Click, chat, buy

Bye-bye high street, buy by my tweet. Angus Montgomery investigates how retailers are revamping their Internet presence to meet a rise in online spend, and increasingly adopting social media techniques to drive traffic to their sites

The average person in the UK spends £81 a month on online retail, according to recent figures, and retailers keen to get a share of this lucrative market have been launching new and updated sites focusing on commerce in the third quarter of this year.

Results from the IMRG/Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index show that British shoppers spent £5bn online in July, which represents a year-on-year rise of 18 per cent – and is a possible sign that the recession is lifting. Retailers are now attempting to tap into this potential market with sites that aim to bring the offline experience online and use social media to drive traffic.

Linford Haggie, managing director of consultancy Graphic Alliance, which specialises in online retail, says, ’The economic circumstances are certainly affecting people’s ability to spend online.’ He adds, ’What is happening a lot now is that the commerce site is becoming the final stop in the online journey. Social media is drawing people in and engaging them with the brand’s compelling content before they go to the commerce site at the end. Because of social media networks likeFacebook and Twitter, content can be pushed at the consumer, as well as having them search for it.’

Graphic Alliance worked on the relaunch of the Conran Shop website, which went live earlier this month. The consultancy collaborated with the Conran Shop’s in-house team on the design of the site, while E-Inbusiness worked on the site build, based on an Episerver platform. Liam Butler, head of marketing at the Conran Shop, says the £250 000 project aims to drive online sales from their current level of just under £2m a year to £10m a year in 2014-15.

Butler says one aspect of the new site’s development will be to use social media to engage shoppers. The Conran Shop has appointed consultancy We Are Social to work on this aspect.

The site features a Sketchbook tool, which allows users to create ’personal mood boards’ by placing items in their wish lists on to a variety of backgrounds to create virtual rooms. These can then be shared with others through e-mail and Facebook. Butler says the aim is to exploit social networks further, ’so that Twitter can act as online concierge for us’.

The Conran Shop site itself ’aims to bring the offline experience online’ and ’ensure that the product is the hero’, according to Haggie. Butler says, ’A lot of companies go down the route of very expensive lifestyle photography – this can suck up the budget.’

He says the Conran Shop site is currently in phase one and is set to launch in France, the US and Japan in the next three months. Phase two of the site will roll out over the next six months, he says, allowing time to stabilise the platform and roll out more functionality. Butler adds, ’We see phase two rolling out with video or 360-degree coverage of products, so we can tell some of the background story.’

Like the Conran Shop, Japanese clothes retailer Uniqlo, which relaunched its website last Thursday, also aims to harness social media, in this case to alert shoppers to its new site. Dentsu Japan, which designed the site, also developed two social media initiatives in the run-up to the launch, called Lucky Machine and Lucky Counter.

Lucky Machine was an online pinball game in which players were given the opportunity to win a £1000 cash prize as well as online discount vouchers. Crucially, to get balls for the game, players had to invite friends to play using Facebook or Twitter.

The Lucky Counter initiative, which ran in the week leading up to the site launch, encouraged users to tweet about selected Uniqlo items to reduce costs – the more tweets there were, the lower the cost became. The site itself, like the Conran Shop site, offers more product images, with increased zoom levels on the products.

Uniqlo’s high street rivals Gap and Zara have both launched transactional websites in the past weeks, both designed in-house, while H&M is set to launch an in-house-designed site on 16 September. All three sites are global roll-outs and are posited by the brands as part of their ongoing expansion plans. Pablo Isla, deputy chairman and chief executive of Zara owner Inditex, says, ’The Internet and the world of social networking are indispensable tools and extraordinary channels for communication and fit perfectly with our group’s philosophy.’

Online shopping
51% of British adults shop online
76% of people in the UK have Internet access
UK shoppers spent £5bn online in July 2010

Source: IMRG/Capgemini

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