June 20, 2011, 10:55 AM

IRCE 2011 Report: Retailers should put people first

Facebook enables merchants to make shopping more social, say IRCE speakers.

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Though shopping is inherently social, online retailers often fail to leverage that consumer mindset, said David Fisch, Facebook’s director of business development, last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2011 in San Diego. “Online shopping is efficient but it’s not really social,” he said. “We want recommendations from people we know and trust,” he said.

Facebook affords retailers the opportunity to leverage that potential. For instance, nine weeks ago Fisch had his first child. But his family tradition prohibited him from buying anything for the baby before it was born. That meant that as soon as the baby was born Fisch had to scramble to buy a stroller and other essentials.

Asking his Facebook connections what stroller he should buy resulted in roughly 25 responses within an hour. “I ended up buying a stroller based on those suggestions,” he said. “That behavior happens offline all the time and, increasingly, it’s happening online. There’s a huge opportunity here to really participate in this and, for the first time ever, drive word of mouth at scale.”

Facebook believes that the leveraging of the social web is part of a much larger technology shift in which social could become a larger driver of web traffic than search, he said. That’s because Facebook has seen several elements on its site, such as photo sharing and gaming, gain significant traction even though they were less sophisticated than the competition. “We focus on people first and functions second,” said Fisch.

Because social media is so new it affords savvy retailers a unique opportunity to tap into that potential, said Jon Fahrner, CEO of social software company BumeBox.com. He pointed to retailers such Urban Outfitters, which has used Facebook to draw college students to parties featuring a DJ at its retail stores. Once those consumers are at the stores the retailer offers them a 10% discount on everything. The reason the effort works is because it isn’t focused on the Urban Outfitters brand. “It taps into things that people care about more than just Urban Outfitters,” he said.

Facebook works as a marketing platform when retailers aren’t focused strictly on generating sales, said Fahrner. “You have to realize that this is where people are hanging out,” he said.

To generate traction marketers should hone in on their targets’ lifestyles. “Ask yourself, ‘Is the strategy or content more important to your customers’ life than your products.” Because if it is, they won’t tune your message out, Fahrner said.

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