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Going digital—it’s everywhere today, including in the beauty realm. But brands are still constantly looking for ways to connect with consumers, as well as for their loyal consumers and brand advocates to connect with each other. To learn what some companies are doing to attract this kind of attention, GCI magazine had a chance to interview the CEO of social commerce platform Blucarat, Tom Kwon, which aims to give a more social experience to shopping online.
Tom Kwon: Blucarat makes static online shopping experiences social by embedding customer-created photos and conversations directly within any retail website, known as on-site social. Using a simple website plug-in, companies can activate existing social content from brand advocates all over the web and foster shopper collaboration that ignites new levels of trust in buying cycles. Blucarat solutions deliver more intimate, recurring and lasting customer engagements in a way never done before.
TK: Shopping has always been a social activity. In contrast, today’s online shopping is relatively static and solitary. Brands depend on social interactions to provide affirmation for their products and in the process develop the consumer’s trust. This is one of the critical factors to success for brands. The challenge is how to bring the social interaction, affirmation and trust that is natural in the offline shopping world to the online shopping world.
TK: The beauty industry is a natural fit for us because shopping for cosmetics is inherently social. It’s natural to want affirmation before making a purchase, from a fellow shopper, a friend or the expert at the counter. We are bringing those same social interactions into the online community.
One of our first customers, Laura Geller, already had a community of 100,000 “Geller Girls.” Community and social were already a natural part of the brand’s culture, which is why we believe they have experienced tremendous success creating an even more interactive community with the Blucarat solution.
TK: Most important is that Blucarat can bring social interactions and affirmation to the online shopping community that helps to ultimately create trust in the brand. Most cosmetics brands have presences on other social networks that link back to their sites, so there is really nothing unique there. By establishing the community on their own website, they can create a more intimate experience and control the content and discussion much more.
Retailers of all kinds increasingly measure themselves on Lifetime Customer Value, or LCV. This concept is especially important to beauty brands that work hard to encourage customer loyalty. One of the key ways to forge loyalty is by increasing opportunities for engagement between brands and customers. Likes, follows and tweets offer one avenue, but the on-site social interactions enabled by Blucarat create more intimate connections between like-minded shoppers within the shopping experience itself. The resulting sense of community increases loyalty and helps drive LCV more quickly than other methods.
TK: The on-boarding process is relatively straightforward. Most brands interested in this type of functionality already have an e-commerce play, so they also have a digital product catalog with pictures, information and a path to purchase. We connect into that electronic catalog and provide a host of functionality around it—sign up/sign in, user-generated content and photos, discussions, expert advice and Q&A, trending products and more.
By integrating user-generated content with a product catalog, Laura Geller now has user-generated commerce wherein every social contribution is linked to a product catalog and is shoppable.
TK: Like any social networking platform, once Blucarat is in place, it’s really up to the brand to engage the community. And, like any social networking success, the goal is to become viral. We provide assistance with best practices, and there are many ways to promote products and ideas through an online shopping community. Creating special offers for the community, creating excitement and engaging discussion around new offerings, bringing compelling content like video into the community, leveraging user-generated content from both on and off the site… [these] are a few ways that brand can engage and create “stickiness.”
TK: We are a fairly new company, which gives us the technology advantage—we use the most leading-edge technologies to make this all happen. We also have the advantage of adding new features and functionality fairly quickly based on customer feedback. We continuously improve upon user experience and existing functionality. Our main focus right now in the upcoming new software releases is bringing in user-generated content from all over the web so that members of a shopping community can share their content from other sources.
TK: It’s no longer a question that brands recognize the need to make their online shopping experiences more social; the question is, how they will do it? Attempts at “social commerce” over the past five years have been underwhelming, so it is not a question of whether social interactions will occur on retailer sites but how. Large online retailers like Amazon and eBay are piloting approaches, and others are embedding social tools in select sections of their sites. This convergence of social networking and commerce means that 2014 will present digital marketers and social media managers with many new options—and decisions—to make if they want to make the shopping experience even more social and stay ahead of the competition.