By Demandware

Deb Shops recently won gold in the Social/Mobile Strategies category of the Retail TouchPoints’ Store Operations Superstar Awards for its creative #InstantPromDate promotion. (More on that here.)

I had the chance to speak with Jennifer Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Marketing at Deb Shops, to learn a little more about how the retailer is leveraging social integrations to better engage with its customers, and where the #InstantPromDate idea came from.


Demandware (DW): Congratulations on your recent award win! Sounds like the #InstantPromDate was the perfect campaign to run for your customers. How did the idea come up?

Jennifer Fitzpatrick (JF): We really wanted to get people into the store during prom season and encourage them to bring their friends along. Shopping for prom dresses is an exciting time, and we wanted to make it an experience when they came to our stores, something that went beyond just trying on dresses. So we thought, let’s give them a cutout of a cute guy who looks ready for prom, encourage them to take pictures with him and then post those images to their social networks – all for a chance to win 1 of our 5 $100 gift cards.


DW: How did you know Instagram was going to be the right vehicle for this promotion?

JF: Instagram is all about image sharing, and it’s really easy to tag things. Our core demographic uses Instagram more than Facebook, too; it’s a little younger and hipper, and they’re finding ways to use it more in their everyday lives. So, it’s certainly a channel we see a lot of value in, one that can generate a lot of growth for our company.


DW: I imagine there were a number of processes that needed to be put in place for this promotion to be successful. What were they?

JF: There were a lot of things that needed to align for this type of social promotion to be successful. But the biggest thing I needed to focus on was ensuring all of the little details weren’t overlooked. Three big items were:

  • Ensuring all assets were in the store. It might seem obvious, but every store needed a cardboard cutout for the promotion to be a success, and those cutouts needed to be easy to understand. We weren’t always going to be able to ensure an associate would be standing by to explain the promotion.
  • Making it simple. When you’re working on something for a while, it’s easy to miss some of the questions that could come up. Ask other people if the directions and guidelines are as easy as you think they are. You really want to simplify it as much as possible.
  • Making it shareable. This is critical, especially if you’re running a social contest. Make the hashtags short, easy to remember and easy to spell. If your hashtags are too complicated, you risk losing that viral factor.

And obviously, part of making it shareable means getting people excited. We did a lot of sneak-peak stuff through social channels to tease our #InstantPromDate promotion, and used Snapchat to tell our customers that “someone new was coming to the store.” It generated a bunch of excitement.


DW: Sounds like you cracked the code when it comes to using social interactions to get people into the store. How did you know this was going to work?

JF: Honestly, we didn’t! But, we know our customers. We know social channels are where they hang out; it’s where their friends are. So, what better way to engage with them than to use channels they already are comfortable with? And giving them something enticing to come into the store for, promoted via social channels, just made sense.


DW: Great point! So how did you prepare the store associates for the in-store component of this campaign?

JF: Educating our store associates was a huge part of the campaign. As part of the normal weekly report we share with all stores on what’s happening, we included detailed information on this promotion to make it easy for them to understand the concept and ensure they knew how to speak to it. This also gave them confidence to engage with our customers and offer to take their pictures for them. I can’t stress enough the importance of giving store associates the tools and information they need to engage with customers across any channel. It really is the only way for any campaign to be effective in today’s retail world.


DW: What were your top lessons learned from this campaign?

JF: Step outside the proverbial box. We never did anything like this promotional campaign before, and we honestly didn’t know how our customers were going to react. But we thought it was fun and could draw attention to the store, so we took a chance. And now that we’ve seen the results, we’re definitely going to consider more of these types of promotions going forward.


DW: Anything you’d do differently?

JF: We talked about making the experience with the #InstantPromDate a richer one, like adding more stuff into the pictures. Think photo booth props. Something to consider, for sure.


DW: You guys are far from new to social capabilities. You engage with a number of bloggers and have an active social presence – have you implemented social commerce capabilities into these channels?

JF: Our customers are social creatures; they live on social channels and hashtags have become part of their vernacular. We even sell t-shirts with hashtags on them now! Social commerce is definitely something our customers appreciate. They can engage with Instagram stories to shop directly from user-generated content. It’s a lot of fun to see some of our customers re-create the images that our bloggers are doing, too.


DW: As the holidays approach, do you think social commerce will change the name of the game when it comes to webrooming and showrooming?

JF: I think so, and I think social commerce will just get bigger throughout the coming year, as well; our customers make me believe that social commerce is here to stay. The big challenge for us is to think of new ways to engage with our customers through these channels, especially around the holidays. Just like with the #InstantPromDate campaign, and the Snapchat-based Black Friday campaign we did last year, we aren’t following with tradition. We need to innovate to ensure we continue to stand out, and that’s been our thing – we’re trying different and daring things on social.


DW: Final advice: What would be your advice for other retailers looking to leverage social channels?

JF: Keep an open mind! Some of the best ideas are the crazy ones, especially for social campaigns. Sometimes, you really need to take an “anything goes” attitude. Thinking this way makes it more unique and special.