By  on June 15, 2011

E-mail is getting old. Viral marketing is accelerating. And brands and retailers are racing ahead with digital strategies seeking to engage and sell consumers in new ways.

That sweeping impression came from Kate Ancketill, managing director of GDR Creative Intelligence, a trend forecaster involved in experiential marketing and technology innovation for leading brands, who gave a fast-paced roundup of certain companies and how they’re advancing in future commerce, digital engagement and convergence.

Among Ancketill’s observations:

• Vanclize, an online fashion brand in China, encourages shoppers to “hack” their own ads, use Photoshop to put their own image on the ads and place the fake ads on blogs. “Thousands of people hacked these ads, creating their own images. Even the Beijing police had a motorcycle on this ad with five people, and key phrases [advising] don’t put more than two people on a motorcycle.”

• In Europe, French Connection, Diesel and Marks & Spencer are ahead of the game putting videos on YouTube and getting “extremely impressive” responses, with M&S videos offashion items and wines yielding 26 percent and 90 percent increases in sales, respectively.

• Fabergé’s online store provides “superhigh levels of service” including Skype video, instant messaging and telephone communications. “Fabergé will bring you the gorgeous object of your choice anywhere in the world, at any time. We are seeing more and more of this.”

• A Sears app enables shoppers to send an image of an item to personal shoppers at the other end of the app who find the product or something similar, and instruct how to purchase it in the store or online. Also, at Sears, the Craftsman Experience channel has a do-it-yourself store where demonstrations get filmed and streamed live to the Web.

• Burton, the manufacturer of snowboards, boots, bindings, goggles and outerwear, has a Web site that coordinates with the weather. “The site shows which of their clothes are suitable for what day.…It’s just brilliant and so simple.”

• Me-Tail has an online avatar in conjunction with Asos in the U.K. that enables a user to photograph their body, upload it, put their face or a generic face on it, add their measurements and then it shows how they look in clothing. “This massively reduces the need for returns,” Ancketill said, adding that ultimately, “Your avatar will be able to migrate to other sites.” Ancketill described Asos as “innovative” for moving its inventory on Facebook. “It’s a bit clunkier in terms of interface…but most people spend 27 to 30 minutes on Facebook on a daily basis, much longer than they typically spend on a brand site. I think it’s 12 minutes on Asos.”

She also said variations of Groupon are emerging, including Wal-Mart’s “crowdsaver” on Facebook, which usually offers higher-priced items like computers at big discounts when 5,000 or more people click on the site and say they like the item. “That’s a brand taking Groupon on, so they are not paying those horrendous fees to Groupon.”

Whatspotnow.com is a system in some cities that enables users from their computer to check the scene and the crowd inside bars, restaurants and clubs, to help them decide if they want to go out, or stay home. The site raises privacy issues, but does smudge the faces of those in the bars to keep them anonymous. It also offers coupons and vouchers as inducements to go to these places.

Other innovative online strategies Ancketill cited were designer Derek Lam’s crowdsourcing collaboration with eBay where he designed 16 dresses, showed them on a micro site on eBay, and then requested people vote for their favorite dresses, which were made available for selling in May; the upscale Common People store in Mexico City for using RFID tags to provide information; Gucci as a leader in social networking; Uniqlo for its online “sale of the days” and cash back or tote bag prizes, and Fast-Shoe’s virtual footwear wall in Munich.

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