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Holiday Shopper Sentiment Report: Behind-the-Scenes Q&A

Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson talks with Michael Schulze, Senior Vice President & General Manager, North America Retail Industry, SAP America, about  the motivation behind the "Black Friday and Cyber Monday Consumer Face-Off," and the technology used to uncover its insights, in the following Q&A:

Where did the idea for the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Consumer Face-Off originate?
In today’s retail world, we all know that the shopper is in charge. Engaging with the customer today means meeting them on their “shopping turf” or channel, not waiting for them to come to you. Single-day events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday represent defined ways of shopping during defined time parameters. With omni-channel shopping on the increase, we wanted to see how consumers are using social media to find, track and report deals during the kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

Beyond “how many times” was a retailer or experience called out, we wanted to understand the types of shopper sentiment that was associated with these two days. Were they blasé about the prospects of shopping on Black Friday, or was it going to be a life changing event? Did they love or hate the retailer, the deals, the lineups, or the ease of check out? As shoppers become more tech-savvy and loyalty neutral, retailers need to understand not only what customers are saying about the experience of shopping, but also how passionate they feel about the actual experience.

How exactly will SAP be tracking consumer sentiment those two days? What tools will you be using?
Consumer sentiment, as well as a number of other metrics, were tracked using SAP Social Media Analytics by Netbase. With its powerful Natural Language Processing (NLP) engine, SAP Social Media Analytics stores and interprets the last year of conversations from Facebook, twitter, and 165 million other sites across the social web – including social media networks, blogs, product review sites, forums, news sites, etc. – and provides insights into emotions, behaviors, brands, themes, passion, and sentiment.

By aggregating all these sources of data, we can quickly identify patterns – either by time of day, geography, news events, or retail activities. This is the same system used by SAP customers to both listen to – and engage with their customers – either to tune their retailing experience, or optimize the customer service experience.

Who/what will you be tracking?
Although we can slice and dice information about any retailer, for the face-off we chose a representative sample of tier 1 and tier 2 retailers across apparel, footwear, big box, chain and department stores. We are focused on monitoring consumer sentiment towards categories (such as tablets), and brands (such as specific retailers or online sites.) Cross analysis allows us to compare these searches for helpful insights – for example, are customers talking about new tablet computers more in the context of online retailers while storefronts get the majority of fashion and other hard goods?

What type of insights can we expect? What will the data show?
The data shows how the consumer felt about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. SAP Social Media Analytics allows us to slice the data in multiple ways and to drill into that data in pursuit of important trends. Saying that most consumers had a ‘neutral’ opinion on Black Friday sales betrays the flexibility of Business Intelligence. The law of averages means that consumers can have a ‘neutral’ experience as a result of an outstanding experience with one retailer and a disastrous experience with another. Their ‘neutrality’ is interesting, but their ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ are far MORE interesting. It’s also interesting to understand how sentiment changes over the course of the day in the aggregate … and for specific segments of customers or retailers. How did the experience of a “Fashion” shopper differ from the “Electronics” shopper and what insights can be put into play to keep those shoppers engaged? Retailers themselves can use this technology to mine insights into how each of their locations is doing against one another (and their target) … or over the course of a full business day.

How will this information help retailers going forward?
We all recognize the role that Thanksgiving weekend plays in the success of a retailers holiday season. But, what about the other 362 days? Successful retailers are using monitoring solutions to stay engaged with their customer over the course of the year. Today’s nimble retailers can identify consumer sentiment souring on one product, and respond through a merchandising or pricing decision. If by early morning Friday it’s clear that Tablets are the ‘must have’ item, smart retailers are adjusting promotions and displays accordingly … maybe that means offering companion offers … or reallocating square footage.

Today’s omni-channel consumer has very high expectations for how he/she expects to shop. Their loyalty is only awarded to retailers who meet him/her on their channel. Retailers who can react and respond to the social sentiment expressed by the omni-channel consumer have a greater opportunity to interact and keep that customer loyal. Profiling, listening, and engaging with the customer is becoming more important aspect of any thoughtful retail strategy. The way you engage with a ‘Black Friday Only’ shopper may be different from the way you engage with one of your most loyal customers who just happens to be shopping on Black Friday.

Personalizing the retail experience begins with understanding how consumers live, work and play. Delivering enhanced experiences requires crucial omni-channel insights provided by consumer data that is no longer dependent on levels of aggregation. Increasingly, social media data is every bit as important as other enterprise data points. In the modern retail environment – especially in the new ‘online vs. storefront’ world, information is the great leveler.


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