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According to Ethan Song, CEO and co-founder of Frank & Oak, a third wave of e-commerce is arriving. In his SXSW session “A New Dialogue, Your Input is Changing E-commerce,” he stressed that while the first wave of e-commerce was focused on access to products and the second wave e-commerce was centered around recommendations, we are now on to a new wave: personalization.
Song believes “we will see a shift from mass retailers like Amazon to more uniquely curated brands. This is hard, as you do need to know what you stand for and stick to it.” To seize the opportunity, you need to prioritize connecting with clients and building an audience above all else. From there, you close the loop by presenting consumers with content, products or an experience that turns them into loyal supporters.
In addition to defining clients as people who have made a purchase, Song explained that Frank & Oak also includes all “socially connected younger male shoppers” in their client base. “We knew when we started that the major guys were trying to get as many customers as possible,” said Song. But Frank & Oak didn’t care about the 99 percent of people walking down the street. Rather they focused on finding the individuals who perfectly aligned with their mission. This tactic fostered a deep client connection and laid the groundwork for a truly effective personalized, holistic, shopping experience. And you too can apply Frank & Oak’s incredibly successful philosophy to your own e-commerce business.
Invite customers to build your brand
In short, share your identity with your clients. Your brand should also be their brand, right? Clients should serve as your experts, so invite their input and feedback. They know what they want! When you include clients from the beginning, building your brand becomes an organize effort, plus your clients will care more deeply about it. The most effective tactic is to connect with someone without actually having to sell them anything at all.
Don’t try to please everyone
You can’t make one product that is perfect for every single consumer. That is why mass products end up meaning very little (if you’re lucky) to a whole lot of people. So look for opportunities to have a meaningful relationship with the right people. “There was nothing out there for a more social young male shopper when we started,” said Song. “We tapped into a smaller market. We targeted that one percent who was looking for something a little different.”
This is particularly important in e-commerce. Give great thought to the personal touches and messaging in your emails, your packaging, your product recommendations, your customer service experience, etc. None of these things should look or feel automated. As a brand, you stand for something, which is why some random guy named Joe in Kansas City decided to buy from you. Now make a personal connection with Joe, delivering both the product and experience he wants.
Be inclusive and transparent
As a brand, being transparent can be a very powerful thing. First, it protects your from criticism. You really can’t hide anything anymore, but you can control how you share. And then be humble as a brand, knowing your strengths but also being aware of your weaknesses. “This generation of customers respect that and connect with it as well,” said Song. “Share your challenges to build positive relations with your customer. They will love you for it.”
Build a community of advocates
This concept gets a lot of coverage, but very few stores actually do it. Brands talk about having the best product, best fitting or best price, but is this what your clients truly care about? It probably goes much deeper than that. So give them ways to connect with your brand. And no, this isn’t about create a Facebook page and moving on. The products you carry and the content you create should stand for something more than a transaction. New business owners often underestimate this, but it is your path to turning shoppers in loyal repeat customers.
Create a unified experience
Close the loop on the customer lifecycle. Not by ending it, but by continually bringing them back through the experience. Create targeted content and have the right product ready the moment they engage. Then they can go through that loop over and over in a seamless fashion while technology helps you behind the scenes. “When I mention this, people tend to think about recommendation platforms,” said Song. “But the things you really need to do, that have the biggest impact, are the things people don’t notice.” So be subtle and use a human touch.
Frank & Oak stressed that their success did not happen overnight. They tried and failed, which meant that they slowly learned what was best for their business model and their clients. Failures are something any small business can count on, but what you need to do is fail fast so you can move on to the next thing. Song suggests the best way to move quickly is to own every single step of your process from start to finish. “We do design in house, development in house, everything,” he said.
One final note, Frank & Oak is and always has been in continuous communication with their clients. It is built into their business model and gives them a continuous stream of feedback for improving their efforts. So connect with you clients, and keep connecting with your clients. You can’t go wrong.
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