December 29, 2008, 12:00 AM

Going Social

(Page 2 of 2)

Creativity is an apt word to describe Charlotte Russe’s online community. Inexpensive is another. The retailer, which introduced e-commerce this year, went beyond its platform provider GSI Commerce Inc. to look for inexpensive and speedy ways to engage customers.

What it found in its search was Polyvore Inc., maker of a web-based application for mixing and matching images from anywhere online. A small player looking to grow, Polyvore allowed Charlotte Russe to add its application to the retailer’s e-commerce site for free. Beginning in spring, shoppers at Charlotte Russe could create virtual outfits though the application.

Charlotte Russe used an IFrame, essentially an HTML coding process, to separate Polyvore from the GSI platform. Consumers accessing Polyvore are directed to a different platform, but are not aware of it. Set-up took a few weeks, Gillan says.

The retailer also added another community feature in July called ShopTogether. The interactive shopping application, hosted by vendor Decision Step, embedded via JavaScript into each of the pages on Charlotte Russe’s web site, allows users to invite others to shop with them virtually. Consumers can see and comment on one another’s selections, Gillan says. The feature is still new and Gillan says his staff has yet to figure out the best way to promote it and so adoption is still low.

“If there is one thing I could recommend it’s to think outside the box. There are a lot of niche providers who will be more than happy to partner with you to get exposure,” Gillan says. “You are never going to be on the cutting edge if you don’t look beyond the large platform providers.”

Gillan notes that pinpointing the best spots for community features and finding ways to promote them takes finesse and a lot of trial and error. “We’re still figuring it out,” he says. For example, when ShopTogether is on the home page, shoppers use it more, but the retailer is not sure if that is the right spot for it. Deeper in the site, use might be lower, but the application may be in a more relevant place where consumers would actually need it rather than just click on it out of curiosity.

The ‘Wow’ factor

Still, Gillan says consumers are spending more time on the site since it added community features. And, because he can track the conversations of consumers using Shop Together, he knows visitors like the tool. “People say: ‘Wow, this is great,’or ‘Why doesn’t so and so have this on their web site,’” he says.

In fact, Gillan is looking to add more community elements to He’s testing a new feature through Decision Step that shows shoppers viewing a specific type of apparel, such as casual tops, to see the tops most viewed by other shoppers in the last 10 seconds. Other features on the horizon include a fashion glossary and a persona tool that asks consumers questions about their style preferences, assigns them a style personality and shows them apparel they might like.

Wet Seal, a Fry client and another apparel e-retailer targeting young women, launched a social community in the spring and did a good job of building community into a basic premise that fit its customer base-girls obsessed with fashion. “Girls create ensembles, post them to a virtual runway and others rate them with ‘Love it’ or, they don’t say anything,” Bateman says.

Young shoppers adopted the community, both by participating in it and by pulling out their pocket­books. Sales spiked 10% within a few months of launch and as of June, about 10% of the retailer’s total monthly web traffic-about 200,000 visitors-were trekking to the hub. Today, the community has more than 30,000 members.

Marketing insights

Wet Seal, which decided to add a community when it noticed that 15% of its traffic was coming directly from social networking site MySpace, says it’s pleased with the results.

Beyond such obvious benefits as increased traffic and sales, retailers can use communities for something else: Learning about the customer. MotoSpace has helped Farhoodi do just that.

“Looking at the site is educating us about new trends or even issues with products. We don’t drop ship, everything we sell is in stock, so that knowledge is a huge help for us,” he says. “It’s telling us what’s hot.”

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