Macy's transformation

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Martine Reardon, CMO of Macy's
Martine Reardon, CMO of Macy's

“We were like, how do we bring celebrity inspiration and tips and advice to customers at the point of purchase in the store? Well, we could use mobile,” says Claire Capeci, global business director of JWT New York, which developed the Backstage Pass program with the retailer. “That's where Martine and Macy's said, ‘Let's just do it.' Even if it's not something that a million people interact with out of the gate, we know they will [over time].”

With the rapid adoption of smartphones, Reardon says the access that visitors have to download the QR codes has doubled since the company began the program. However, while smartphone use has exploded, Macy's sees perhaps even greater potential in the surging e-commerce potential of tablets.

“What we're finding is that as much as people are using the mobile device to research and gain information about certain things, more purchasing is happening on the tablet, and it's simply because the canvas is so much better. You can see it and it's easier to use,” Reardon says. “It absolutely is where the future is going.”

Digital inspiration

Macy's continues to be a leader in its use of technology and the innovative ways it has used it to get its marketing message out to consumers.

“They have the absolute right mentality about how to think about all these new channels. It's an attitude of ‘Let's experiment, let's rapidly improve and/or fix,” says W. Sean Ford, COO and CMO of Zmags, which develops interactive mobile content and catalogs for retailers. “That attitude is almost unique among retailers. They seem to be fearless.”

Zmags released a study in February that found many retailers have yet to take full advantage of the potential of tablets and smartphones.

With a tablet site that sticks closely with its standard website, Macy's still has work to do in maximizing mobile offerings, Ford says. However, he points to the company's Believe-o-Magic app, launched during the holidays last year, which uses augmented reality to allow shoppers to take photos of themselves with the characters from the Macy's “Yes Virginia” Christmas special, as an effective customer engagement tool.

“It is specifically tied to something their customers would readily identify with — Christmas — and has the interactive camera piece to it that connects them back to the in-store experience, along with the touch elements, creating a really full experience,” Ford says. “They recognize that this is a circular system that we live in — all the offline activity is starting to connect back to the digital environment.”

He adds that consumer research conducted by Zmags about incorporating digital into the in-store experience revealed that consumers most often responded to “a sense of inspiration.” Macy's has used digital marketing to create this sense of inspiration better than perhaps any other retailer, Ford argues.

This deeper brand message has allowed the company to avoid having to resort to bombarding customers with promotions and special offers to pull them into the store.

“They have a limited amount of promotions, just enough to keep the consumer engaged,” says Jharonne Martis-Olivo, a retail analyst at Thomson Reuters. “Some would be Saturday-only or they send an email, if you are a subscriber. They will send you an email offering a 40% discount just for the day.”

She contrasts Macy's limited approach to promotions with JCPenney, which until recently would send out email blasts often more than once a day. JCPenney's recent overhaul of its marketing and promotion plan, simplifying it and cutting down significantly on the volume of offers, is something of a validation of Macy's more targeted messaging.

This “inspiration” message can be seen in how Macy's utilizes celebrity partners, such as Kelly Osbourne and Madonna's daughter Lourdes, who have helped draw pre-teen and teenage customers into the stores.

Last year, it began “designer collaborations” with well-known or up-and-coming designers, launching exclusive fashion lines at Macy's price points. This message is emphasized through digital channels, connecting the message to the specific department through which the offer is being run. The latest collaboration, doo.ri, launched with designer Doo-Ri Chung, was rolled out under Macy's Impulse sub-brand.

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