by Maryfran Johnson

Retail Therapy

Nov 24, 2009
Consumer Electronics

How retailers are using social networking and mobile devices to reach customers.

I’ll admit this upfront: I believe in retail therapy in all its glorious forms.

Whether you do it in person, via telephone or by clicking away online, the power of a good shopping experience to lift the spirits is one of life’s guilty pleasures that I only ever feign any actual guilt about.

Given these proclivities, I was naturally hooked on every word of Senior Editor Kim S. Nash’s cover story about how certain retailers are tapping into social networks and mobile devices to get cozy with customers (“Follow the Money”). One survey found that 35 percent of adults who spent time on a social network in the past month also bought something while online. Factor in those 300 million Facebook users, and you can practically hear the siren song of sales opportunities.

But this isn’t just another form of retail therapy. This is a development with far-reaching potential to close that dreaded “IT-business alignment” gap. These projects shine a light on the places where IT can carve out new channels between customers and the company.

From mobile e-commerce offerings to coupons by text message or storefronts on social networks, our story notes how “as enablers of these projects, CIOs are moving ever closer to the customer.” Out of this lingering recession develops one picture of what true business-IT alignment looks like, says Drew Martin, CIO of Sony Electronics: “IT is becoming part of the product offerings.”

When customers log on to the new Sony e-book reader, for example, the device automatically connects to existing customer profiles and offers up e-books to purchase. This feature developed out of Martin’s efforts to connect Sony’s product development with its internal CRM system. “You can’t build a site and expect people to come,” he says. “We are on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to go out and get them.”

Other examples abound. Starbucks brewed up its mobile commerce application from its My Starbucks Idea website, where registrants submit ideas they’d like the company to try. Dell can point to more than $2 million in sales stemming from 14 Twitter accounts. And 1-800-Flowers has a Facebook store with a simplified click-and-buy option on bouquets marketed as “wish list” items among Facebook friends.

If ever there was a “seize the moment” opportunity for IT leaders, this is it. As Sony’s Martin puts it: “Every CIO has the opportunity to be involved. You have to step right out and take it.”

Editor-in-Chief Maryfran Johnson can be reached at

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