Thai chicken wraps. Never a bad meal.

On the West Coast in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., I was fortunate enough to dine with a great old friend recently at Veladora, (RanchoValencia.com/Dining)the stunning restaurant at the newly renovated and recently reopened Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa.

A spectactular farm-to-table menu and a beautiful hacienda-style setting with open ceiling beams and dramatic metal chandeliers make diners want to linger long over drinks, dinner and dessert.

So what the heck do restaurants have to do with furniture retailing? In addition to the fact that consumers spend a lot of change on dining out these days, restaurants have become another space for  consumers to turn for inspiration in home decorating.

Your stores should be the first stop in finding that inspiration. Well-merchandised stores tend to be more successful that those that just toss the sofas on floor and line them up like soldiers waiting to march out the front door.

In this issue, we talk merchandising. Most specifically the marriage of a well-merchandised floor and a well-merchandised Web site. The two must go hand in hand, working together to entice consumers.

Enjoy the read, and we all look forward to seeing many of you at the market in Las Vegas.

Sell Your Story

If you’re tired of hearing about how the online world impacts your business, turn to the next article, because like it or not the focus of this month’s issue—merchandising—leads us once again to cyberspace.

We hope the following will encourage you to take a hard look at your store’s Web presence and how well it integrates into the merchandising philosophy customers see when they walk in your door.

You have a store, you have a sign out front, and you advertise, but when your customer decides to shop for furniture, guess where they’re going and what they see first in most cases?

If your answers aren’t “the Internet” and “my Web site,” think again. You might spend a lot of time making displays with strong visual appeal. You might have a special area of focus—be it brands, “green” furnishings or Made-in-America—but if your Web site doesn’t tell that tale, you’ll likely tell your story on your actual showroom floor to fewer than might be possible.

Read on for thoughts from retail observers and service providers, and examples of your colleagues who are working to better match online and in-store customer experiences.

WORLDS COLLIDE
In a consumer’s mind, there’s no difference between your store’s Web site and the brick-and-mortar—it’s all what Paco Underhill calls retail “convergence.

“The better integration of the online world and brick-and-mortar—particularly in home furnishings, when someone might come to a store once a quarter, maybe once a year—is very important, their use of (online) to pre-shop,” said Underhill, CEO and president of New York City-based global research and consulting firm Envirosell.

“And when someone is in the store, encourage them to visit the Web site.

“It’s all ‘convergence’—the meeting of brick-and-mortar, smartphones and the Internet. Retailers are scared of it because of showrooming—afraid they’ll come to the store, look around, go online and buy it somewhere else—and some of that’s because many haven’t effectively utilized the available tools to this point.”
In his consulting with retailers, Underhill likes to show a series of pictures of a store’s online presence, and then compare those to pictures from inside the store. The process can frequently reveal disconnects.

“There (are) often inconsistencies in the language used online versus in the store—the product terms themselves are often different,” Underhill said. “Retailers have to remember that to customers, the Internet site and the store aren’t silos, but one integrated brand.”

FINDING SOLUTIONS
With consumers hitting the Web first in many cases when shopping for furniture, how do retailers build merchandising excitement online for what shoppers can anticipate seeing in the store? And how do they create a more seamless experience between their online and physical presence in terms of presentation and attitude?
Merchandising issues were front-and-center this past year for FurnitureDealer.net; the Minneapolis furniture Internet consultant created four new client merchandising positions—one each for mattresses and appliances, and two for furniture.
“We’ve been super-focused on customizing our basic template for merchandising,” said FurnitureDealer.net Founder Andy Bernstein. “A year or two ago, it was basically a giant product catalog, but now we’re building tools to make it super-easy for consumers to find a needle in a haystack.”
That led to FurnitureDealer.net’s development of “sites within a site” that communicate what Bernstein called “the businesses within the businesses” of its retail clients.

“We’re trying to go deep and understand our clients and their merchandising and business strategies,” he said. “We’re creating microsites that create a shopping environment for what the consumer is seeking. Unless a person’s building a new home, they’re shopping more specifically, say, for their daughter’s bedroom.”

And since that shopper will more likely search for “girl’s bedroom furniture” than a specific retailer, a store’s youth bedroom microsite popping up on the search benefits the retailer from a search-engine-optimization (SEO) standpoint.

“It’s a section of the Web site that talks about those merchandising terms,” Bernstein said.

