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:
- Discover the app, typically through the content or experience it contains.
- Allow the app, either by installing it or allowing it access to profile information.
- Experience the app, which offers some mix of utility (e.g., shopping), content (e.g., news), or entertainment (e.g., gaming).
- Share content from the app, either explicitly or automatically (such as through Facebook’s frictionless sharing).
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:
- I hear about it
- I install it
- I play it
- I publicly post my scores
And it also holds true for a social retail experience such as theFancy.com:
- I find the site – likely through a friend’s posting
- I log in with Facebook and “allow”
- I experience the products and content
- I post and share my own experience (things I “fancy”)
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:
- I listen to a Grimes song on Spotify
- My friends automatically see a notification in their Facebook ticker
- They think, “Hmm, I like some of Kevin’s music”…and they click to check it out
This amplification also works for products on Pinterest:
- I pin a Waterford bag to my “Eternal Search for the Perfect Bag” pinboard
- My friends automatically see a notification in Facebook
- They click and check it out (and maybe they re-pin it, and amplify further)
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:
- Compelling enough to earn the customers’ allow or install. Compelling offers (product launches, exclusive offers, flash sales) consistently earn the allow.
- Engaging enough to generate amplification that is relevant and authentic. Engaging product experiences (voting, rating/reviewing, contributing, “liking”) consistently generate amplification.
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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