When it comes to rich media to enhance customer connectivity catwalk videos and magazine-style editorial are just the start. Today’s shoppers want expert advice, interactive imagery, and peer group support – and they’re likely to look for it well beyond the retail website. Penelope Ody investigates.
As anyone of a certain age – or lacking teenage daughters – will have discovered if they watched a Channel 4 news item last month, customer connection doesn’t get much more intent than from the fans of YouTubers such as Tanya Burr, Pixiwoo or Lily Pebbles.
With their millions of followers and multimillion page views these self-appointed fashion and make-up gurus are being paid thousands of pounds by major consumer brands to feature products on their regular YouTube videos. Perceived as “cool”, “expert” and “independent,” the digital generation would rather take the advice of such gurus than refer to a corporate website or store assistant, and many multichannel retailers will already be realising that you ignore such phenomena at your peril.
Companies such as Channel Flip and Gleam Futures act as agents for many of these new generation celebrities, liaising with retailers and brands to place products where it counts most. As Russell Goldsmith, Digital Director and Co-founder of HowTo.tv says: “These guys have so much influence it is unbelievable and they drive more click-throughs than any other type of web promotion.” Persuade the likes of Pixiwoo to say she loves your product and sales will probably soar.
The days when brand l
oyalty could be achieved by issuing points for prizes are long gone. Today’s multichannel customers not only expect instant recognition at whichever touchpoint they choose to shop, but they also want advice and information that is perceived as expert and preferably independent, if they are to form a long-term connection with a particular retailer. For a generation more attuned to visual imagery than written text, video is also far more powerful than those neatly typed reviews and recommendations the more elderly of us have become accustomed to reading.
“I can easily think of eight different edits for any piece of video a brand might want to produce,” says Goldsmith, “and that is just the start.” The list includes six second clips for Vine, up to 15 seconds for Instagram, maybe two or three minutes for YouTube, something longer for the retail website, alternatives to send to bloggers...and so it goes on. “A food retailer might create a commercial recipe video for their own site,” he adds, “but they’ll need to maximise the content: send it out to foodie bloggers or women’s interest sites and that version needs to be less overtly promotional, then there are the social channels where the attention span is shorter.” As with the teenage gurus, each of these channels will have their own loyal followers who may connect more closely with the retail brand if they perceive that their favourite “expert” is a supporter.
Connection is also a two-way process: not only are retailers reaching out to consumers, but the shoppers want a piece of the action as well. Enter Olapic which is already working with more than 100 brands in the US and has just launched in Europe. “We believe that there is a visual revolution underway,” says Chief Operations Officer and Co-founder Jose de Cabo. “Everyone today has a camera in their pocket and Instagram makes us all amazing photographers. Visual is a huge trend and brands need to create visual impact.”
Max Childs, Marketing Director at Amplience agrees: “Retailers have been more focused on driving product,” he says, “but we’re starting to see greater use of interactive video from brands which focus more on lifestyle – such as Charlotte Olympia, Tom Ford or Sweaty Betty.”
As Jose de Cabo points out, more than a billion pictures, both still images or video, are shared every day across the web and Olapic aims to make the best and most relevant of these – generally of people wearing a retailer’s garments and clearly looking cool or having a great time – available to retailers and consumer brands to enhance their marketing collateral. The vast majority of consumers are also more than happy to see their photographs used in this way. “Consumers want to be part of the brand,” adds de Cabo. “When we started we thought that if 5% - 10% of people said ‘yes’ we would be able to access plenty of material, but we find that 70% - 80% of the people we approach readily agree to the image being used.”
In the US, store staff are also taking photographs of customers wearing an item to send to Olapic and this can then be posted to all channels to give consistent imagery. Typically conversion rates can be increased by on average 5% by showing real people wearing particular merchandise. “If a brand can connect with its customers then they become greater advocates of that brand,” says de Cabo, “and showing real people in the merchandise is a powerful tool to encourage purchase.”
In the UK, Asos is one of the first to adopt the Olapic system which it is using to help organise the images it collects as part of its #AsSeenOnMe campaign. This already encourages customers to share photos on social media of themselves wearing the retailer’s fashion ranges.
While images and video can enhance customer engagement, expert advice can also aid connection. “Recommendation has been with us for quite some time,” says Max Childs, “but it has to be authoritative and independent – or something from an acknowledged ‘expert’.” Wine experts extolling the virtues of their choices, for example, are a major feature of the new WaitroseCellar site with short clips of wine buyers promoting different wines and suggesting the foods they could accompany. In the fashion sector, systems such as Virtusize and Dressipi are also helping to increase conversion rates.
“Only around 15% of women are really confident about their fashion choices,” says Sarah McVittie, who – with Donna Kelly – started Dressipi at the end of 2011. With this system women can create a “fashion fingerprint” giving details of their shape, colouring, lifestyle etc and then the system comes up with recommendations of garments that will flatter their figure or complement existing items in their wardrobe. “People want to know that their purchase will be good,” says McVittie, “and this system helps provide the necessary confidence that they are making the right choice.”
Dressipi has built up a file of some 288 body shapes while every garment on the retail sites it works with – including Marks & Spencer and Littlewoods – is tagged by the company’s team of stylists with up to 50 data points, so that the various shapes can be matched to relevant pieces. Currently, more than one million fashion fingerprints have been created by women using the system; these generally start with a customer on a retail fashion site clicking through to the Dressipi tool, which is co-branded with the retailer. “Retailers licence our system,” says McVittie, “and they see it as an added service for customers but it also has a quantifiable benefit.” Typically when shoppers apply the Dressipi tool to their fashion choices there is a 30% increase in average order value and a 25% reduction in return rates. “We’re also starting to see women printing off the recommendations and taking them into stores,” adds McVittie, “as they are seen as good independent advice which can be trusted.”
On many retail websites video is still focused on showing product detail, but many consumers want more than that: they want confirmation that the product is right for them with expert, independent opinion to – as Sarah McVittie argues – “boost their confidence”. That advice might be available via a retail website but increasingly will come from a complex network of sources including bloggers, special interest sites and the growing plethora of YouTube channels with their myriad followers.
Enhancing customer connection today clearly involves a great deal more than emailed newsletters, clientelling or a loyalty card.