“Old school” retailers virtually (no pun intended) exploded onto the online back-to-school scene this year, perhaps by virtue of some newfound youth appeal. By using social networks and nifty online tools, retailers like Kohl’s and Sears have been able to tap into the kiddie market. Kohl’s PaperDoll.com, according to the Wall Street Journal, led the pack with 1.8-million items sold in 16 days. Sears’ partnership with Zwinky.com sold 850,000 items during the same period ending in mid-August. These are just two of the innovative and cool stores that appear to be targeting our technical-savvy kids.
Kohl’s partnered with Sweden-based PaperDoll.com to create a world where kids – mostly girls – can see the latest fashions. No doubt, high gross margin fashions. PaperDoll seems to be an endless mall with endless possibilities. Adding Avril Lavigne’s Abbey Dawn collection exclusively online didn’t hurt to draw new members to the site. Speaking of members, as of this writing, PaperDoll is claiming more than 20.7 million of them. Communities, or Clubs, as the site calls them, keep users engaged, possibly translating to return visits. While the T-Mobile ads and the product placements are subtle, I will assume they aren’t free. It does give added value to the kids who only want to browse and not buy.
PaperDoll reinvented the shopping experience. There are plenty of styles to choose from to dress your own style avatar, or “MeDoll.” Every time you drag an article of clothing, shoes or accessory on to your “MeDoll,” it adds them to the cart. And yes, you can adjust the “MeDoll” to look like a “you-doll,” then adjust how you would wear the clothing to make it all about you.
Okay, L.L. Bean and others have tried things like this in the past, but that was before kids became such a retail force outside of their parents’ choices. And that was only useful, this is cool. These retailers know many kids don’t care about their advertising, but do care what their friends think. With so many of them active in social networks with an average of, by some estimates, 50 friends each, this type of site is a natural fit.
These sites can be amazingly responsive to their customers, but sometimes not in the way we would imagine. They have the ability to capture an amazing amount of information. Web metrics can allow insight into changing trends that allow better inventory control, predict buying patterns and even identify when fashion trends are changing – and the age group leading the trend. They can target specific customers or an online customer persona (an online customer behavior pattern). This is not altogether different than Google delivering pertinent ads to you based on recent searches. Yet it is different.
Sears’ partnership with Zwinky forces a download that integrates software into your browser’s toolbar, instant messaging and some web-based e-mail. With Zwinky in all those places, it will be easier for kids to remember to use it. When downloading the software, the user agreement states (in capital letters) that the Zwinky is not spyware or adware. “It does not watch how you use your computer.”
Can kids (or parents) differentiate between ads, placements and paid community member banter (if they exist)? This is another reason parental involvement becomes important. But who will train the parents?
“I didn’t see any marketing for that”, someone in my office mentioned. That was the idea. Meanwhile, one of my daughters just asked me for the names of the sites I am writing about. Sigh.
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.