Tapping Into the Magic of Social Shopping

Recently I took stock of my wardrobe and determined that I really didn’t need anything new for fall. As a result, I’ve spent very little time in stores or on shopping sites. Not exactly music to retailers’ or designers’ ears, I’m sure. But don’t worry. Just because I haven’t been seeking out new products doesn’t mean they haven’t found me. Within the last week alone, I’ve fallen under the spell of two items I didn’t know I needed until I stumbled upon them and they spoke to me, begging me to bring them home. But these enchanted encounters didn’t happen in a store. Nor did they occur in an online shop.

One was sparked when I clicked a blogger’s link on Twitter, which magically transported me to a page in Club Monaco’s fall look book. This, for me, was the most unlikely place to fall in love. I never shop at this chain. I’ve been in a Club Monaco store maybe three times, but only because there was one in my old neighborhood. But suddenly having spotted the perfect shoes in the store’s catalog, I was compelled to drop everything and visit the site, credit card in hand.

The second shopping epiphany I had was on Polyvore, the site that allows viewers to make their own collages or mood boards. Until then, I had actively avoided the site because I know it has a mysterious hold over its more than 6.5 million users who spend hours trolling its pages. The only thing I need less than another item in my closet is another way to while away the hours online. But there I was clicking away, and within minutes, they appeared: another to-die-for pair of shoes. This time, the ridiculously cute footwear was from Zara, another store — you guessed it —that I never shop. I have nothing against either of these retailers. It just so happens that they’re top of mind. But abracadabra, there I was, twice in one week, trying to conjure up items from their shelves.

Using a Little Hocus Pocus

The purpose of these two stories is not to let you in on my shoe fetish but to highlight the way in which shopping is changing. These days, many would-be consumers are actually consuming a lot less because we’ve grown wary of advertising, we’re too busy to shop or we’ve vowed to shake off the curse of overspending. But that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the near-supernatural charms of the perfect shoes, bags, jackets or coats.

It does mean that you will need to learn how to pull a new rabbit out of your hat in order to gain our attention. As it is, you probably already offer story time, trunk shows, mommy happy hours and runway shows to get noticed and up traffic, and those methods are great, but they’re not enough. These days, you have to meet your customers where they are and engage them in interesting ways.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand for this. But there is “social shopping,” the term used to describe the fairy dust that makes products look 10 times better just because a friend recommends it. For instance, on the shelf, those Zara shoes might have looked mundane, but surrounded by other covetable items and hand selected by someone I trust, they gained transformative powers. And instantly my shopping inhibitions vanished.

If you already have active Facebook and Twitter accounts for your business, you have two important marketing tools up your sleeve. Now it’s time to explore sites like Polyvore and Pinterest, which steep users in a sea of product that’s been curated by the people they “follow.” These sites present a great opportunity for a brand or retailer because the images users share link back to the pages they borrowed them from. So like my Polyvore experience, if someone sees something they like, they can click through to snag it for themselves. Savvy marketers are already hip to this viral form of advertising and are constantly building mood boards that include their items.

Finding a New Bag of Tricks

And the engagement goes even deeper on Polyvore, where brands can crowdsource ideas and gain awareness. For instance, when Coach launched the fragrance associated with its Poppy collection, the company ran a contest on Polyvore in which fans could create mood boards (or “sets”) depicting how they’d wear it for the chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree. The company received more than 6,000 entrants.

That means thousands of people spent time thinking about the brand and interacting with it online — not to mention the untold legions who saw those sets and encountered Coach’s product and messaging in a new, fun way. How much do you want to bet that whether or not these Polyvore users were in the market for a new handbag when they started — let alone a Coach purse specifically— they found themselves shopping for a new leather goodie by the time they were done?

It might be hard to tell with the slew of cat videos and American Idol wannabes, but YouTube has become a how-to go-to for everything from creating the perfect smoky eye to finding the best way to swaddle. If your store or brand isn’t featured there already, it’s high time you join in. Chances are, there are lots of opportunities for you to build a YouTube channel shoppers will enjoy and refer back to as a resource.

Consider adding behind-the-scenes video from your seasonal photo shoots, instructional clips that show how to use your products or footage that takes viewers on a tour around your retail store. Even if it’s not a product that needs instruction per se, just showing someone interacting with it can make it more compelling. For instance, Zappos reports an uptick in sales and a decrease in returns after shoppers have been transfixed by the site’s videos that depict employees wearing product and describing their attributes. Putting similar clips on YouTube is sure to garner increased brand awareness if not actual sales.

By letting these new marketing tools work their magic on your business, you just might help break the hex of our slow economy.

Join me on Wednesday, November 2nd at 9 p.m. for an industry chat on Twitter. Follow me @caletha_style or search for #kidsbiz.

About Caletha Crawford

Caletha Crawford is a children’s apparel consultant who has spent more than eight years covering the industry, most recently as editor in chief of Earnshaw’s magazine. Caletha has a unique perspective on the concepts, designs and companies that resonate with retailers and consumers. Her services include public relations, marketing, branding and social networking. In an effort to usher in the next generation of design talent, she also teaches and produces special events at Parsons The New School for Design.

To answer a need in the industry, she recently teamed up with two other children’s wear veterans to develop an online orientation seminar designed to help immerse aspiring and novice entrepreneurs get up to speed on the design, sales, production, marketing, PR and back office aspects unique to the children’s wear market.

Visit www.calethacrawford.com or email

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