The web, mobile technologies and social networking sites all have amplified and accelerated product research and validation for consumers. As a result, today’s connected consumers always are in tune to with the latest trends and must-have products, and can instantly connect with their favorite brands and designers.
Executives from C. Wonder, Perry Ellis International and Polyvore gathered in New York City to discuss the effect of these instant connections on the fashion industry. In a panel sponsored by Merchantry, titled: Fashion eCommerce: How To Succeed And Lead, fashion retail leaders shared their opinions on the latest digital trends, and how their organizations are spearheading new developments in social media and mobile.
Social Media Enables Instant Fashion Validation
While shopping always has been an inherently social behavior, the Internet is making product discovery, research and sharing easier, and allowing purchase validation to occur more quickly and seamlessly, explained Katherine Crane, Senior Director of Advertising at Polyvore. Approximately 20,000 unique visitors per month gather on the Polyvore web site to browse the latest clothing and accessories, create outfits and share their ensembles with their social graphs via Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, usually to seek approval.
“Ongoing commentary takes place between Polyvore members because they’re always looking for a source of validation,” Crane said. “Shopping is and always has been the act of receiving validation along with researching trends and products. Now, it’s just happening earlier and faster.”
Because more consumers are turning to social networks and the web to authenticate potential purchases, as well as get approval of their overall senses of style, large and emerging brands are focusing on driving buzz across social networks.
For example, C. Wonder, a newer fashion brand, has an internal group within the e-Commerce team dedicated to social strategy, according to Caroline Covington, Implementation and Operations Manager for e-Commerce at C. Wonder. “As a startup, it’s all about how to leverage your internal resources for maximum gain,” she said. “We recognized even before our launch that social was a channel very important for driving our brand awareness, customer service experience and general brand promotion,” so it warranted its own group. C. Wonder also taps social media to test product and brand content. For example, the retailer’s social team recently published messaging on Instagram, which allowed them to see instantly what strategies drove image “likes” and comments.
Covington also noted that social is a big part of sales discussions. A key goal during company sales meeting is for the social team to summarize campaigns and results, so C. Wonder executives can pinpoint what methods drive acquisitions and engagement, and which connect the dots best between social media platforms and the e-Commerce site.
Perry Ellis International has a similar focus on social media, and is evolving internal business processes to ensure integration and improve collaboration between social media and other digital properties, according to Michelle Magallon, VP of Digital Commerce for Perry Ellis International.
“We measure everything that is executed via social media,” Magallon said, “to determine the value of a Facebook referral, for example and how it changes over time.” The brand taps solutions such as Radian6 and Pinfluencer to listen to and track social conversations, and better understand the impact of different campaigns and strategies leveraged across social sites and digital properties.
Brand Personality Is Key To Digital Success
While it is imperative that fashion retailers and brands create and disseminate content across digital channels to drive awareness and customer acquisition, some organizations miss the mark when it comes to creating a compelling and relatable brand personality, which helps generate long-term loyalty.
“Social media is much more focused on projecting the personality of designers and trying to establish them directly as aspirational authority figures,” explained Martin Zagorsek, CEO of Launch Collective, an agency that offers strategic and operational support to emerging designers and brands.
Brands “need to become more human by developing personalities,” Zagorsek added. He said they need to take cues from companies such as J. Crew, “which has greatly benefited from [executive creative director] Jenna Lyons’ personality” among consumers as well as editorial outlets.
Polyvore helps emerging designers develop more compelling brand personalities with its Designer Collective, a program developed to help boost awareness for up-and-coming fashion design talent. The program, Crane noted, spotlights designers so they can speak about their inspiration for products, which “really matters [to our visitors].”
Crane explained that in traditional retail, designers start with retailer relationships, and convince celebrities to wear items to get additional promotion within specific consumer markets. However, the Polyvore audience is “genuinely interested in products and wants to learn more about brands,” she stated. “These designers have a swell of support from our global audience, which allows them to become digital-first fashion brands.”
Successful Mobile Strategy Relies On Usability
Mobility also was a key topic during the session, with panelists highlighting the need for an optimal customer experience on tablets and smartphones.
Zagorsek offered advice from an agency perspective, explaining that in order to have a successful mobile strategy, organizations must rely on simplicity. “It’s about taking what you have on the e-Commerce site and stripping it away,” he said. “But it’s usually a fight to do that because a lot of brands and designers are very attached to their content.”
Confirming the importance of a refined mobile experience, Magallon revealed that Perry Ellis will be focusing on a “swipe, tap and drag” model for its mobile strategy. Presented as a tile-based approach,” the mobile site is being designed to “empower consumers to customize the look and feel of the mobile experience based specifically on their own preferences,” she said. Though the plan is still being fleshed out, Magallon indicated that “2013 is the year of mobile optimization for Perry Ellis International.”
Polyvore also is setting sights on expanding its mobile strategy in 2013. The e-Commerce and digital content site saw a successful launch for an iPhone app in December 2012, which has led to an “extraordinary amount of engagement,” according to Crane. To keep pace with this mobile demand, Polyvore executives plan to release an Android app next and then an iPad app.