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Suppliers Testing Social Media

Helping build customer relations

NEW YORK - As home textiles suppliers mind their marketing budgets as one of many measures to keep costs down, social networking media sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly fitting into their plans to build customer relations.
     The trend is still evolving, as many home textiles suppliers are still trying grasp the benefits of networking directly with shoppers - and customers - through social online venues. An informal search by HTT found many home textiles companies not yet involved in social networking.
     But a few industry companies in the past few months have opened pages on Facebook or "tweet" on Twitter and are updating at least weekly.
      And some have already invested more deeply in their ecommerce tactics, creating new staff teams dedicated strictly to operating online business and social networking efforts.
     "Social networking is revolutionizing the way we communicate, even in our industry," said Jannice Cameron-Chapital, vp of marketing of the 55-year-old basic bedding company Hollander Home Fashions, based in Boca Raton, Fla. "Hollander is getting more involved in social networking."
     The company opened its Facebook page about three months ago, and recently Cameron- Chapital said she hired someone to exclusively handle the company's website and the social networking efforts.
     "So, while we are pretty new at it, we are seeing how important and valuable it is," Cameron- Chapital noted. "Facebook is an important tool that allows us to communicate directly with consumers. It is quickly becoming an immediate conversation between the marketers and the consumers. ‘Where can I get this? What colors does this come in? I love this pillow - where is it sold?' are questions we are getting directly from the consumer every day on Facebook. We are able to respond immediately to the consumer and it also gives us the opportunity to follow up later to make sure they were able to purchase the product and get valuable feedback."
     More importantly, she added, Facebook is "a great free tool to use to get information directly to the consumer, which in the end drives traffic to the retailers."
     New York-based Croscill/Ex- Cell/Glenoit opened its Facebook page two months ago, led by the company's recently installed e-commerce and social networking team, said David North, vp, marketing.
     "We are still learning, but we certainly know we are on the tight track," he continued. "We use the site to reach out to consumers, answer their questions on design, trends, products, innovation, etcetera. Our parent company, Patriarch Partners, is completely supportive of this initiative and the catalyst."
     As North noted, the day is still young for social media, and tapping their full potential is an ongoing effort for many suppliers. In fact, some like Creative Bath Products are still evaluating the role Facebook plays - and can play in the future - of the home textiles industry.
     "Since there is no formal documented data, the buyers we deal with seem so busy and overwhelmed with work that they rely on our sales personal to keep them abreast on new product information and company updates and seldom visit the website. Do they even have the time to Facebook or ‘Tweet'?" noted Bob Weiss, vp, sales and marketing, Central Islip-based Creative Bath Products.
     Weiss makes a plausible point, recent research shows.
The first of a two-part series NRF's Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research earlier this year, "The State of Retailing Online 2010: Marketing, Social Commerce and Mobile," found that the return on investment (ROI) for social commerce still remains unclear for web retailers. For this study, Forrester said it asked web retailers to share levels of interactive marketing spend, effectiveness of social commerce initiatives, and investment in mobile activity.
     "Due to massive consumer adoption, social media marketing is growing in importance for retail brand-building campaigns and for driving traffic to stores. However, while interactive marketing continues to be a quantitative science with effectiveness of tactics measured at extremely detailed levels, few companies have managed to prove that social tactics generate positive ROI. In fact, sales from social tactics are not even widely measured," the study reported.
     Forrester added that "the most common metrics for measuring social tactics remain the growth rate of followers and the breadth of exposure to customers. That said, retailers are actively looking for the connection between social media tactics and actual sales to fi nd a more direct ROI. While just more than one-quarter of retailers surveyed indicate that social marketing strategies have helped to grow their business to date, more than twice that number (59%) are measuring sales attributable to links on social networks."
     Showcasing new products to retail customers and consumers is one way area rug company Nourison, based in Saddle Brook, N.J., uses its Facebook page.
Dave Forman, marketing director, said the page represents "a meeting place for our friends, account executives, and loyal accounts. We showcase designer projects, which becomes an excellent way for them to make new connections and earn new business. We post industry announcements such as account rep hires and promotions, and consumer-oriented features that provide useful tips and information. We try to maintain a good mix of serious business with fun items and photos."
     Nourison updates its Facebook more than once a week and posts features and new projects at least as often, he added.
As the online community sites of industry retailers and suppliers proliferate, so does consumers' responses to them, BigResearch found.
     Among survey respondents planning to buy or renovate a home, consumers are still lukewarm about turning to social media to help them in their purchasing decisions, reported the Columbus, Ohio-based consumer research firm in its "Simultaneous Media Usage Survey." Conducted between April 30 and July 7, this recent report compared data collected on the topic from consumers who plan on buying or renovating a home against average adults 18 and older.
     Home improvement purchases ranked as the fourth highest category - after electronics, apparel/clothing, and grocery goods - among consumers who said they were influenced by social media. Social media influenced the home improvement- related purchase of 7.2% of consumers planning on buying or renovating a home, compared with 4.9% of average adults 18 and older.
     About one sixth, or 16.3%, of consumers planning on buying or renovating a home said online communities/social media sites triggered them to start an online search over all other kinds of media. And 22.2% said once they've conducted their search, they use social media to communicate with others about a service or brand.
     Word of mouth was ranked as the most influential media influencing a home improvement- related purchase (47.2%) among people with plans of buying or renovating a home.
Second most popular was article written about the product (34.6%), followed by magazines and in-store promotions - each 32.6%, and TV broadcast at 31.6%.

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