At the WWD Leadership Forum in New York City last month, speakers shared innovative and often inexpensive ways to improve customer service and, as a result, boost sales.

EBags.com PocketsCustomer Service

Launched in 1999 and now the world’s biggest online retailer of bags and accessories, eBags has pioneered the use of social media to improve customer service and sales.

The company has collected more than a million customer reviews since 2000, which have increased sales, creating “significant conversion” on reviewed products, said eBags.com senior director of global merchandising Nancy Behrendt. Bags that receive consistently poor reviews are removed from the site.

The company receives 25 to 50 e-mails a day from customers with suggestions, praise and criticism. EBags is working on three enhancements to its Web site requested by customers, including a feature that will let customers browse bags by color. The company also has a blog, which has had the unexpected benefit of keeping the site ranked highly in search engine results at no extra cost.

The site recently added videos on topics such as vendor stories, trendy brands and staff product reviews. “On the Streets” videos profile emerging designers. Conversion has increased four times for products featured in videos. “We’ve got hundreds of customers telling other customers: ‘Watch the video,’” said Behrendt. “It’s the reason they bought the bag.”

EBags, which has more than 6.8 million stockkeeping units, plans to add customer-generated videos about purchases soon, starting with its own private label line.

“As we are building up the strategy for our eBags brand in relation to our product, it’s really about listening to our consumers,” she said. “Don’t listen to us. The voice is really going to be from the consumers and we are going to use video as a way to tell the story.”

— Alexandra Steigrad

Wet Seal’s Teen Social

The purpose of typical loyalty programs is to track the voice of the customer, improve the customer experience and create brand advocates. The purpose of social media is to give the customer a voice, said Jon Kubo, The Wet Seal Inc. vice president and chief information officer.

In April, the retailer unveiled a social networking community on its site where teens can create, tag, share, vote on and purchase outfits from Wet Seal merchandise. They can also create profiles, network, block friends and spam, message each other and report abuse.

So far, 1.2 million outfits have been created, and the site has generated a 10 percent increase in revenue. Conversion rates double when a shopper visits the fashion community, and 25 percent of buyers visit. Those who visit the community spend three times as long on the site.

More than 90 percent of the retailer’s merchandise is on the site, and 90 percent of the styles are incorporated in at least one outfit. The average is 24.

The idea started two years ago as part of a redesign. “We were seeing a significant increase in traffic on social networking sites to the point where it was really a paradigm shift,” said Kubo. Wet Seal has changed the way it shoots and sizes photos of online merchandise so they can be used in the community.

Because only 10 percent of teens have a credit card, most of their purchases are made in Wet Seal’s stores rather than online. But teens can scan an item and look up the most popular outfits on the community or in that particular store on in-store kiosks.

Out-of-stock items are automatically deleted from outfits on the site. (Wet Seal replenishes jeans only.) After three months, a user can delete an outfit.

Promotions have included Ashlee Simpson and other musicians creating their own outfits. The next promotion will be a makeover contest, and a celebrity will design an outfit for the winner, who will wear it to an event and receive $2,000.

A small number of customers are the most active participants, said Kubo. “The conversion comes because the general community is viewing that advice and taking it,” he said.

— Cate T. Corcoran


 

The Coca-Cola Co. Rings Up Saleswith Mobile Technology

The Coca-Cola Co. produces about 1.4 billion of the 50.4 billion nonalcoholic beverages served worldwide annually, and is experimenting with innovative ways to increase its market share by using mobile technology.

To build brand awareness, for example, Coca-Cola ran a multimedia cell phone campaign in Italy. The company sent out two video commercials via cell phone and asked consumers to vote for the one they preferred. Almost nine out of 10 consumers who were sent the videos watched the commercials and voted, said Tom Daly, Coca-Cola’s group manager of strategy and planning for global interactive marketing.

To encourage people to try new products, the company also launched a text messaging and mobile Web campaign that drove 181,000 consumers into Coca-Cola’s retail partners’ establishments. This was as effective as any of the company’s off-line programs, he said.

One way the multibillion-dollar Atlanta-based company is driving profits is via the use of “smart” vending machines that communicate with mobile devices. Popular in Japan, they sell Coke products and will snap a funny photo and send it to a friend’s phone as well as dispense ringtones and games. The company plans to roll out the machines worldwide. “We can generate nearly two-and-a-half times more revenue per machine when we enable it with wireless technology,” Daly said.

Coca-Cola has partnered with cinemas, where customers can get deals on refreshments and watch movie trailers over a Bluetooth-enabled phone. The program, which has been running for 18 months, has increased Coca-Cola’s and its partners’ sales, Daly said.

Because the mobile environment is complex, Daly advised companies looking to implement such technology to “keep it simple.”

— A.S.


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