1. What can social media tell us about future retail sales? Quite a lot, actually.

    Michael Haydock, the Chief Scientist for IBM’s Business Analytics and Optimization organization, has been crunching large data sets to determine retail sales patterns over a number of years.  Recently, he’s also started to analyze social media patterns to help fine tune his forecasting.  What he sees for this fall is an up tick in sales of women’s and children’s clothing. 

    To refine the outlook, Haydock’s team added nearly a quarter of a million posts on social media platforms, including blogs, tweets, and message boards, into the analytical stew to discern the expected pattern of shoppers’ behavior in the coming months.

    A self-professed ‘data geek’, Haydock documented the results of this analysis in a post on IBM’s Smarter Planet Blog:

    "My latest forecast, for the third quarter, predicts that the fall season will be moderate to strong (depending on the category) for retailers, particularly in the categories of children’s and women’s apparel, as well as footwear. Despite the economy (which is not as strong as in the 1st quarter of this year), consumers still are showing signs that they are ready to shop – given the right conditions."

    Michael Haydock’s post is part one of a two part series on Retail Trends on the Smarter Planet blog.  The second — Why digital marketing syncs with students - was written by Leeann Fecho,  Marketing Manager for Emerging Media and Loyalty, Follett Higher Education Group. Her job is to keep tabs on what student buying patterns are likely to be in university and college bookstores this fall.  She also makes a larger point about the significant change in buying behavior by shoppers who are constantly plugged in and communicating:

    "Customer mobility and accessibility, driven largely by smartphone adoption, plays a critical role in enabling this fairly new consumer mindset.  Customers can comparison shop in your aisles and tweet about your customer service while conversing with an in-store associate.”  They can share photos of a sweatshirt with friends via text or social networks — and then purchase the same item from your competitor while physically standing in your store. This “omni-channel” environment introduces new problems and questions that must be addressed, i.e. which channel are these customers “in” and how do we reach them?

    Both blog posts underscore the importance of keeping on eye on social media to spot both positive and negative trends and taking quick action to keep shoppers both satisfied and willing to buy.