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Look Sharp! How Fashion Sites Are Reinventing E-Commerce

  |  March 9, 2012   |  Comments

Lessons in content marketing and social shopping from two stylish e-commerce sites.

Over the last few years, I've noticed that my friends are starting to become, well…better dressed. It may be simply because we're all getting a bit older and the classic ripped pants/ironic t-shirt/old Converse uniform doesn't look quite right for us. Or possibly it is because we're all a bit sick of thinking we are stylish wearing a pair of jeans, a nice button, and a blazer to a conference and discovering that's what everyone else in advertising is wearing.

Or, maybe it is the Gilt effect.

The Gilt Groupe is a site that has gotten immensely popular over the last few years. It is one of the pioneers in what has come to be called flash sales: great prices on a limited number of things you want, with new sales going online each day, all requiring that you sign up to become a member. Gilt offers deals for men, women, and kids, and has expanded into kitchen items and even local deals.

On the heels of Gilt are a few other sites, all focused on fashion. It occurs to me that maybe e-commerce, like the rest of the world, looks to the world of fashion for its cues and ideas. Fashion innovates and experiments and other industries watch and learn. Certainly this is true of colors and patterns and overall styles. But I think it may also be true of ways of doing business.

It seems, in fact, that we may be able to look into this world of fashion and find a few really great ideas that should start to make their way into some of your thinking about doing business online.

Relationships Required

In e-commerce, there's always a debate about whether or not to require people to register on a site. The thinking is that you should avoid registration, because people inherently don't want to register. If you put up a registration wall, you will absolutely lose some part of your audience.

Or will you?

Gilt requires you to register. It promises great products at great prices, but you have to become a member. Today, becoming a member is no big deal. You just sign up. That wasn't always the case - membership did not come as easily. This, of course, just made people want to get in even more. By showing that the shopping experience is worthwhile, it is able to capture relationships at the first step in the shopping cycle.

Social Is Shopping (and Shopping Is Social)

Similar to Gilt is Mr Porter. This site offers many of the same kinds of clothes and lifestyle accessories. The sort of things you would find at a high-end department store. But wow - it loves social media.

Mr Porter creates engagement through Facebook and Twitter every day by consistently pushing out pictures and comments about new products. But, even more importantly, it is tuned in. On the few occasions I've tested Mr Porter - tweeted questions at the company - it is always extremely responsive. As well, it hosts sessions on Facebook and Twitter with style experts. You can send in any question and someone will respond back.

Mr Porter lives well outside the virtual four walls of the site. It doesn't sell products out there, but it certainly stays highly engaged with its audience. It's a good idea - even if you don't expect your consumer to buy something every day, you certainly can try to get them to engage every day.

Content Can Be Compelling

Ultimately, the most amazing thing that fashion sites are doing is engaging in content marketing. This growing practice is using content - movies, music, words, pictures and more - instead of ads. Content needs to be relevant to the product of course, but can go deep into other lifestyle areas. CladMen is an experiment with Esquire magazine to integrate the high-quality writing from the magazine with a slew of products. The integration, which is well done, creates an experience that is not only enjoyable but also easily enables purchases.

Content marketing will be something that you are going to do this year. It is practically inevitable. Fashion shows that you can move from the product to how the product is used and find lots to talk about.

Great Partnerships Drive Engagement

Lastly, there is possibly the idea that promises to be the biggest breakthrough. Gilt Groupe has created a program with Klout, the service that provides people with a score based on the level of influence they yield in social media. The higher your Klout score, the more of a discount you will get from Gilt.

Consider this for a moment: a person's influence is sometimes described as being her "social capital." In this particular case, the consumer can exchange her social capital for real capital. She is taking her influence and actively trading it for discounts.

This makes sense for marketers and consumers. A consumer gets real rewards for her ability to spread messages. A marketer gets the ability to (essentially) buy space in an influencer's brain, the way she would with other media. In the world of fashion where 99.9 percent of people look to 0.1 percent for the right-thing-to-do, this sort of mechanic is invaluable.

The bottom line? We can always learn more by simply looking outside of what we do on a regular basis. Spend some time shopping on a few of these sites. Not only will you learn a few new approaches, you may just end up looking a bit better as well!

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Gary Stein

Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.

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