6/06/11

An e-retailer’s Facebook page evolves into a Facebook store

Apparel merchant Ulla Popken is among the first to use social commerce software from MarketLive.

Don Davis , Editor in Chief

Retailer Ulla Popken, which specializes in plus-size apparel for larger women, has been on a journey that’s naturally led to social networks like Facebook and Twitter—and soon to a full-fledged e-commerce site on Facebook—says Michelle Richenderfer, director of e-commerce.

The journey began with the realization a few years ago that the retailer had to do a better job of communicating its mission, which is providing women who wear sizes 12 and up with quality and stylish clothing, Richenderfer says. With that in mind, Ulla Popken came up with a message for its customers: Live for today, and don’t wait until you lose 10 pounds to do the things you want to do.

“Our customers being plus-size tend not to be completely comfortable in their skins,” Richenderfer says. “We got behind the idea of encouraging our customers, and women in general to live life to the fullest. Live your life now; don’t wait for tomorrow. We want our customers to feel comfortable in the clothing they’re wearing to take this step in their lives, to live it up.”

With that message in place, the retailer set about building a better e-commerce site, working with e-retail technology vendor MarketLive Inc. Moving to a new MarketLive platform and redesigning the UllaPopken.com site took up most of last year, Richenderfer says.

As it built its new web site, the retailer added several social features, including a section called U.P. Life that offers the writings of plus-size  fashion consultant Babe Hope, and recently added videos. The retailer also started a blog and created pages on social networks Facebook and Twitter.

The retailer created its Facebook page about six months ago, but only started promoting it in the last few months, through e-mails to its file of 80,000 active customers and through its catalog. Ulla Popken sends out 26 catalogs a year, 6 million pieces in total, and those catalogs represent a major driver of traffic to UllaPopken.com, which generates 60-65% of the retailer’s sales, Richenderfer says. She says the company’s annual web sales are around $12 million. Ulla Popken is part of German apparel retailer Ulla Popken GmbH.

Customers responded to the Facebook news. From about 600 followers three months ago, the retailer’s Facebook page now has nearly 2,800 fans. Richenderfer concedes that’s a far cry from some competitors that got an earlier start on Facebook—The Talbots, for instance, has nearly 118,000 Facebook fans. But, she says, “This is a pretty good start. We’ve been putting a little more attention into it and seeing people responding at pretty phenomenal rates.” The Talbots Inc. is No. 112 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

The next step was to enable customers to buy directly on the Ulla Popken page on Facebook, and the retailer introduced the capability last month. But that’s enabled via a direct data feed that does not allow the retailer to offer all the features of its e-commerce site, such as zoom on product pages or presenting best-sellers first. That will soon change, Richenderfer says.

For Ulla Popken is among the first group of retailers taking advantage of the new MarketLive Social Store for Facebook that the e-commerce technology vendor is now testing and will soon make generally available. That Social Store technology will allow Ulla Popken to automatically add new products, images and descriptions to its Facebook store as it adds them to its main e-commerce site. And it will be able to create special Facebook promotions, all using the same console the retailer works with to manage its e-retail site, Richenderfer says. She says the retailer, which offers 12,000 SKUs on its e-commerce site, will make all of its product available on its Facebook store.

MarketLive says there is no additional charge for the Social Store software, but there may be fees for retailers that want a Facebook store customized. Richenderfer says Ulla Popken is planning to implement the new MarketLive technology without customization.

Richenderfer says the new Facebook store, which she expects to be operational by late July or early August, is a natural next step on its journey to communicate more with customers, and an important part of its commerce strategy. “We feel this will be one of the big drivers in the future, now that everyone is getting on Facebook, not just the younger clientele,” she says. “It’s becoming the norm for everyone to have a Facebook account along with an e-mail account.”

She says it’s important that the new Facebook store will let consumers purchase on Facebook, whereas the retailer’s current Facebook store links customers back to UllaPopken.com to buy. “This way we can not only have our Facebook page but also have our merchandise out where we’re being social with customers,” she says. “As customers talk about different items it will give them the ability to make the purchase within Facebook, and not lose that connection of staying within Facebook and being social.”

Topics:

Europe, Facebook, Facebook store, Germany, MarketLive, Michelle Richenderfer, online apparel sales, social commerce, social media, The Talbots, Twitter, Ulla Popken, videos

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