Can the Retailing Industry Take a Lesson on Social Media from DSW Shoes?

Aug 28, 2012

I’m a poor shoe customer for a host of reasons, such as the fact that I often work at my desk in flip-flops and generally wear shoes until they fall apart. So, I’m not a DSW customer, and that is probably a good thing for them. However, watching a presentation by DSW’s SVP of marketing, Kelly Cook, recently at the eTail Conference, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the fun and energy she and DSW bring to the category, and wondered if all of retailing might take a lesson from them.

DSW is a price-driven retailer, with 338 stores in the U.S. and selling 31 million pairs of shoes last year. They call themselves "America’s Favorite Place for Shoes (and to work)," and have 21 million loyalty program members. According to a presentation done for a Jeffries Consumer Conference, DSW carries 400 brands and 2000 styles, priced sharply. Their DSW Rewards program has grown six-fold in the past 10 years. Net sales doubled from 2004 to 2011.

What makes DSW so successful? There are lots of factors, of course, but social media clearly is one. Ms. Cook says their company is all about "shoe love" — they want to get consumers asking, "Where did you get those shoes?" And in order to work at DSW one has to have a true love of shoes, in addition to the proper expertise.

Social media activities include:

  • Free Shoes Fridays on Twitter. DSW asks a trivia question and the first ten respondents to answer correctly get a pair of shoes. (I saw firsthand the enthusiasm for free shoes when Ms. Cook gave out pairs to audience members at eTail in the same fashion.) They have nearly 36,000 Twitter followers.
  • DSW is active on Facebook, with plenty of two-way dialogue. Each Friday they post pictures of employees with their shoes (just their feet) and customers then post their own pictures and engage in a conversation. DSW has such a following on FB that users defend DSW if other users post negative things about them on their page. DSW has over 692,000 "likes" at the moment.
  • YouTube – DSW has a channel where they post extended versions of commercials, highlights of special events, etc. Customers also post "haul" shopping videos on YouTube to show how great their new shoes look and/or brag about what a deal they got. These seem to be especially popular with teenage girls.
  • Ratings and reviews are part of their website, and DSW intends to expand those.
  • The DSW mobile site is fully functional, easy to use, and includes ratings and reviews, which, at least on the items I selected, were more active than those on the regular site.

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, competitor Nine West will soon unveil "Channel 9" — — which will feature videos on all aspects of the shoe buying/wearing/owning experience. They say they plan to have original video content and entertainment in order to build an online community around the brand. The site will be promoted via live events, taxi ads and digital panels in NYC, along with advertising in fall fashion magazines.

Is community building via social media more important in a category like shoes than it is for most other categories? Are retailers/brands that cater to young women much more in need of these social executions?

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12 Comments on "Can the Retailing Industry Take a Lesson on Social Media from DSW Shoes?"

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Dick Seesel

If TJ Maxx is all about reaching budget-minded “fashionistas,” then DSW is filling an equally big role for shoe devotees. The store provides a well-organized “treasure hunt” experience, combined with surprisingly broad and deep assortments of better brands and styles. Using social media (in place of other, more costly marketing outreach) seems especially well-suited to their target consumer.

Max Goldberg

Community building, like the program used by DSW, is important for most categories, not just shoes. Bringing fun interactivity to retail should not just be the purview of shoes, it should be a mantra across categories. Everything that DSW does can be copied by other categories. If it’s fun for consumers, they become more engaged with the brand. And the more they engage, the more loyal they become, which translates to sales and profits.

John Crossman
John Crossman
5 years 1 month ago

There is something about shoes that is different and social media has a real impact here. The best retailers have a strong social media campaign combined with a great store and a local community campaign. I would like to see more retailers working on fun local events that support local charities and then promote through social media.

Ken Lonyai

Social media has its best rewards in product categories that are more likely to be socially shared, shoes being one of them. At the risk of stereotyping, many women buy shoes for looks over comfort and part of the “looks” is being seen wearing/owning shoes. Some men likely fit the description as well. So, being seen is a form of social interaction as is SM. Together, one feeds upon the other to share the shoe buying/wearing experience and create human to human and human to brand/retailer relationships. Other categories that can extrapolate the same patterns or demographics have the potential to use SM effectively too. Hemorrhoid medication — not so much.

Gene Detroyer

I can’t say it better than Max has (comment above). This is how every marketer should be thinking. Not foolishly measuring impressions, but letting the real customer gravitate to you.

David Dorf

What I like about DSW’s approach is their use of multiple social media sites, and their consistent and predicable programs. This keeps customers coming back for more on a regular basis.

gordon arnold

Having quality materials at a great price is useless if nobody knows about it. Touting your features and benefits to an empty room will bring few results. Advertising in front of the consumer and placing them in front of your stores electronically at all times should yield the results we see here.

E-marketing and sales is beyond many of the decision makers now in place, and their sales origins and market share show it. The building blocks for sales and marketing in this day’s markets are electronic. Being able to expand consumer awareness and participation via any IT device is paying off for all that have or share adequately funded and properly built IT enterprise systems.

Lee Kent

I have to say that shoe lovers are a special category. We love to talk about shoes and look at shoes and own shoes, etc. This is a category that is especially conducive to social and DSW has done it right. That being said, there is a social approach for most categories and each one must find their own voice. This is not cookie cutter stuff.

Ed Rosenbaum

Max, your response knocked the ball out of the park.

He is right. This is something all retailers across the board should be looking toward and getting there sooner than later.

Martin Mehalchin

Thanks Al for surfacing the great work that DSW appears to be doing. I’m not a customer either, but it sounds like they are hitting all the social/mobile/web bases and executing exceptionally well. I also like how they are involving employees as well as customers in these programs. And yes, social is all the more important if your customer base consists primarily of young women.

Ralph Jacobson

The most successful social brands, both retail and CPG, are those that put fun and/or culture in the formula. This is a great example of that. When brands overtly promote products over lifestyle, far fewer fans are attracted.

Kate Blake
Kate Blake
5 years 1 month ago

Building a community is important for “collection” items, like shoes, dolls, Dept.56, etc. Sales are built and excitement is generating by getting people together, whether in clubs or the internet who get to talk about their obsessions.


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