The past few years have come fast and furious for marketers. With an economic whirlwind came a shift in the way consumers not only spend their money, but the way they interact with brands. Seemingly overnight, new priorities for marketers (and the marketed) surfaced. Only a few years ago, we didn’t care about being friendly with our breakfast cereal. But today, we pursue more meaningful, reciprocal relationships with our brand choices. “Brand experience” has become increasingly important. All of this being true, one group in particular could see significant change in the coming years – online retailing.
Retailers have made big strides in improving experience – mostly in the area of functionality and enabling purchase. And this is completely appropriate, since people rate User Experience elements higher than most when it comes to ecommerce site expectations. (eMarketer.com)
But, what I’m talking about isn’t so much about function. It’s socializing ecommerce. We’re seeing glimmers of this idea with social marketing becoming a common extension of back-to-school programs and in day-to-day brand marketing. And also with efforts to indentify and speak directly to online influencers. However, what I’m talking about takes this a step further.
Note: This might not apply in every way to all retailers, but it certainly does for categories like home improvement and fashion.
While our buying patterns have shifted – perhaps we are more contemplative about our purchases and more loyal to transparent brands – human behavior, in general, remains intact. So, just as online reviews and Googling have become an imperative part of making prudent final decisions on a product, we are still guided by our behavior. And for many, shopping is social. This is at least part of why the Shopping Mall was created. It’s the experience. We share. We ask our friends for opinions. And, we take joy in our purchases (and the result of those purchases). For example, we complete a landscaping project in our back yard and post the pictures on Facebook. Or, get the perfect dress for an event with the help of a consultant and friends and get loads of compliments.
How can brands exploit these intrinsic behaviors?
Use Customer Service
Companies like Zappos (yes, another person gushing about Zappos) understand the important role customer service plays in the experience. In fact, as we all know, it is their guiding principle. The spirit of their thinking is brick-and-mortar, not click-and-buy. What will the customer want to see (various angles, videos, how the shoe looks on the foot)? What will make them feel good about their purchase (shipping and return policy, access to friendly representatives)? How do they embrace you as a friend (review the product, give the company feedback)? Most important, they’ve made shopping with them feel good because they’re likeable and they’ve paid attention to what you want.
Determine Social Factors for Your Product
For instance, what makes your customers excited about your products? Turn that excitement into a way to guide the buying process. For example, SwimOutlet.com knows their products are very personal. They also know that people get excited when they find something that improves their performance. So, they make on-site reviews a giant part of their effort. Yes, reviews. Around forever, they play a big role in satisfying the human need to make an informed purchase. I’m a SwimOutlet.com customer. With each purchase, I’ve used their on-site reviews to guide my decision. After a few weeks, I’m always asked to come back to the site and review the product; and again if I haven’t done it after the first request. It’s not pushy. Rather, it’s done in the spirit of giving back to the community; a smart and very profitable gesture.
Sure, this means initiatives like Facebook and Twitter. But it also means using your site experience (where people purchase). Lowes understands that in their business, people thrive on inspiration and community as a confidence builder to purchase. So, they developedLowesCreativeIdeas.com, where people can get “How-Tos” and share projects. Now, it’s on the right track, but it does have a disconnected feeling from the buying experience. In my mind, the evolution of this concept would integrate experiences with shopping. And this is certainly where it gets tricky.
Engage with Your Audience
While not a retailer themselves, ShopStyle.com has a concept that retailers could learn from. They call themselves “the online equivalent of browsing the aisles of the world’s most fabulous store.” And they embody the notion of bringing the physical shopping experience online. ShopStyle.com is highlighted by their community – a group of people who assemble “stylebooks” that are shared with users. With each assembled outfit, the user can click an item to navigate to purchase options. And these community members can be “followed.” It’s not unusual for a single member to have hundreds of followers. Fashion, in fact, tends to be the most evolved of categories since, fundamentally, it’s such a social thing. I would imagine a lot of idea sharing could happen between fashion and seemingly disconnected categories like electronics and house wares.
Of course, these ideas are nothing particularly new. But it does capture how important is to be thinking about the impact of the Web combined with our social expectations. Smart retailers will do more than react to immediate demands, they will evolve.