Shopping websites evolve to bring customers more value

A new type of retail website that sprang up during the recession is evolving as consumers become more discerning and brands demand more promotional support from the online shopping aggregators.

A new type of retail website that sprang up during the recession is evolving as consumers become more discerning and brands demand more promotional support from the online shopping aggregators.

Brands increasingly expect added value from e-commerce platforms in terms of social media and unique content. Online retailer HauteLook hosts thousands of online flash-sale events, lasting up to 72 hours. In most cases, 70% of site members are buying particular brands for the first time, while 20% of those customers are sharing their eperience with friends through social media, says Greg Betinelli, SVP, marketing for the platform.

Such results produce intense competition for site and e-mail blast mentions and placements, and inspire e-commerce sites to leverage social platforms and develop individual brand promotions.

For example, HauteLook is working with brands such as fashion house DVF to run Facebook-exclusive shop-and-share events. It also recently hosted a daylong Juicy Couture promotion that turned the site's background pink.

Growing partnerships

The new retail platforms are evolving from sites where customers simply sourced luxury products at discount prices. Betinelli says, "We have moved from 2008 when brands had excess inventory to now become bona fide brand partners."

Travel-friendly lifestyle boutique site 3floz.com partners with brands that will oftentimes proactively ask the platform to come up with earned, added value components, such as video and promotional tweets.

"It's what we live and breathe," says cofounder Alexi Mintz. "They're turning to us to give them the expertise on how best to reach out."

E-tailers also have the flexibility to promote a product line that's not selling as well as the platform or brand hoped. For one such line, 3floz.com posted a video featuring Mintz getting a hair blowout and the stylist walking her through hair-care product benefits.

Consumers want to learn about the face behind the brand and hear peer-to-peer recommendations, as evidenced by the flurry of e-tailers spearheading this activity and pushing out content.

Members-only e-tailer Ideeli positions itself as a marketing platform. It sponsored Fashion Week, partnered with designers to post background information and visuals on collection inspirations, and featured an editorial series with an emerging blogger.

Impact in a flash

The site is also a big player in the flash sale strategy, hosting limited-time promotions such as the O Shock where it promotes and sells items from Oprah Winfrey's O list every two weeks.

"The space is vetted as a viable retail model," says Ideeli's executive director of brand marketing Tamara Rosenthal. "Consumers want value and entertainment. This provides that." Demand for this added content and exclusivity contributed to the site's growth from 1 million to 3.3 million members.

Havaianas, a Brazilian flip-flop brand found on various US multi-brand sites, recognizes these outlets' promotional potential. Online sales largely grew through its proprietary e-commerce platform, and have risen steadily since the site's 2007 launch, explains Afonso Sugiyama, president of brand owner Alpargatas USA.

"We can see the success of specific selections when we do integrated promotions that include social media," he says. "We're interested in any multi-brand site that can provide a good consumer experience and showcase the brand well."

Shoe and clothing site Zappos, Havaianas largest online multi-brand retailer, typically does brand co-ops instead of product tie-in promotions due to its size. Using e-mail blasts, site placement, and traditional partnerships, such as with Rockport - the brand tweeted and blogged about the progress of a Zappos employee during his participation in last year's New York Marathon - Jeanne Markel, Zappos' director of casual life- style, says the promotional opportunities are true partnerships.

"We work in concert to find the best way to take the funds available and build a brand on the site," she says. "We get great ideas from some brands and we're doing the same for them." 

Expanded offerings

GiltGroup

Earned industry acclaim through its luxury flash sale exclusivity positioning. The company recently expanded its e-commerce and editorial offerings with the launch of Gilt City, a discount site that enables it to operate at the local market level through destination and experience promotions

Google

Recently broke out of its comfort zone by launching Boutiques.com, a social fashion site with curated boutiques from celebrities, stylists, designers, and fashion bloggers, among other tastemakers and general consumers. It's one more way e-tailers can offer online shoppers earned, added value

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