Strategically social

E-retailers are learning that they don’t have to scream about social media on their e-commerce sites to use it effectively.

Allison Enright

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Consumers see directives to spread the word on social media about what they are seeing online just about everywhere, from serious news stories to funny cat videos and everything in between.

The majority of e-retailers are in on the social media party too. Last year, very nearly all, 496, of the 500 largest online retailers in North America had a presence on Facebook, and 66% of the Top 500 included Facebook Like buttons on product pages so consumers could click to share products to the social network, according to data on Internet Retailer's Top500Guide.com. Retailers' use of Twitter trends similarly, with 486 last year broadcasting messages on the microblogging network and 65% encouraging consumers to tweet from product pages on their e-commerce sites. 62% include the Pinterest "P" button on product pages to share to the image-based social network.

With all the web page real estate e-retailers devote to encouraging shoppers to talk about them on the major social networks, retailers are starting to analyze what they're getting for their investment and to fine-tune how they incorporate social elements on their e-commerce sites. Some are scaling back the overt placements of the Facebook "thumbs-up" Like and the Twitter bird icons, while others are elevating features tied to data generated on social media and tools like Facebook Connect, which allows consumers to log in to an e-commerce site using their Facebook credentials rather than create a user name and password just for that e-commerce site. Rather than scream at consumers from home pages to Like them, retailers today are using social more subtly and more strategically in a way that generates meaningful results.

E-retailer Zazzle Inc. prides itself on its inherent "socialness," co-founder and chief product officer Jeff Beaver says. But when the e-retailer of creative and customizable products embarked on a redesign of Zazzle.com a little more than a year ago, it was determined to think beyond Likes, Tweets and Pins to how it could maximize the impact of social interactions. Looking long-term, Beaver says Zazzle will use individual consumers' browsing, sharing and buying data to fully personalize what those consumers see when they log in at Zazzle.com, and today's Likes, Tweets and Pins will help them do that. It is building out its technology to move toward this goal.

"Already we see amazing social interaction around products and designers," Beaver says. Approximately 2.6% of total traffic to Zazzle.com comes from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, according to the 2013 edition of Internet Retailer's Social Media 300, where Zazzle ranks No. 197.

"The question is: How can we enhance that even further? Facebook and other networks can help you do that on one side of it, and on our end we know what they do on the Zazzle site. Merging the two will help us make sense of what we can make for them in the future."

For example, a consumer who has purchased or shared on social media the designs of a particular seller might see, upon logging in, that designer's new products and his social media posts about the products. The consumer might then converse with the designer on Twitter, saying she'd love to buy the new product if only it came in red. "A huge part of our value proposition is that we can make anything, and the more we know the more we can tailor it for you," Beaver says. "Strategically, it is an imperative that we are really good at this."

Design-wise, and in the shorter-term, Zazzle wanted to showcase its products and the products of its citizen-designers within a minimalist design for the Zazzle brand itself. "The product and the content is the star of the show, so social had to be integrated as aesthetically as possible," Beaver says. That means nary a single Facebook "thumbs-up" or Twitter bird icon appear on the site. Instead, the words Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., appear in the home page footer in the same font family as the rest of the page. On product pages, a similarly styled Share button enables social sharing, while pressing a Like button tells Zazzle about the consumer's product preferences so it can personalize what the consumer sees. "It can be a bit jarring to see a lot of [social] buttons haphazardly thrown on a site, so we had to think about how to treat those," Beaver says.

Zazzle is testing how consumers respond to further social-sharing tools on the site. For example, it is testing how it can enhance the social utility of the Add to Cart button. The test shows one button sectioned off on one side with Add to Cart for consumers who are ready to purchase, while the other side features a heart icon. Clicking the heart opens a drop-down window with options to save the product for later, Like it to Facebook, Pin to Pinterest and other sharing options. "The treatment is as integrated into our own style as possible," Beaver says. Zazzle, at the time of publication, continues to run the A/B test on the enhanced cart button.

At AbesMarket.com social sharing prompts are also being used more strategically, as the basis of a rewards points program that encourages repeat purchases. Consumers visiting the natural and eco-friendly products retailer's site will on certain pages, like category landing pages, see a prompt to "Earn Abe's Rewards" and icons for e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest customized to match the the e-commerce site's style. Clicking a Learn More button pops a window that explains to consumers how they can earn points by sharing and for traffic that comes to AbesMarket.com from those shares. If a visit results in a sale, the consumer gets extra points. Consumers can redeem points for gift certificates to put toward future site purchases.

"It is no longer relevant to just say [to consumers] we are on Twitter or Facebook, but to say why it is relevant to go there," says Kimberley Grayson, the retailer's chief revenue officer. Abe's Market developers built the program based on social technology vendor Social Annex Inc.'s social-sharing platform. The program launched in February and while Grayson won't reveal specific results, she says data show the loyalty program based on social sharing is helping spread the word and attract new customers. "Part of that comes from what we do, but also from the engaged visitor who shares on our behalf." She says the site's repeat visitor rate is up, as is the frequency of their visits.

Digging deeper into the data reveals differences in consumer behavior by social network. Shoppers who join the rewards program most often share to Facebook, but Grayson says Abe's Market derives the most referral traffic from shares on Twitter. Fewer still share via e-mail, but e-mail shares result in the most direct sales for AbesMarket.com.

