Facebook users hit 'like'; stores jump into action

NEW YORK — Facebook isn’t just for goofy pictures and chatter. Whether shoppers know it or not, their actions online help dictate what’s in stores this holiday season.


After polling customers on the social media site, Macy’s decided to carry denim jeans in bright neon hues rather than pastels. Wal-Mart let customers vote for the first time on which toys they want discounted. A small business owner in Mississippi that sells decorative flags is running a contest that encourages customers to chime in about how they’re decorating their homes this winter.

For the first time this year, one of Macy’s apparel buyers suggested it solicit feedback on Facebook on which colors it should stock for “Else” brand jeans in the fall leading up to the holiday season. Several weeks later, with about 2,500 “likes” and 750 comments, “Very Vivid” colors in bright blue, orange and red were declared the victor over softer shades such as baby pink and baby blue.

The company, which has more than 9 million “likes” on Facebook, followed up with a poll in July on whether it should carry a “Kensie” brand dress in a bird or floral print. About 4,000 people issued their verdicts within 48 hours, and the department store plans to carry the floral print this February.

One hurdle for major retailers is that it’s difficult to take the information they learn online and put it to use while the trends are still relevant, said Nicolas Franchet, the head of retail e-commerce at Facebook.

That’s one of the trickier aspects of Wal-Mart’s “Toyland Tuesday” contest, which lets fans vote on which of two toys will be discounted on the following Tuesday. Once a winner is declared on Thursday, the retailer acts quickly to tell its 4,000 stores how to adjust pricing and displays, says Wanda Young,
the company’s senior director of social media.
Last year, Wal-Mart acquired an analytics company called Kosmix that monitors online chatter to try and predict what products might suddenly become popular. The unit, now called @Walmartlabs, suggested the retailer give juicers prominent display for the holidays last year, after a movie about an obese man who lost weight on a juice diet started trending online.

In a more unusual case, outdoor retailer Gander Mountain is running a promotion that lets customers determine the price of its products.

Every Thursday during the holiday season, customers can push down the price on five selected items by sharing them on Facebook or Twitter. The more shares an item gets, the lower the price goes; discounts start at 10 percent but can go as high as 50 percent. Shoppers can jump in and buy the items at any point or wait for a lower discount but risk that the store will run out of the items.

“The customer has to decide. Do I buy it at 25 percent off or do I risk that Gander runs out of the jacket?” said Steve Uline, executive vice president of marketing of Gander Mountain, which has more than 500,000 “likes” on Facebook. “It makes it interesting for the consumer.”