From apps that allow you to monetize your Instagram account to partnering with bloggers to boost your reputation among the fashion set, retailing in 2014 has taken a decidedly next-generation turn
In modern retailing, it’s never business as usual. Today’s merchants are selling in an ever-evolving environment. One where technology moves faster than a caffeinated cheetah. To be effective, marketing needs to disrupt the status quo—demanding creative, sophisticated thinking at every turn.
The good news is that merchants ready to embrace this untamed new world will find a host of next-generation retailing opportunities at their fingertips.
Itching to get started? Check out these forward-thinking tools and technologies and digital-driven marketing strategies.
For a while, it looked like social media sites would remain (relatively) retail-free zones. Branding has, for years, been the endgame for merchants long conditioned not to expect too much from websites and mobile apps.
But opportunities for so-called social selling—selling products directly off social networks—are proliferating. “We’re starting to see this shift in companies where they’re really beginning to understand that social networks are how they are going to reach people,” says Jennifer Fong, an independent social media and direct sales expert.
Swarovski has embraced Instagram to encourage its followers to share their looks.
Fong and other Web sales watchers concede that social sites aren’t poised to topple traditional e-commerce websites just yet. Building and maintaining a robust e-com site is still priority No. 1 when it comes to boosting your online sales. But don’t discount the growing power of social media to increase your bottom line. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and newer additions including Snapchat, Path, and Tinder are where your customers go to congregate with pals, unwind, and stay abreast of news that’s trending online.
And some pundits believe social networks may one day drive sales with the muscle and reach of a modern-day Google. The jury’s still out on how and when that could occur. One thing’s for sure: The next generation of digital sales tools are so social, they should come with a punch bowl and sandwich platter.
Instagram, the current darling of social networks, is actually the sixth-most-used social site in existence—trailing Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in that order. But it’s by far the fastest growing; in the six months leading up to Dec. 31, 2013, the site grew by 23 percent.
Yet the photo-sharing service may be the trickiest network for selling—primarily because its design doesn’t allow for frictionless click-throughs directly from posts, only profiles. Until the company adds new design features, there are several ways to get selling on the photo-packed site.
House Account is an app that helps retailers connect with clients.
Hashbag, operated by Swedish entrepreneur Johan Simonsen, is a website where retailers can add their for-sale items to a database of products online. The process goes like this: You upload an image to Instagram with the hashtag #forsale; someone from Hashbag emails with a price request; then the item goes live, populating your personal Hashbag storefront, which you can promote through a direct link that lives on your company’s Instagram page.
App, App, and Away!
Other apps—including Soldsie and Chirpify—use a comment-to-buy model (they both work with Facebook, too). Retailers post items for sale and shoppers write sold in the comments if they want to purchase a product. Companies then send an invoice directly to the consumer via email, which can be paid through PayPal or a debit or credit card. The rub? Your shoppers have to sign up for the service as well.
When consumers write sold on a post, “they are essentially leaving that footprint on the page, and allowing friends to see the brand and product—leading to more buying,” Soldsie CEO Chris Bennett said at a retailing conference sponsored by trend forecasting agency PSFK last year.
House Account, a new app co-created by Laura Vinroot Poole, owner of Charlotte, N.C.–based luxury boutiques Capitol and Poole Shop, offers a personalized way for retailers to connect with clients. Built to spotlight high-end independent boutiques, the app lets users sift through product images from their favorite shops, with the option to chat directly with sales associates through the easy-to-use interface.
But Facebook, still the No. 1 social network (who knows for how long?), offers the most straightforward way to break into social selling: by building an actual shop that lives exclusively on your store’s Facebook page. Various platforms, including Ecwid and Vendevor, allow retailers to download apps that erect simple, titled product pages on Facebook.
Vendevor allows users to create a virtual Facebook shop that customers access by clicking a “Shop” button. This button routes to the product page(s), where items link to a checkout that’s built into the app, so users stay on Facebook to complete the purchase. “The more steps involved in the checkout process, the higher the probability you’re going to lose the sale,” says Charlie Gasmire, chief marketing officer for Vendevor.
That you don’t have to enlist PayPal or a similar site is good for your store’s image; it looks like you have the clout of a major brand that installed its own point-of-sale system.
There’s also the option of selling through social networks less directly by penning brief sales instructions in the caption of your product photos. Writing item for sale with instructions on how to get it may sound like an obvious must-do, but retailers often make the mistake of not reminding followers that what they’re posting can actually be purchased. Consumers frequently find exactly what they want while browsing social networks. If you give them an easy path to purchase, they’re more likely to buy.
With instant gratification becoming an expectation in online retailing, reducing friction in any checkout scenario is key. “I think you’ll start to see more one-click checkouts,” says Vendevor’s Gasmire. “Everything is going to speed up.”
For many retailers, implementing the right digital tools and technologies to respond to that desire for velocity may result in a series of trials and errors before they ultimately reap rewards. That said, it’s a journey modern merchants can’t afford to skip.
|LAGOS teamed up with style blogger Kimberly Pesch of EatSleepWear.com to help promote its jewels—and how they can be layered—to her online community.|
Partnering With Venues
Next-generation retailing relies on innovative—even off-the-wall—ideas. For example, you might consider ways to strategically partner with local hotels to make in-person sales.
Newport Beach, Calif.–based brand Lugano Diamonds recently forged a partnership with nearby luxury hotel Montage Laguna Beach. Resort guests can now arrange for a case full of Lugano Diamonds jewelry to be delivered to their room for their own private viewing. Brand representatives help guests pick out pieces they love, which they can then wear to dinner, an event, or even poolside with no obligation to buy—though making sales is, of course, the program’s goal.
“Lugano Diamonds and Montage Laguna Beach share many of the same core values,” says Moti Ferder, president and design director of Lugano Diamonds. “We firmly believe the guest experience, whether purchasing jewelry or relaxing…should be unforgettable.”
Of course, the brand’s arrangement is mutually beneficial, as it gives the Montage a way to further pamper its affluent clientele.
Some of the globe’s biggest brands have been partnering for years with independent bloggers to publicize products and promotions. A recent Swarovski campaign included partnerships with four style bloggers who posted tips and video tutorials on how to “get the look” using Swarovski jewelry. One blog picked a reader each week to be gifted a piece of jewelry.
But you don’t have to have a large budget—or any budget, really—to forge mutually beneficial partnerships with bloggers in your area. Many bloggers, even those with mammoth followings, are open to teaming up with brands in exchange for cross-promotional efforts; essentially, you re-post their content on your social channels and talk up the blog to your followers. Some will even work for product or discounts—just make sure you’re presenting a fair exchange and that your chosen blog jibes tonally and demographically with your business.
Take LAGOS, which partnered with style blogger Kimberly Pesch of EatSleepWear.com to promote its 18k gold Covet collection. Pesch featured the collection on her fan-filled social media pages, and the brand repurposed her updates on its website.
LAGOS public relations manager Lindsay Sargent says the company vetted scores of bloggers before finding just the right ambassador. “Covet is a great collection for layering,” she explains. “So we wanted to tap into an influencer who had a unique styling ability that wouldn’t intimidate our followers.”
Is there a blogger in your town who might be a great media partner for your business? Start by shooting that person an email with the subject line “I have an idea.” After all, nothing ventured, no one engaged.