Published in Jan-Feb 2012
Although exact figures vary, it is a widely accepted fact that most (some studies claim as much as 90%) people trust recommendations made by friends over those made by any form of advertising. Consider this in today’s socially connected world and it makes perfect sense for brands to integrate social shopping into their Facebook presence. Case in point as overheard on Facebook: “A friend asked me to help him decide which cell phone to buy from the two brands he was considering. How cool if after our discussion, he could just click [on Facebook] and buy it?”
While multi-brand sites like Beliscity, HomeShopping, Shophive, etc., have been in existence for a few years, there is now a growing trend among individual Pakistani brands to establish their own online stores. Every day I see Facebook ads by medium and large businesses looking to establish an online store. From Zubaida’s to
Gul Ahmed to Royal Tag, Facebook ads encouraging customers to shop online seem to be on the rise. So what does this tell us? Simply put, that individual brands believe in the power of online shopping. They see their competitors doing it and they get that this is the new frontier they have to conquer. However, while the strategic thinking is there, the execution remains poor and amateurish.
Most of these ‘online stores’ only have a catalogue and online product pictures coupled with an email address innocuously called email@example.com. Does this qualify as an online shopping experience? Of course not! So here are six steps brands should take in order to make online shopping a pleasant (and social) experience.
1 Make it convenient
Online shopping is an experience. If brands make the experience cumbersome (call us, email us, find us, etc.,) they have defied the first advantage of online shopping – convenience. Consumers who shop for the sake of shopping will not necessarily prefer shopping online. Those who prefer to shop online want to buy – ‘fast’ and with the least possible hassle. So make it easy for them by providing ‘all’ the product info (including description, web friendly pictures with zoom, colours, sizes, prices, guarantees, spare parts, accessories, reviews, related products, etc.) on a single product page. Customers should not have to email to ask about the availability of every product. Out of stock items need to be clearly labelled or removed from the portfolio if the line is discontinued.
2 Provide helpful cues
Online shopping is a nascent market, and as with any new marketing technique, the first is knowledge and customer awareness. Do not assume your customers know what a shopping cart is or how to add items to it. Do not assume they know how to buy online with their credit card. Pre-empt their questions with helpful guides, tool-tips, advice, a relevant FAQ section and if possible, a live operator to guide them through each step.
3 Let people buy directly from Facebook
Your audience is already interacting with you on Facebook, so it makes sense to let them complete their purchases on Facebook. There are many (free and paid) e-commerce apps available for Facebook but most will not be suitable for Pakistani brands as they require PayPal and are integrated with international couriers such as FedEx or DHL, thereby making shipping costs exorbitant. The way to go is for local brands to develop an in-house app for payment control and options and conduct shipping via local couriers who deliver nationwide. Brands are already investing in FB apps to drive traffic and conduct contests, so developing apps for e-commerce is not such a stretch of the imagination.
4 Keep it current
Keep product offerings current and frequently updated to keep customers returning to your online store. Too often brands make an effort once a year to promote their collection and then fall back. To be successful, an online store must have new product lines. This will be easier for some brands (lawn brands with seasonal collections) and more challenging for others (technology brands with only a few new products every year). However, the latter category can keep shoppers coming back via deals, discounts, contests, events and new complementary product partnerships, all of which are great viral tactics for spreading the word.
5 Get social in the true spirit
Don’t get too sales-y with your posts on Facebook – develop a balanced mix of product push and engaging content that your audience will like to talk about.
If you are always talking about selling and aggressively pushing your online store, your audience may turn away. If, on the other hand, they find real value in your posts, they will trust you when you do sell. Don’t be afraid to curate content from your industry – external news sources provide great fodder for conversations, provided it is topical.
6 Reward your top shoppers
Not only is this tactic great for rewarding loyal customers, it is also excellent for developing goodwill and increasing your campaign’s virality. Reward top users who buy and recommend your products by offering them digital discounts, free shipping, loyalty cards, etc. You can even build promotions around them. Let your top customers become your brand ambassadors – they will love the recognition and your brand will gain immense positive exposure.
While the above tactics will produce the results, they cost time and resources, and given that social shopping is a fairly recent phenomenon, it is understandable that businesses are hesitant to go full throttle just yet. Businesses that do not want to invest in an online store, might consider showcasing their offerings within a multi-brand store. The advantage here is that the multi-brand store’s management will take care of product showcasing, marketing, shipping, after-sales and online payments.
Pakistan’s established courier company, TCS, is entering the market with a comprehensive e-marketplace built upon its existing international logistics and delivery network. (Full disclosure: I am the social media consultant for TCS’s e-marketplace). This speaks volumes about the exciting opportunities that will soon be available to Pakistani consumers and the growth options available to brands to explore a new socially-integrated shopping medium.
Salma Jafri is the founder and CEO of WordPL.