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  • Jennifer Marks

Riding the E-Wave

First-quarter results are starting to roll in and the good news is that at many retailers home is starting to climb out of the basement. Of course, if you consider where sales were in the first quarter of last year, you have to acknowledge “the basement” was more like a very deep pit.

A more significant trend that's emerging as retailers outline their plans for the year is a heavy emphasis on improving and/or expanding their e-commerce operations and getting more aggressive with social networking.

And with good reason. Kohl's first-quarter e-commerce sales shot up 50%. (That's not a typo.) HSN.com experienced a 15% jump in online sales during the same period. Last week, Williams-Sonoma reported that the internet now generates 30% of total sales, and BJ's Wholesale Club — which had abandoned e-commerce — announced it's cranking it up again.

The internet is now the third most-shopped channel for women, lagging only supermarkets and mass merchants, according to a March report by retail marketing consultancy WSL Strategic Retail. Cross-shopping between bricks and clicks is not a new phenomenon, but with the Millennial Generation coming into its own, the need to engage interactively is more important than ever.

In the social networking and e-commerce spheres, there has been a flurry of activity since the beginning of the year:

  • JCPenney announced an aggressive five-year growth strategy that focuses on further enhancement of its dot-com, mobile and social networking media.

  • Target debuted mobile gift cards and mobile couponing.

  • Sears created an iPhone application that allows users to send a photograph of a desired product to a Sears “personal shopper agent,” who will locate the item, then contact the consumer by phone or e-mail. At Sears Holdings' annual shareholder meeting last week, chairman Eddie Lampert devoted a good portion of his remarks to the company's online, social networking and mobile strategy.

  • ShopNBC launched a new mobile platform that allows customers to shop more than 10,000 ShopNBC items, see daily specials, search for products by keyword or item number, and check order and shipping status.

  • Belk launched a Facebook page at facebook.com/belk and a “Belk Fashion Buzz” Twitter feed at twitter.com/belkfashionbuzz.

The big wave is coming. R U ready 4 it?

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