Archive for the ‘Social commerce’ Category.

WalmartLabs - taking Big Data into retail

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Walmart Labs

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, acquired social media firm Kosmix just over a year ago, creating @WalmartLabs, with the intention to use this specialist R&D unit to define the future of commerce by merging social, mobile and retail.

So far WalmartLabs has released two interesting developments using social:

ShopyCat gift recommendation engine Walmart Labs• ShopyCat - the gift recommendation engine

This Facebook application uses your Facebook profile to suggest suitable products for you, based on the interests and hobbies of your friends. An interesting aspect of this approach is that the app will offer links to other retailers if Walmart do not stock a suggested item in their own stores.

The notion that the app may steer customers away from Walmart may seem unusual, but the brand sees more long-term gain in making the service as useful and relevant as possible to its customers.

• Get on the shelf - innovative product pitching

‘Get on the shelf’ was a contest that allowed innovators to pitch their products to Walmart customers, who then voted for the ones they would like to see Walmart stock.

Over a million votes were cast, narrowing the field down to three products that will now be available to purchase in Walmart: a DIY-screw replacement system for glasses; an airtight plate cover for food storage; and the overall winner - a socially conscious bottled water whose company donates its profits to provide clean water supplies.

The next step - Big Data

These examples are innovative approaches to using social media to encourage sales and generation of inventory, but the area that I think will prove the most fascinating is how WalmartLabs will leverage “Big Data” to develop the retailer’s ability to predict market demand and so optimise their supply.

Understanding and fulfilling local demand

This is where the situation becomes truly interesting - stores will be able to optimise their inventory according to their area’s specific tastes and seasonal demands.

One of the examples WalmartLabs’ Venky Harinarayan offers is that of college football. By monitoring social media buzz during college football season, Walmart is able to determine when discussion about college football in a certain locality is beginning to heat up. This lets them know when they should be stocking products that are related to the season and local teams.

Creating demand and making recommendations

As ShopyCat has demonstrated, recommendation engines enable customers to discover new and relevant products, either for themselves or their friends. As I mentioned above, ShopyCat currently directs customers to alternative suppliers, but from understanding customer behaviour and using Big Data, a logical evolution would be for these alternatives to become increasingly niche as Walmart develops supply according to consumer taste.

The ability to bring all of these channels together in-store via mobile will be significant. WalmartLabs are developing in-store navigation using mobile, so I would expect to see apps that offer customers information and the location of recommended items, or prompts for items of interest that are already in close proximity. A reminder of a friend’s upcoming birthday and interest in fishing, while you are passing the sports section, for example, would help you make a relevant purchase while saving time and hassle.

China: The Future of Social Commerce

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We recently highlighted the surge in ‘Chinese Pinterest clones’ on this blog and when asked by the BBC to comment on an article on the same topic, I mentioned “I am looking to these Chinese clones to provide the next key paradigms in social commerce.” Two days later, we excitedly read the McKinsey China report on  ‘China’s Social Media Boom’; the results were impressive.

Chinese netizens

China’s internet audience is huge – over 500 million – and growing rapidly. More importantly, this audience is active with over 50% spending more than 12 hours a week online. 95% of netizens living in cities with a population in excess of 2.5 million are registered on a social networking site and Chinese internet users spend an average 46 minutes per day on such sites.

Trust in Chinese e-commerce

This has great significance. This is already the largest internet population in the world and it looks like the most actively social. The Chinese internet population is also heading towards forming the largest e-commerce market in the world by 2015.

China predicted e-commerce boom

When I lived in China 2006/2007, it was nigh impossible to order physical goods online – trust in infrastructure was simply not yet there. The impressive growth in e-commerce sales indicates a greater trust in China’s postal network and e-commerce sites.

The issue of trust is important in marketing to Chinese consumers. Peer-to-peer recommendations have a more profound impact, as the McKinsey report says this is likely due to a distrust of formal institutions. Building networks of trusted influencers – not as a commodity but as groups of people who can and will trust your products and messages – will be crucial to online interaction with Chinese netizens.

Social Commerce

This leaves the issue of social commerce. One of the more interesting insights into the rise of Pinterest clones is that they tend to have closer links with e-commerce. While Pinterest has had trouble implementing its revenue model, Chinese sites like Faxian showcase what can be bought and funnel users to a purchase.  Per McKinsey:

‘As e-commerce rises, a compelling opportunity for brands will be to prompt immediate purchases online by consumers searching for product information using social media.’

The key to unlocking these immediate purchases will be through harnessing netizen recommendation.

Creating engaging content: US department stores Barneys vs Saks in social media

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They’re two of the most iconic department stores in New York, but just how well are Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys using social media? We used Social Bakers to take a look at these two US retail giants and see whether they are making the most of their brands online.

Despite being a mere ten minute walk down the street from each other, Barneys and Saks are already miles apart when it comes to Facebook fans. Whilst Saks has a healthy 288,000 fans, Barney’s has almost half with 162,000.

But as we all know, it’s not just about how many ‘likes’ you’ve got but what you do with them that counts. In the battle of the department stores, who is really engaging with their customers in social media?

If we take a look at the ‘talking about this’ numbers for the two pages, Barney’s has 3,610 whilst Saks has 3,607, despite the greater number of fans. This suggests that Barneys must have a well thought-out content strategy which engages its audience much more effectively than Saks.

So what is this content strategy and how could Saks learn from it?

Think about when you post your content

First of all, looking at the data from Social Bakers, Barneys gets its best rate of engagement between 8-9am in the morning, whereas Saks gets a good (but not as high) rate around lunchtime.

Barneys also has a nice increase in engagement at around 9pm, whereas engagement on the Saks page has generally tailed off by this time.

