The web doesn't work like it used to. And that's a great thing for retailers.
For the past 15 years or so, a customer would "browse" to a retailer's e-commerce site, "navigate" a catalog of products, maybe buy something, and then leave. Online retail has been a solitary, hidden experience for even a brand's most loyal shoppers.
Although this model is still the norm for many e-commerce sites, new shopping experiences are based on something different, the social retail model. The social retail model hinges on two particular aspects of the customer experience that, when executed correctly, marketers and merchandisers can leverage to great advantage: app-ification and amplification.
The social- and mobile-centric web is starting to app-ify; as we've learned from mobile, apps are the most universal container for user experiences and the exchange of value between brands and consumers. Whether they ultimately install an app on their iPhone, or click "allow" on a Facebook permissions dialogue, consumers are following the same basic engagement flow:
This new flow is quickly replacing the old means of accessing and experiencing content online (open browser, enter URL, "surf" the web, and so on).
This holds true for Angry Birds:
And it also holds true for a social retail experience such as theFancy.com:
For marketers and merchandisers who want to create compelling experiences to their products, this app-ified model brings a significant new advantage: the "allow."
The allow (or install) step is the cleanest and most powerful "opt in." The old rules of permission marketing still apply - brands need to offer a compelling reason for consumers to share their profile data - but the app-ification of the web makes this a very explicit "tit for tat."
"Frictionless" sharing is rapidly replacing explicit sharing (click "share," compose a post, choose a channel, publish), which often works only when someone really wants to share something. Most of the time, however, this kind of sharing is too much work. Frictionless sharing builds multiple amplification opportunities into the social retail experience with no effort on the part of the consumer.
By building experiences that take advantage of the social graph (what did my friends do?) and the interest graph (what did other people like me do?), brands can significantly amplify product discovery. Brands such as Spotify and Pinterest follow the social retail model to engage customers, create momentum, and amplify discovery.
Look at how Spotify puts amplification to work for music:
This amplification also works for products on Pinterest:
This is the way all social retail experiences should work.
Putting App-ification and Amplification to Work Effectively
The emerging "app model" can be incredibly powerful for marketers and merchandisers creating social retail experiences. These experiences should automatically generate relevant and authentic amplification based on customers using the app, site, or microsite. That "relevant and authentic" part can be tricky though, if they don't create social retail experiences that are both:
The good news is that the industry is starting to see some best practices in both these areas, based on what social customers respond to best. The emergence of this new social retail model marks an exciting time for brands looking to connect with their customers.
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Kevin has been working with brands and retailers to build e-commerce and social media marketing solutions since 1995. As an entrepreneur and business development leader in growth-stage companies, he is most interested in developing new markets at the intersection of consumers, brands, and emerging technologies. Kevin currently leads marketing and product management at ShopIgniter, providers of Enterprise Social Commerce solutions to the F1000.