For even the most sartorially challenged individuals, shopping is no longer a risky business. That’s if you don’t mind sharing your tastes and purchases with the online world. Pre-purchase validation has become as much part of the online shopping experience as using the zoom tool and viewing catwalk. But who’s using this approach to buying? And does it help or hinder the sales of retailers encouraging it?
We’ve previously explored the characteristics of the Gen-Y shopper, and something which earmarks them as different to other consumer groups is their determination to seek approval: not just from their peers, but from their parents also. This is a customer who’s not looking to stick out as being oddball, but who wants to move with the crowd. It just so happens that that crowd moves pretty fast, and tastes change rapidly. This poses something of a dilemma for the millennial shopper, but one that has been tackled neatly by seeking peer approval via social channels pre-purchase.
Facebook is the most visible and adopted channel for peer approval. Scores of retail sites enable ‘Shares’ (Whistles for example), which post a product to the user’s timeline, or product ‘Likes’ (ASOS). Many sites also enable shoppers to tweet links to the product. This is a great way for brands to generate some simple analytics: gauging early interest can help pre-empt products which will need reordering. However, a number of innovative new methods have emerged, leaving this kind of link sharing feeling flat in comparison.
Fantasy Shopper is one of those: merging online gaming with fashion, the site won Amazon’s Global Start-up Challenge last November. Gamers compete to build the best outfits and fill virtual wardrobes with garments they’re lusting after. Prizes, in the form of vouchers for participating high street stores, are awarded to outfits with the most admirers. The game charges shopping with a sporting element and adds thrill to the chase. It’s unclear whether it will actually encourage purchase though, as one user’s testimonial states on the site’s homepage: “It’s definitely helped get rid of my actual shopping needs”!
The rapid growth of, and interest in, Pinterest highlights the demand for crowd sourced product and for sharing of tastes. A site which can attract 20,000 repins for avocado on a slice of toast certainly has a share-hungry user base. So how can social sharing combined with interactive shopping be fully harnessed to generate sales? London-based start-up, LOOKK, are pioneering just that. Users of their site get to view look books from new and emerging designers, follow the designer and are then informed when their products are available for purchase. Creating an online community with commenting encouraged, the site effectively crowd sources the design direction of new labels, whilst building their fanbase of potential customers.
In order to engage the Gen-Y shopper, there will also need to be ways to bring this kind of validation to the instore experience. UK-based Aurora Fashions (who own Warehouse, Oasis and Coast) are working towards exactly this. Mike Shearwood, speaking at the Business Seminar at the L’oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival in March, outlined their plan to access their loyal customer’s Facebook pages at the point of sale by detecting the customer’s mobile device as they walk into store. The sales person will then be able to address them personally, and having pulled up their sales history, selected an item from the range which suits their tastes. They’ll be encouraged to try the product on and the assistant can offer to take a picture which can be posted onto their Facebook wall to ask friends whether they should buy. Gen-Y-ready or what?
Whilst many retailers are installing iPads on the shop floor, in order to move beyond gimmick these need to offer something more than content shoppers can already access on their smart phones. The Brazilian branch of C&A this week launched a series of clothing hangers which digitally display the number of ‘likes’ the garment has received on Facebook. This concept leads to all kinds of off-shoots: QR codes embedded in garments which let the wearer know when the garment’s trend has died? Customers paid per ‘like’ or ‘share’ to become brand advocates?
Of course, there’s likely to be a backlash against the mass-approved model and that’s when brands will have to dig deep with their merchandising and product development to reignite imaginations. But for now, continue letting customers seek as much approval as they need!