If your brand or your client sells anything using the Internet, you need to put down the BlackBerry and start working on a recommendation to build social media tools into the purchase process. I can’t overwhelm you with case studies and ROI models yet, but the forces of e-commerce and human habits are combining to make digital/social shopping a killer app. Act now before your competitor steals the spotlight and market shares.
Let me break down why this gets me excited enough to push a recommendation at you: First, people love to shop together. Many female friends, couples, and even a few bromances get together regularly to hit the stores to find deals and get second opinions together in the physical world. Second, more and more shopping is done online, but people lose the chance to have fun and get help from friends in this way. But digital social media tools are bringing friends together virtually, and people are using them to keep in touch with more people more often. Digital + Social Shopping (needing a better buzz word, btw) puts it all together. And when marketers get into the act of encouraging these meaningful connections, they have a high chance of closing the sale.
I’ve heard this trend called “social commerce,” a blend of social media and e-commerce, but so far this phrase has been used mainly by companies such as Bazaarvoice that enable product reviews. What I’m talking about is deeper than just getting help from people; it’s specifically around enrolling your trusted friends in the live-ish shopping process itself.
Case studies: Of course, you need case studies to buy into this new world of buying. Check out these three:
Sears Prom Dresses + Facebook
I would argue that a very modest Facebook application for Sears last March was the best marketing use of this social networking service yet. The idea was pretty simple: Allow girls on Sears.com to share pictures of their favorite prom dresses out of 70 available on the site, and ask for feedback from their friends on Facebook. The beauty of this application is that it put the social network to work for the customer, creating a fun conversation and getting real help to a girl in need of a second, third, or 10th opinion. For Sears, this tool provided a meaningful way to attract customers to its stores, and it benefitted from the viral aspect of a girl virtually bringing several friends into the shopping process.
Three Minds on Digital at Organic alerted me to a great example at Vans.com. The site is a custom shoe creation tool that includes a very simple option to email or SMS a photo of your proposed shoe with a short message to friends. For something “artsy” such as self-designed Vans shoes, a quick peek from a buddy can really help make sure your fashion statement doesn’t produce laughter.
Bob Gilbreath’s New Shoes
Yep, that’s me, your friendly blog writer, with a case study that’s actually an example how people will use these tools whether marketers are involved or not. Two weeks ago I was looking for some shoes to go with some new agency-wear summer shirts from Lucky Jeans that I bought online. In the office I was walking by three female friends in our Client Service organization who I know have good eyes for fashion. I was wearing one of my new shirts and stopped to ask for shoe advice. Within an hour Amanda emailed me four choices from Piperlime.com, with some comments. She cc’ed Andi and Tiffany, who added some comments on their preferences. That evening I took a look and clicked to buy a nice pair of brown Steve Madden shoes. Of course I had to upload a photo to my Facebook account (above) and share with my fashion outfitters, as well as the rest of my friend network. I’m now looking a little sharper, and everyone who was involved in the process had fun.
If fashion victims like me are going to use digital/social tools for shopping anyway, why isn’t your brand part of the solution? There is absolutely no reason for any e-commerce provider to ignore this opportunity to build social shopping and sharing into their existing e-stores. Tools such as ShareThis already make it easy, and if a customer is wavering, this could be an easy way to prevent shopping carts from being left idle. Meanwhile, the chance to essentially place a free ad in front of trusted friends is simply wonderful.
What’s next is that these digital social networks will come into the store, thanks to better smart phones and mobile access. Take a quick picture of yourself in the dressing-room mirror and upload it to a handful of trusted consultants or even millions of strangers. Smart stores will find ways to make this more fun and useful.
So, e-marketers, please embrace social media to aid the shopping process. We customers need the help, and you surely could use the extra sales.