Holiday ShoppingSocial marketing has changed the way retail customers do their shopping – and the emergence of retailers who are using new marketing channels to reach out to shoppers is the proof of the pudding! Retailers have recognized that consumers are becoming more tech-savvy, aware and connected. Be it online or offline, technology has invaded almost all aspects of business promotion. Shop.org’s eHoliday survey found that 80.6% of merchants will spread the word about in-store deals via Facebook – more than the 73.7% who did so last year. Shoppers also look to social media for gift ideas and inspiration. More than 13%will check Facebook and 5.8 % will use Pinterest to get ideas, according to NRF.

Hoardings, print advertisements and newspaper coupons are all passé – the new age retailer is adopting new age tools to lure his customer

To grab the attention of these social media savvy consumers, retailers are taking the unconventional route to market their products. Hoardings, print advertisements and newspaper coupons are all passé – the new age retailer is adopting new age tools to lure his customer – especially around the holiday season that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas. These days are rather special not just for shoppers who are out and about looking for gifts for their loved ones, but also for many retailers because nearly 30 to 40% of their annual turnover comes from this season.

So what social marketing initiatives have retailers used to cash in on this holiday season?

The online + offline route to breaking records

Holiday Retail MarketingSome retailers like Kmart began their holiday marketing initiatives right from Halloween. To create a buzz around its Halloween costumes, Kmart hosted a live event in Chicago featuring dancer Monternez “Monty” Rezell (of ‘America’s Got Talent’ fame) who performed in 150 of Kmart’s 3,000 Halloween costumes – in just six hours and five minutes! Mommy bloggers were invited to attend the event, and it was streamed live on UStream. The #Kmartworldrecord hashtag allowed people to follow and share event updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The event saw Rezell set a Guinness World Record for the maximum number of costume changes in a given time. The successful campaign combined an offline, live event with online social media engagement to generate the necessary buzz around it.

Rewarding interactions on social media platforms – literally!

Retail Social Media MarketingDunkin’Donut also began its holiday promotion around Halloween. To promote its new mobile payment and gifting app, Dunkin’Donut sold limited edition Mobile Dunkin’ Donuts cards, featuring several “unique Halloween themed designs.” It enabled people to send virtual gift cards via text, email and Facebook Connect. The campaign featured a social media contest: participating fans could ‘dress up’ their coffee cup for a chance to win a $100 Dunkin’Donuts Card. To share photos of their cups in Halloween costumes, fans had to use the hashtag #DresseDD when they tweeted @DunkinDonuts or posted to Instagram.

For the holiday season, department store chain Saks Fifth Avenue is building excitement by giving away $2,000 gift card to five Pinterest users for its “Pin it to Win it” holiday contest. Users must pin six items from Saks’ website that they want to give as gifts for the holidays and name their board to enter the contest. Those who enter the contest are also asked to follow Saks on Pinterest.

To promote its new mobile payment and gifting app, Dunkin’Donut sold limited edition Mobile Dunkin’ Donuts cards, featuring several “unique Halloween themed designs”

While these two retailers are taking a now somewhat conventional way, there are some others who are experimenting with the medium too. For its holiday shopping season Swarovski has launched “Multiface(t)s: Style Yourself with Jewelry” mobile app which brings together mobile, augmented reality and Instagram. Users can choose from a piece of jewelry, try them using augmented reality technology and then upload their images to Instagram using the hashtag #swarovskistyle. Winners can receive a Swarovski watch or bangle. The contest creates several personalized ads for Swarovski which then gets promoted through Instagram and Facebook.

Mobile apps and deal: facilitating hyper-local bonding

Retail Mobile AppsFor the holiday season, Toys R Us has revamped its mobile strategy. Not only has it optimized its app for various mobile devices, but has also ensured that its shopping deals reach the right consumer. Mobile users can enter their zip code in the app and get weekly ads and deals from their local store. Users can also specify their “home store” in order to receive location-specific ads. They can also participate in text-based marketing by texting a keyword to receive special SMS notifications with coupons, deals and event information.

With ‘showrooming’ becoming a popular phenomenon, the tug-of-war between offline and online is here to stay but some retailers are using mobile technology to bridge the gap. Wal-Mart updated its mobile app for the holiday season to include maps of individual stores that highlighted the locations of big Black Friday markdowns. Even Google promoted its indoor floor plans of major retailers in an effort to promote ‘the secret to a friction-free Black Friday’. Layouts of shopping destinations like the Mall of America in Minnesota and Macy’s in New York are included in Google Maps for Android.

Wal-Mart updated its mobile app for the holiday season to include maps of individual stores that highlighted the locations of big Black Friday markdowns.

These retailers have definitely learnt a lesson or two from Amazon’s Price Check iPhone app – launched in 2010 – which helps customers find the lowest price by scanning the barcode of a product using the app. Since its launch, the app has created a big dent in the profits of some major offline retailers as their prices are usually higher than Amazon’s online prices.

Cutting queues short the QR code way

Retail QR CodeTo make holiday shopping more convenient for its shoppers, Target has equipped 20 of its featured toys with QR codes. In-store customers can just scan these codes, make the payment through their mobiles and then have these toys shipped for free anywhere in the U.S. Target’s attempt might just set the new standards of customer experience – no more waiting in long queues and no more bothering about packing and delivering the gift personally!

Social marketing has definitely opened up new avenues for retailers who want to create deeper engagements with customers. While some brands are using fun, online strategies this festive season to catch the attention of social media savvy customers, others are creating unique engagement strategies that combine online and offline channels.

So tell us – what social marketing strategies have you got planned for this holiday season?