When it comes to online retail, success is more unpredictable than ever. This is because much of today’s commerce currency is derived from social influence: the undeniable effects that individuals have on strangers’ purchasing decisions. We almost never make decisions independently of one another. Faced with the abundance of choice, we rely on others to influence what to buy, read, wear or even how we are entertained. We also conform to the tastes of others, less out of actual merit. More so out of allegiance to that individual’s opinions.
Consumers adopt a business because other people are already there.
Glossier did not succeed because of product alone. It succeeded because women wanted to enjoy the benefits of sharing their choices, preferences, and looks with like-minded consumers. For digital retailers, more often than not – a product, brand, or technology is the substance but not the reason behind the success. Consumers adopt a business because other people are already there. Kylie Cosmetics does not win on the merits of eCommerce alone; there are better storefronts on the web. But technology hardly ever deters her fans.
More than ever, success is then a matter of cumulative advantage. Something becomes popular mostly because a lot of people like it, not just because it is superior. And because a lot of people like what they think others like, community doesn’t just reveal our preferences. They actively shape our preferences.
The quest for the next GOOP or Glossier will remain elusive as long we fail to look beyond technology and towards the social activity as the source of an online retailer’s value. This social activity is an amalgam of what I call the 4C’s: community, content, curation, and collaboration. They critically impact how a company launches and markets its products and creates, captures, and delivers value for its customers.
Community: A retailer needs to encourage social connections among its customers. These social connections will become its primary source of value and a key driver of competitive advantage. Social connections work best when created around an audience’s pre-existing passion, hobby, or interest. High-design ride wear brand Rapha positions itself as a “vibrant ecosystem for road riders around the world.” Its belief that cycling transforms lives translates into the series of local Rapha Cycling Clubs, where cycling enthusiasts can gather for events, rides, races and to bond with others. Rapha is at risk of losing its positional advantage by ending many of these programs.
Content: Content created by a retailer generates value even before a single product purchase or use of service. California-based fashion apparel brand Dôen creates social network around its proprietary content. The brand prides itself on selling “thoughtfully designed clothing by women, for women.” This community of women is Dôen’s value proposition, and it consistently delivers through its product design, events, and Journal. There, Dôen profiles the extraordinary stories of community members and becomes a source of continued conversation.
Curation: A retailer’s new customers can lower the value for its existing customers. To prevent reverse network effects and maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio, retailers need strong curation and personalization. In order to ensure that its products and services are relevant and valuable to its best customers. For example: Adidas introduced Creators Club, a membership program that gives customers access to exclusive events, products, and special offers.
Collaboration: Ask what else your customers are wearing, reading, listening, experiencing, and talking about. Relevance of a retailer for its target group is greater if it is culturally amplified. IKEA’s collaboration with a streetwear brand Off-White aims at designing the affordable furniture collection for millennials to help them create their first home. More importantly, it reflects a broader taste for the aesthetic of their joint audience.
No one knows who the new GOOP is going to be. Instead of projecting the next success story, we can create one by making our technology inherently social. To increase the odds of creating a cumulative advantage once the product or service is in the market, retailers must build 4Cs into their core. In the complex and unpredictable world of online retail, designing for social influence is a brand’s best bet.
Read the No. 291 curation here.
By Ana Andjelic| Edited by Web Smith. About Ana: most recently the Chief Brand Officer of Rebecca Minkoff, Ana has earned her doctorate degree in sociology and worked at the world’s top advertising agencies. She’s also a frequently published author, public speaker and writer. She lives in New York City.