Plus-sized women's apparel retailer Ulla Popken is seeing similar results with its social-sharing rewards program. Unlike Abe's Market's points-based program, Ulla Popken rewards a consumer who shares information about the e-retailer with a coupon for 20% off any item once someone she's shared with clicks on the shared Facebook post, Twitter tweet or e-mail message. That person gets a 20% off coupon too. Ulla Popken created the program through MarketLive Inc., its e-commerce platform provider, which has built a link to SocialAnnex.

Ulla Popken marketing manager Stephen Pope says the e-retailer currently gets about one click from each share, and 70% of the resulting sales come from customers new to Ulla Popken. Approximately 16% of consumers who share redeem their 20%-off coupon. E-mail referrals drive the most direct revenue, followed by referrals from Twitter and then Facebook.

Nearly 4.9% of all traffic to EyesLipsFace.com, the e-commerce home for the e.l.f. Cosmetics brand, comes from Facebook, ranking the e-retailer No. 80 in the Social Media 300. And e.l.f. works hard to get that referral traffic, posting on Facebook about products, sales and cosmetics trends several times a day. It actively posts to Twitter and has a YouTube channel with more than 300 videos including product and makeup tutorials. It also maintains a blog it updates two to three times a week. That content drives a lot of activity, but, with the exception of its blog, most of the activity takes place off its e-commerce site.

About a year ago the e-retailer began to feed this content to consumers in search results on EyesLipsFace.com. "We put out a lot of content," says Lesley Klein, director of e-commerce for e.l.f. Cosmetics. "Being able to incorporate it on our site provides another outlet to give [consumers] more education and another opportunity to explore our products."

Consumers can now view all the relevant blog posts, tweets, videos and Facebook posts for products they search for on the site. Search results are categorized under five tabs: products (the default view), as seen in (highlighting e.l.f. product mentions in the popular press), video (from its YouTube channel), social buzz (Facebook and Twitter) and beauty blog. Consumers searching for the term "mascara," for example, can see what e.l.f. and consumers are saying about e.l.f. mascara on Facebook and Twitter, and watch an e.l.f. YouTube video to see how to apply it.

Data from SLI Systems, the vendor of the site search tool that enables the tabbed results, show that EyesLipsFace.com visitors are engaging with the content. Time on site for visitors who click on the tabbed search results is nearly 30 minutes, compared with a seven-minute average for consumers who do not click on the tabs. Consumers who click on the tabs also view more than three times as many pages during their visit than those who do not. SLI says there is no additional cost to retailers to have their search results appear in the tabbed format.

Encouraged by these results, Klein says EyesLipsFace.com will soon enable consumers on the site to log in from any page with their Facebook credentials. The e-retailer already has the Facebook log-in functionalityÑbuilt using Facebook's Connect application protocol interface, which is free for web sites to implementÑbut it only appears after a consumer clicks the Sign In prompt in the web page header. That prompt will be replaced with a "Connect with Facebook" prompt, Klein says. "We're giving it a more prominent spot," Klein says.

FanTree, a members-only flash-sale site that soft-launched in early September at TheFanTree.com, has social baked into its business model, and is banking on the social followings of its shoppers and its product designers for its success. The e-retailer, which bills itself as an e-commerce network for athletes and celebrities, today works with about a dozen professional athletes, including San Francisco 49er Marcus Lattimore and soccer player Jozy Altidore to select or design limited-edition products that FanTree then sells.

"We evolved the idea around athletes and celebrities having direct access to consumers through social media, but were missing the e-commerce part," says FanTree founder T.K. Stohlman.

The athletes post about their products to their friends and followers on social media with links to their FanTree pages. Lattimore, for example, has about 96,000 followers on Twitter; Altidore has almost 600,000.

The e-retailer encourages fans to log in with their social credentials and most do, 40% with Facebook and 20% with Twitter, with the rest signing in after creating a FanTree account using their e-mail address. Upon making a purchase, consumers are added to a Fan Rankings system for their preferred athlete. Buying gear gets the shopper points, as does sharing news of his purchase or talking about FanTree on Facebook and Twitter. A leaderboard appears on each athlete's page and shows the top six ranking fans.

FanTree and the athletes host competitions to encourage participation, offering prizes like autographed gear or a simple shout-out on Facebook or Twitter from the athlete to their No. 1 fan. "A message like 'thanks for being my biggest fan,' that is gold in the social space," Stohlman says.

The e-retail startup sees opportunities to use social sharing and social data to a greater effect. Stohlman says that as FanTree grows it'll be able to use the Fan Rankings and customer data, such as order shipping addresses, to identify a particular athlete's biggest fans in each major market. Then if Lattimore's 49ers are playing a game in Chicago, Lattimore can reward his biggest fans in the Windy City with free game tickets. Talk about creating fans for life.

E-retailers who approach social strategically and weave purposeful sharing opportunities into their e-commerce sites may create lifelong fans too.




Abe's Market, e-commerce site design, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Facebook, FanTree, Jeff Beaver, Kimberley Grayson, October 2013 Magazine, Pinterest, site design, SLI Systems, social strategy, SocialAnnex, TK Stohlman, Twitter, Ulla Popken, Zazzle