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Why Heels.com Prefers Polyvore to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Etc.

  |  March 27, 2014   |  Comments

The online shoe purveyor says it sees better e-commerce results from the fashion discovery site than from bigger social media competitors.

chineselaundry-ringaroundHeels.com, an online purveyor of shoes aimed at women ages 18 to 45, with some "shoeaholics" thrown in, has found that when it comes to e-commerce, small and targeted can be beautiful. 

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company recently shared with ClickZ the results it got when it intensified content efforts on the Polyvore site in the fourth quarter of last year.

The result: relatively small e-commerce start-up Polyvore outperformed the other social media giants without requiring huge upfront investments. 

Polyvore lets users discover and share finds in fashion, beauty, and home décor. Users can mix and match products into named sets, whether it be Tea Time, 60-Second Looks, or "How to wear white peep-toe boots." (Yes you can wear white shoes before Memorial Day!)

While it does have 20 million unique monthly visitors, that is dwarfed by platforms such as Facebook (1.23 billion), Instagram (150 million), and Pinterest (2.5 billion monthly). Yet it is currently a favorite with Heels.com.

"Polyvore's users are more interested in creating sets than Facebook posts. These are the trendsetters and their friends look to them for advice, so there is better on-site engagement and a high level of virality," says Austin Caldwell, marketing director with Heels.com, which features about 150 designer shoe brands on its site. "People are always looking for that perfect shoe to complete an outfit," he adds.

Although Heels.com has been using the Polyvore site for some time, in the second half of last year it decided to add more promoted posts and intensify its focus on organic ones, Caldwell says.

In a post-mortem analysis, the choice was a good one: sales from the Polyvore site increased 79 percent compared to the same quarter the previous year, and product shares both on and off the Polyvore site increased 62 percent.

Heels.com also found that Polyvore was responsible for an average of 85 percent of its social media sales referrals, compared to 7 percent from Facebook, 5 percent from Pinterest, 2 percent from YouTube, and 1 percent from Twitter. The average share of traffic was also 80 percent from the fashion site, compared to 7 percent from Facebook, 8 percent from Pinterest, 3 percent from YouTube, and 2 percent from Twitter. The privately held company won't reveal its total revenues. 

Besides the fact that Polyvore users mesh well with Heels.com's target market, Caldwell say another reason for these results is that Polyvore manages to seamlessly get users to their site.

Instagram for example, lacks the ability to embed URLs in the copy.

"Instagram has awesome engagement and the best demographic for our brand, but there is nowhere to click through," Caldwell says. And although Heels.com promotes itself heavily on its Facebook page, he says that due to the giant's punishing algorithms, only a tiny fraction of the 158,000 people who have liked the page will ever see those posts.

heelsshoesAsked about competitors such as e-commerce sites Fab and No More Rack, Caldwell says their focus is not right for Heels.com. "Fab is based on flash sales and No More Rack sells excess inventory of large designers," he notes. "We are very lean and don't order 10,000-size runs."

Heels.com also uses Polyvore to see what's hot and get ideas for its own content. "We can see when a shoe is trending after being recommended by a good influencer," says Caldwell. Still, this does not mean the company is giving up on the big networks. "Instagram and Pinterest are the platforms our generation of customers is moving toward."

Founded in 2007, Polyvore was initially based around organic sharing of its users. Early on, it struck affiliate marketing deals with brands, in which Polyvore would get paid each time a user purchased something on a brand site.

But, like other sites, it has gradually moved away from that model to a higher reliance on promoted posts, which appear as either an item in a search, much like the ads at the top of a Google search, or more recently as native content shown in the news feed.

"Organic is more to get brand exposure which can be shared on social media, whereas promoted posts, tallied on a cost-per-click basis, are designed to increase sales and traffic to the brand's site," says Arnie Gullov-Singh, chief revenue officer at Polyvore. (It is not very clear from a perusal of the site, however, which are which.)

He says about 500 brands are now active on the site in some form. But the vast majority of product sets are still created by users. Brands produce about 4,000 sets a month, out of the 4 million that are generated overall.

Like on other sites, only a fraction of Polyvore's users are active creators, about 1 million according to Gullov-Singh. "Our top creators have great taste and influence others around them with their recommendations."

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Mary Lisbeth  D'Amico

Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.

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