This suggests that Barneys are making the most of those pre- and post-work Facebookers by posting earlier in the morning and later in the day. As we all know, social media never sleeps, but it looks like Saks may not have got to grips with this fact as strongly as Barneys has. Even if your staff work 9-5, they should be using the right tools to ensure that the page is pushing out content at the best times for your audience.

Think about what type of content you post

Interestingly, it looks like Barneys almost exclusively post links on their Facebook page. They create a strong call-to-action by posting links to great items in their stores with short, punchy copy such as “Flirty. Feminine. Floral”. It invites the fan to read, agree and hit those ‘like’ buttons, leading to an engagement rate of 0.06% on links compared to Saks’ 0.03% rate.

In contrast, Saks Fifth Avenue posts more varied types of content. Their main focus appears to be photos which are often posted using their ‘Involver’ fanpage tool. These photos don’t appear very big on their timeline, but still seem to get their highest rate of engagement with content on the page with 0.06% of fans interacting with these. However, they still do not manage to outstrip Barneys with any types of content.

It may be that Saks need to look at how their audience is responding to their content. Community management requires constant analysis of how your posts are going down with your audience – if something works well, it makes sense to experiment with posting it more often. Similarly, if something is not working for your fans, it may be worth looking at changing your approach or posting more infrequently.

Keep it short and simple

It is worth taking a moment to look at Barneys’ impressive 0.14% engagement rate on their status updates. Both pages post status updates, so why are fans interacting with Barneys more than with Saks? Have a read of the following updates and think about which one you are more likely to like or comment on…

It’s important to remember that Facebook fans have a notoriously short attention spans, so instead of asking them to try and figure out the sentence and fill in multiple blanks, Saks should be asking more short, simple questions like the one from Barneys.

Social media cases study: Tesco and social shopping platform Foodie.fm

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You may’ve heard that supermarket behemoth Tesco has signed up for Foodie.fm - a service which has been dubbed by its backers as “the Facebook for grocers”.

Launched by technology firm Digital Foodie, Foodie.fm claims to be the first social network to offer a social shopping platform for grocers via a fully integrated checkout with www.tesco.com.

Having purchased social media company BzzAgent back in May last year,Tesco is certainly not shy about using social media as part of its wider business strategy, and their partnership with Foodie.fm looks like another way of embracing multichannel more effectively.

Foodie.fm, available as free app on iPhone, Android and Nokia applications, as well as via the Web and Facebook, enables users to make friends with other food lovers and to swap cooking tips and recipes. Visitors can create an editable shopping list, based around a meal, by clicking on photos of recipes. For example, if a user was to click on the recipe for beef burgers, the shopping list would consist of  mince meat, onions, salt, etc.

The Foodie.fm site then checks availability with Tesco before the order is placed, the customer pays and delivery is arranged.

At the core of Foodie.fm is a recommendation system that learns from a user’s eating and purchasing habits, and suggests recipes and groceries that match his or her ‘taste profile’. The system takes into account personal preferences like food allergies or intolerance, as well as any budgetary restrictions. This enables users to personalise their profile and allows the site to suggest recipes and groceries to match customer profiles. It is this customised shopping list that will help the consumer plan and budget for a week, or even month’s worth of meals, and the shopping that is needed for it, in one go.

Until now, food retailers and consumer packaged goods were somewhat sheltered from the toughening economy, with 40% of people spending more on groceries than 3 months ago (according to Deloitte) - a result not just determined by inflation, but the fact that the tough current economy means that people spending are more time at home cooking for themselves rather than eating out in bars and restaurants.

However, as Deloitte has pointed out in their recent Consumer Review,  40% of the value of all transactions in non-food retail are now digitally influenced, and it’s hard to believe this influence will not impact food and consumer packaged goods too moving forward.

With this in mind, food retailers would do well to explore options like Tesco’s partnership with Foodie.fm. Given the rise of the connected customer, retailers should look at strategies for integrating social and multichannel into their offering, and should look at ways at becoming an agile and fully engaged social business.

China: the most valuable social commerce market in the world?

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A new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) claims that China could become the world’s most valuable e-commerce market within four years.

BCG claim that for the foreseeable future another 30 million Chinese people will go online to shop for the first time and by 2015 they will each be spending $1,000 a year—about what Americans spend online now.

BCG has also calculated that e-commerce could rise from 3.3% of China’s retail sales today to 7.4% by 2015. This is not just because the government subsidised high speed internet aids online shopping, but also because China’s has an expensive, inefficient ‘bricks-and-mortar‘ retail ecosystem and so a quarter of Chinese shoppers seek products online because they are not physically available in-store.

The rise in value of  e-commerce in China could also impact the social commerce market as Chinese e-shoppers are big users of social media.

As Chinese shoppers are somewhat reticent to trust sellers or advertising messages they turn to online customer reviews to form their opinions and according to BCG, over 40% of Chinese online shoppers read and post product reviews online. This is twice as likely as American online shoppers and four times as likely as Indians.

So what should retailers do to take advantage of the growing social and e-commerce market space in China?

Aside from considering the value of an e-commerce presence in Chinese, brands would do well to secure their presence on sites like Sina Weibo - a Chinese social networking site with over 200 million registered users - or other Chinese social networking sites like Tencent WeiBo or Ren Ren.

Retailers may also want to think about how to start engaging Chinese audiences online, not just in terms of where to engage them, but how to engage them in the context of a wider brand and social media strategy.

And as China is accountable for a large share of  share of mobile social media revenue at the moment, it seems that China could lead to some interesting new online revenue streams in terms of both e-commere and social commerce, as well as mobile shopping.

You can read the full BCG report here.