For retailers, 2013 is the year of social media data collection, which is a little like saying the theme of the year is homework. Too bad, because it’s as relevant as can be, with representatives from start-ups like Bauble Bar to old guard retailers like Bergdorf Goodman all in agreement. But what’s the best way for labels and retailers to learn more about their consumers’ shopping habits without pushing boundaries or alienating their customer bases? There are some basic rules to the game.
We spoke to Liza Kindred, founder of Third Wave Fashion, a consulting company which works with entrepreneurs on top-to-bottom branding strategies and specializes in compelling fashion tech start-ups. First and foremost, Kindred says, “One crucial thing to bear in mind when collecting data is privacy.” To that end, “Incremental data collection,” done in a way “that’s respectful of consumers’ comfort levels, is an important way for companies to get the information they need.” To do this right, the approach needs to be direct and social on one side and behind the scenes on the other.
One recommendation from Kindred is “to ask a question or two each time a customer visits the [retailer’s] site…to have a continuing dialogue as well as a deeper relationship.” An example of a brand doing this to the ultimate degree is the start-up Poshly, a beauty sampling service whose front end is entirely based on customer feedback (go to the site, answer a bunch of questions, get free samples). Social media is also an important venue for consumer-facing research; it’s important to create “a closed-loop ecosystem” on networks like Facebook, in order to create interactions that produce customer responses, so companies can actually learn something about their online audiences.
It’s also necessary to access the information just waiting to be collected via the social networks. For retailers, Kindred notes, “log-in through social media platforms (specifically Facebook) allows for rich data collection.” From there, retailers can collect information via shoppers’ social graphs. In Poshly’s case, for example, accessing the social graph helps them provide the best possible data set to those beauty brands you’re sampling.
For the myriad other start-ups who also encourage users to log in via Facebook, “the integration can be great for re-targeting, which is essentially following a consumer around the web, trying to remind them of their visit to your site in order to entice them back,” Kindred explains. Here, data collection doubles as a way to cultivate repeat business.
Brands also need to simply track the myriad data provided by the social networks. Kindred’s clients are fans of “Curalate for Pinterest and Instagram, and Visual.ly for seeing and understanding big data.” A prime example of a service taking online data to the next level is Olapic, which powers the customer photos and photo reviews of brands including Lululemon and Nasty Gal. José de Cabo, the company’s co-founder, explains: “We aggregate photos from our client’s community and enable them to curate and display this content on their e-commerce platform.” By connecting these photos to the item’s original page, Olapic makes user-generated content help generate actual sales.
It’s a win-win situation: “Customers are not only inspired by the imagery but can then shop directly from the consumer-generated content. Our clients also experience a greater understanding of who their consumer is.” So, the retailer gleans important data and offers another shoppable outlet, while the audience learns more about the brand by engaging with it visually.
And that last feature is the most important part of any worthwhile data collection strategy. Brands should educate themselves about their customers by generating genuine interactions with their audiences. They won’t have to worry about overstepping boundaries; in fact they’re strengthening their customer relationships. All this talk of data collection might sound robotic, but the most significant thing to take away here is that it actually works best approached with a personalized, human strategy.
And that seems to be the most important part of data collection strategy. After learning more about customers by asking them questions via one’s brand Web site and social networks, tapping into the social graph to access data already sitting there, and using an outside tool to put it all together, brands should educate themselves about their customers by generating genuine interactions with their audience. They won’t have to worry about overstepping boundaries; in fact they’re strengthening their customer relationships. All this talk of data collection might sound robotic, but the most significant thing to take away here is that it actually works best approached with a personalized, human strategy.