BRAND SYNCHRONICITY

In addition to SEO optimization, microsites tied to specific brands can better ride the promotional wave generated by vendors around their products.

“There are advertising resources being spent to communicate these brands, and this allows our retailers to reinforce that,” Bernstein noted. “People go out and Google these in brand terms.”

Retailers are reacting, too. FurnitureDealer.net provided examples.

“I just did a program with Pilgrim Furniture City (in Connecticut) on Ashley’s iKidz, Bardini and Livin Den,” said Kayla Robb, one of FurnitureDealer.net’s furniture merchandising consultant. “Pilgrim wanted to call attention on their home page to each.

“For the new HGTV Collection, we’ve created a microsite page for multiple retailers.”

From the home page, a link takes browsers to a brand-specific microsite with art and/or video that creates an online atmosphere more like that in the store.

“We can also feature (microsites) by category—contemporary, mountain living, casual living, French laundry,” Robb said. “The pages link from their home page; and we use smart links to take the shopper directly to product. But before that, we can show customization available like wood finish and hardware.”

MERCHANDISING CATEGORIES ONLINE

Carolyn Mann, FurnitureDealer.net’s other furniture merchandising consultant, also has received requests for work on brands, but more as part of umbrella microsites than brand-specific pages.

“Specific brands are something I’ve been addressing lately,” she said. “I’ve been asked about Amish lines or Made in America, for example, so there are certain vendors clients want to feature.”

(See accompanying “Online Merchandising: Microsites” in these pages to find examples such as Upstate New York retailer Old Brick’s Amish Furniture microsite, or Florida retailer Hudson’s Furniture’s Made-In-America page.)

“Our goal is to reflect on line as best we can how they sell in the store,” Robb said.

“And it’s not just brands. Knight Furniture wanted to emphasize their baby business, so they made a microsite for it.”

ONLINE ‘CURB APPEAL’

The microsite approach, Bernstein believes, is a better way to set online shoppers up for finding what they want than presenting page after page of beds, sofas, etc. Of course, all that product information still resides on the Web site, and is accessible from the microsites via links once the consumer has a better idea of exactly what she’s looking for.

Microsites can be tailored to specific goals: Pilgrim’s Bardini site, for instance, is more about the collection and contemporary lifestyle; while Old Brick’s Amish furniture page highlights manufacturer attributes such as the hand-craftsmanship consumers would expect from the category.

“Instead of having a whole similar template they’re looking at, consumers now can explore a site within a site,” Bernstein said. “This is a translation on the Web of what they’ll see in the store.”

Vendors are excited about the idea. Take HGTV.

“In this case, it was relationship-driven with the manufacturer,” Bernstein said. “Our clients are committing serious floor space to that line.”

Mann said the HGTV microsite stands out as a visually appealing brand page.

“All our clients who see this who are carrying HGTV want this right away,” she noted. “You get a real vibe from the page.”

Mann added that Belfort Furniture’s Sealy Optimum microsite incorporates a lot of video: “That’s something we’ve been adding to a lot of pages.”
Video is especially useful in bedding, said Bernstein.

“Typically, a mattress offerings page on a Web site looks like all the same product,” he pointed out. “This allows you to really tell that Sealy Optimum story. It helps our clients create visibility around their brand message. … We’re working with manufacturers more on video to tell the story online.”

Other online merchandising developments Bernstein highlighted include tabbed browsing that emphasizes in-stock versus special order.

“Some retailers want to highlight their inventory position,” he said. “And we now have the ability to let the retailer control the sort order on product pages. They might have ordered a container, so they want to have that up front.”

Fresh Thinking

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.

OFFER MORE OPTIONS
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.

PHYSICAL MEETS VIRTUAL
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.

HEALTHY CHOICES
“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.
THE RIGHT FOOTPRINT
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.
SPICING UP REWARDS
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.
SOCIAL CROWD SOURCING
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.
WINKING AT INNOVATION
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.

FOCUS ON SENIORS
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.

QUALITY FACEBOOK TIME
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.

FLEXIBLE FORMAT
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.

ENGAGE WELLNESS
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.”

PINS TO PURCHASES
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.

BRING A CATALOG TO LIFE
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.

MAKING SMART CHOICES PAY
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.

COMMUNITY CHEST
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.

HELPING HANDS
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.

FASHION FORWARD
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.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
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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