October 1, 2008, 12:00 AM

Wet Seal uses its digital community to drive multi-channel sales

An interactive kiosk pilot will enable shoppers to compare the piece of apparel or ensemble they are about to try on with 25,000 combinations reviewed by 30,000 users in Wet Seal’s digital community.

The Wet Seal Inc. is turning its online community into a multi-channel retailing opportunity.

The retailer, No. 326 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, soon will conduct a pilot project at its store in Irvine, CA, that places an interactive kiosk just outside the fitting rooms. Wet Seal believes the pilot will drive higher ensemble sales across the web and stores.

The kiosk will let a shopper compare the piece of apparel or ensemble she is about to try on with all of the 25,000 combinations archived and reviewed by the 30,000 users in Wet Seal’s digital community, which launched in April. "The shopper will be able to get peer-based trend advice at the style and store level," says Wet Seal director of e-commerce Adam Silverman. "She’ll scan in an item, and be able to see top-rated outfits created by her peers that are in stock in the store she’s in."

The community is a social area where shoppers can create, share, save and post outfits to a virtual runway for visitors to view and rate. Amateur designers also can add and exchange messages with their network of chosen friends and choose a stylist screen name.

By linking the ensemble information stored in its community database to an interactive kiosk, Wet Seal sees an opportunity to personalize a store visit and complement a store associate’s individual product knowledge with a digital tool set. “By using the information provided directly from the community as she goes into the dressing room, we’re instantly providing the shopper with more relevant advice,” says Silverman. “The biggest questions we get have to do with buying the right outfit or ensemble. A newly engaged woman may want advice on what’s trendy but appropriate to wear to a dinner where she’s meeting her fiancé’s family for the first time. She can use the kiosk to see what other community members are mixing and matching.”

Today, many online retail apparel sites are set up to sell specific pieces of merchandise such as a particular blouse or skirt, says Silverman. But Wet Seal can generate bigger tickets online and in stores by marketing and merchandising ensembles. On its community pages, users can name their ensembles and tag them with keywords such as “beach” or “going to work.” The tags are used by visitors to help them find outfits that interest them. If a shopper likes an outfit created by another user she can click “Love it,” thus boosting that outfit’s overall rating. Visitors can view all creations by a particular stylist and sort by geographical location and top-rated ensembles.

Since the community went live, users have generated more than two million views of different outfits, including sometimes as many as 17,000 on a busy day. Wet Seal still is developing key details surrounding its interactive kiosk project, including setting a timetable for the pilot and selecting a terminal vendor.

But it’s already proven that the community is driving higher sales, Silverman says. Web sales tied to the community are about 10% bigger, he says. Wet Seal also sees an online community as a strategy to generate other multi-channel retail opportunities. “We are piloting an early example of how social commerce can impact multiple retail channels,” Silverman says. “At the kiosk they can scan a ticket and get instant ensemble views and review arrangements. It’s another form of having a personalized shopper.”

Silverman will speak at the second Internet Retailer Web Design Conference, Jan. 19-22, 2009, in Miami. His session, titled “Leveraging social technologies strategically in your site design” will be on Jan. 21.

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