Back in 2007, Gilt Groupe did something quite simple: they took the ubiquitous sample sale online in the U.S. Buying directly from brands and maintaining the luxury quality of product by making the site invite-only, their flash sales last 24 hours only. Their very first sale was Zac Posen stock and they took $9,565 in a day. Fast-forward five years, the company has added homeware, travel and food categories, the founders have just launched a book and the company is valued at $1 billion. Not bad huh? But Gilt also had a profound effect on the online industry as a whole, as they’re the first to admit.
In conversation with Adweek last month, co-founder Alexis Maybank professed: “The retail model really was changed in the Gilt formula, which was act now, move quickly. We don’t have everything for everyone. We don’t have goods that are always here and available, and that was the typical norm within e-commerce—everything for everyone and lots and lots of selection.”
The power lies in Gilt’s ability to tap into something at the very core of consumerism: fear. By limiting the time-frame products are on sale for and by flagging up products which are in consumer’s online baskets, they’re activating demand and generating panic buying. They’ve latched onto the addictive quality of auction sites like eBay and given it a fashionable facelift.
Gilt’s ability to produce an emotional rollercoaster in the shopping experience – from fear as the clock starts ticking to elation when the product is ‘won’ – is gold dust. Unicist ontological psychologies believe that fear of social exclusion and the guilt of not being able to meet the standards of a group are the main drives of consumerism. Gilt Groupe anyone? Without getting all communist on you, how have existing retailers reacted to tapping into the very core of consumerism?
It’s a concept which translates easily at fast-fashion level, where consumers are hungry for newness and au fait with searching for discounts. No surprise then that H&M‘s email campaigns often feature 3-day-only 50% online sales – they’ve sent out four such campaigns so far this year. Same goes at Forever 21 with their ‘Today Only’ fleeting discounts: two in April alone. And of course, ASOS are onboard with their frequent one day only free next day delivery deals and promotions such as this week’s ‘Yay for Bank Holiday! 24% off for 24 hours’.
Terminology such as ‘Ends soon’, ‘Last chance’ and ‘Last day’ plastered on neon signs have peppered the windows of discount stores as long as retail cares to remember (all are phrases we’ve spotted in email campaigns in the last week). What is new, is when luxury and branded retailers activate the emotional response too. Neiman Marcus frequently send out ‘Midday Dash‘ and ‘Evening Dash‘ campaigns – in fact two this week. And customers love it. In the past quarter, Neiman Marcus sent out 46 such emails and grew their online fanbase by 41,653 new followers.
Neiman Marcus have clearly latched onto a formula which works for them. But how about the boys? Surprisingly, menswear retailers renowned for their marketing don’t touch the tactic: neither Bonobos or Mr Porter have tapped into the panic purchasing method. Men being far less impulsive shoppers perhaps suggests fear/guilt isn’t a motivating factor for them. Some menswear retailers however, have played up the ‘sport’ in this kind of shopping. Both Burton and Topman have flash sales and offers for their subscribers – interestingly, a tactic Topshop doesn’t employ.
It’s not just discounted stock the reaction can apply to. How can brands tap into the psychology of purchase without compromising their aspirational image? Actually, it’s being done pretty well already. Burberry offering their new season product online in a limited time frame post-show, does exactly this and other savvy sites have latched on. Moda Operandi are one of these, with ‘trunk show’ previews of new season collections available for pre-order. Their “Don’t miss out! Each collection is available for a limited time only” says it all. As the e-tail battle gets ever-fiercer, you can expect to see more and more of these emotional tactics coming into play.