Our innate desire to socialize has helped make the Internet a platform where people share information and their life experiences. The social nature of the Internet is something that institutions like governments, universities and businesses, cannot ignore.
Having been a by-product of this network revolution, e-commerce businesses have much to gain from taking a decidedly social approach to businesses.
First off, consumers have made online shopping an opportunity to socialize — not unlike going to the mall with friends. As we’ve pointed out before, even if your e-commerce site doesn’t have a community of its own, the opinions and advice of your social network contacts are easily available through a simple Facebook post, Tweet, or email.
Online shopping, however, has only become social on a large scale in the past few years partly due to the mainstream rise of social networking sites like Facebook, according to Cloven Footwear co-founder Matthew Carroll in a wonderfully detailed Quora post.
Until about five years ago, Carrol says, an e-commerce site would usually have to rely on people emailing friends about products or services to build online word-of-mouth. Now, the barriers to creating this sort of social sharing have greatly lowered. There are now more than 850 million Facebook users able to share links and advice, and dozens of companies are coming up with solutions that make sharing easier. We’re at a point where it’s easy for people to share brands they like, and now it’s up to brands to try to drive this goodwill.
This post will provide five tips on how to make your e-commerce brand more social.
1. Go where they are
In his article “3 Crazy Ecommerce Marketing Ideas”, Armando Roggio proposes (rather sanely) that companies take their product or service to where your potential customers are. This could mean creating a presence on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, or even in the real world by scheduling a show, concert, or class, to show people your brand. Inviting people to meet you in the real world can be a great way to see your company as more than just another website.
With the rise of smartphones like the iPhone, we’ve been seeing more people check online stores while in brick-and-mortar ones. Having a website or mobile app that allows consumers to quickly compare product prices and features presents an advantage for those willing to check their phone while shopping. That’s being in the right place at the right time.
Of course, you don’t always have to wait for people to come to your website. Over the past year we’ve also seen the growth in popularity of location-based promotions, which essentially help draw in consumers to local business with the promise of deals. One of these services is Facebook Deals, which became available on Canadian smart phones in 2011. Facebook Deals lets users sign in through an app or Facebook’s website to find retailers offering deals through Facebook, and “check-in” at participating stores for a coupon or discount.
2. Your web presence can a bring lifestyle brand to life
It’s no secret that corporate brands can play a part in the identity of a person or group. Luxury brands like Lexus and Burburry draw upon images of elegance and wealth. Others like Nike and Adidas are associated with sports, and Roots and Hudson’s Bay Company with Canadiana. These brands with which people strongly associate culturally are known as “lifestyle brands”.
In addition to selling a product or service, lifestyle marketers sell an identity or an image either based on the brand’s consumers and their aspirations. Depending on the type of lifestyle being marketed, you can share the lifestyle you want to project through your website and social networks. Share customer experiences, photos, testimonials from people who your audience respects.
Examples of websites that integrate a lifestyle are numerous. Outdoor equipment store MEC prominently shows images of people mountain climbing and doing other outdoor activities instead of simply showing products. In contrast, the website for clothing store Urban Outfitters shows young, urban people wearing its clothes and quirky, offbeat graphics made to appeal to the store’s customers.
3. Provide a personalized experience
One of the trends identified by Sociable Labs is that some shoppers will pay a premium on goods from sites with personalized shopping services. Virtual personal shopper service Trunk Club, for instance, pairs men with a stylist who creates a wardrobe for them based on their individual size and style, which is then sent in a trunk to the customer.
Want to save time scouring the Internet for products? Shop It To Me is a personal online shopper service that helps members find the styles and brands they want for free. Additionally, it gives members a heads up on sales and special offers that may appeal to them, saving them money.
Sociable Labs notes that an upcoming trend for 2012 is that shoppers, especially affluent ones, will shop less but spend more: “Shoppers with more cash than time will be courted by, digging up only the deals and the products that the shopper will jump on.”
By providing expert advice, companies are making their consumer experience social and providing a high quality shopping experience.
4. Make use of subscriptions
A subscription is an opportunity to make an impression — not just once — but regularly.
An obvious way to make use of subscriptions is to offer an email newsletter that provides, for instance, the latest news on the company and its activities, tips and tricks about using your products, and case studies on particular clients. A newsletter can help people remember why they were interested in your company in the first place, and remind them you’re still around and interested in their business.
Other companies actually build their business around the subscription model. An innovative use of e-commerce subscriptions includes Man Packs, which delivers bachelors a package with all the essentials — underwear, socks, and razors — every three months.
Another example is Birds and Beans, which sells coffee beans grown with the conservation of migratory bird habitat in Latin America in mind. People have the option of buying these bird-friendly beans on a subscription where their coffee is automatically delivered every two to eight weeks.
These are just some of the ways that companies are using subscriptions to keep people interested from week-to-week and month-to-month.
5. Make Twitter part of your support channel
Twitter is as close as we have to an immediate social network. While people are likely to share their positive experiences on Twitter, there’s a good chance that they’ll also vent their frustrations on the micro-blogging platform.
According to PC World’s David Daw, Twitter is great for engaging not only happy customers but dissatisfied ones as well, and it can help “turn them into happy advocates of your brand in less time than traditional customer service often takes.” Daw basically recommends you monitor what’s being said about your company on Twitter, and be prepared to respond to any issue quickly and helpfully.
Twitter also acts as a record of how your company resolves disputes and confused customers, so potential clients will be able to see if you respond to customers well.
We think online business is becoming more social, and there are steps your can take to ensure that your e-commerce site is conducive to this new reality. Whether you’re hoping to add e-commerce to an existing business or start a new online store, we think any e-commerce initiative would be helped by making it more social.
One final tip: always be open to advice and input from your customers, because feedback is always valuable.
And on that note: Have any other tips on making e-commerce social? Please feel free to share them in the comments!
Need help making your e-commerce business a reality? Kobayashi Online is a digital marketing agency that strives to make the Web a social, friendly and beautiful place. Let us know how we can help!