August 19, 2008, 12:00 AM

E-retailers test out social media for back- to- school promotions

While students get ready to start hitting the books and cramming for tests, e-retailers are conducting tests of their own, trying out social media marketing campaigns to target teens and young adults, according to new information from JupiterResearch.

While students get ready to start hitting the books and cramming for tests, e-retailers are conducting tests of their own, trying out social media marketing campaigns to target teens and young adults, according to new information from JupiterResearch.

Multi-channel retailer J.C.Penney, No. 15 in the in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, for example, has launched a virtual game called "DorkDodge" in which female teens must escape the embrace of several undesirable boyfriends in the quest to land a perfect date. The merchant also launched an integrated marketing campaign based on the hit 1980’s flick, “The Breakfast Club” showcasing how adolescents can achieve the same looks as the movie’s characters with J.C Penney clothing brands.

Sears, No. 8 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, is using an interactive game with actress Vanessa Hudgens from the TV movie "High School Musical", where in which players can try out different styles of Sears clothing on various characters from the show.

"The back-to-school season has grown in importance for retailers and leads into the all- important fourth quarter sales period," says Patti Freeman Evans, research director and online retail analyst at JupiterResearch. "With the shaky economy expected to impact the amount of money consumers spend on back-to-school shopping, retailers are using social media to capture the attention of younger consumers."

However, while more e-retailers are dipping their toes into social media and Web 2.0, experts caution not to count on such programs to replace traditional campaigns.

"Retailers experimenting with Web 2.0 experiences will largely find benefit from them in the form of branding and awareness building rather than direct sales, says David Schatsky, president of JupiterResearch. “Social media has shown little direct impact on actual online retail sales."

As retailers realize this, many are launching traditional marketing programs with incentives for the back-to-school season.

Multichannel merchants like Victoria`s Secret, No. 20 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and Apple. Inc. No. 7, are ramping up general promotions. Victoria`s Secret contracted with with 33 universities to launch Pink`s Collegiate Collection, a line of shirts, accessories and sports gear cross-branded with names, colors and mascots from the various schools. Apple is giving students and faculty of accredited universities free iPods when they buy a computer.

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