As e-commerce continues its explosive growth across the retail, luxury and fashion apparel market, companies and brands are scrambling to keep up.

It’s a daunting task that requires a keen sense of the impact and influence of social media and online consumer behavior — in particular, how shoppers respond to brands online. It also requires producing a lot of digital content as well as having e-commerce platforms that make it easier for people to shop and buy. Meanwhile companies still have to skillfully operate and merchandise their physical stores. And do so in a seemingly seamless way from a consumer-facing perspective.

For Tony King, founder and creative director at King & Partners, the challenge for many companies is to create a thoughtfully integrated online and in-store presence that strengthens the attributes of its brand or brands, attracts new consumers and nurtures existing ones.

King, who is considered an early pioneer of luxury e-commerce (having launched in 2000), works with brands such as Kenneth Cole, Carolina Herrera, Elie Tahari, Mulberry and Mario Testino, among many others, to develop digital flagship sites with fully integrated e-commerce platforms. Here, King discusses digital commerce, the importance of narratives and why the moment a shopper becomes a buyer is so critical.

WWD: What do you think is the difference between what a brand wants versus what they really need — from a digital/online and in-store marketing perspective?

Tony King: Brands come to us primarily looking for help with online, but quite often they need to makes changes that affect them fundamentally as a company — changes that go beyond digital in order to do digital right. These can be anything from a shift in mentality at the c-suite level, down to bringing in a new set of systems with which the [chief technology officer] might be slightly uncomfortable. We believe that brands need to stop thinking about e-commerce and offline as separate silos, and instead just think about “commerce.”

WWD: You noted that “conversion” is the magic word at your firm while also holding in high regard return on investment. What does it take for a brand or retailer to turn shoppers into buyers?

T.K.: There are many moments at which shoppers can become buyers — the moment they decide they can trust your brand or product, and feel at ease with the service you’re offering; the moment it’s clear you’ve presented them with the best deal; or the moment when they realize you’ve made it incredibly easy to go ahead and add-to-bag — and potentially return if needed.

Shoppers have a tendency to shy away from the unknown, so make them feel comfortable by highlighting customers’ positive experiences across your social media pages. And once shoppers do become buyers, be sure to tap into their shopping habits and cater future experiences to fit their preferences.

WWD: What role does storytelling and narratives have in digital marketing, and how can brands better leverage it?

T.K.: While some bigger brands struggle to create authentic narratives, many fashion and luxury brands have genuine stories to tell about their products and collections. It could even be as simple as creating a narrative around craftsmanship, but telling the right story can really help shoppers make that emotional connection to a brand and justify the price point of a product. Brands should be sprinkling storytelling throughout their digital experiences, not just on blogs — we should see stories on product listings and detail pages. Brands are often scared that adding this type of content will negatively affect conversion, but in reality, we’ve seen the opposite occur.

WWD: How did your experience at Gucci inform the work you’re doing now?

T.K.: I joined Gucci Group in 2000 as the e-business design director, but because the digital department was tiny at the time (four people total!), I got to do far more than design director would typically do. There wasn’t any kind of blueprint to follow, so we had to build the entire back-end system from scratch for everything — inventory management, e-commerce platform, order tracking, workflow, the customer experience, etc. I learned a lot about integrations, logistics and data, and the experience taught me a great deal about the importance of putting the right systems together, of knowing what needs to be fully automated and what pieces could or should be more manual.

I’d always had an interest in pairing design with technology, but my experience at Gucci really opened my eyes to the need for a solid e-commerce platform that would work well for fashion brands and could double up as a CMS for brand content as well.

Right now, my role is as much about creative ideas and content creation as it is about consulting our clients on technology products, languages and solutions.

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