11 virtual stores you should know about

Virtual stores are nothing new.  When you think about it any branded website which replicates the shop environment through interactive visuals or e-commerce functionality  could be classified as a virtual store. But what I find interesting is the emerging trend of extending this concept into other digital, mobile and social spaces.   In a lot of ways it makes perfect sense to take your shop to where your customers are rather than wait for them to find you.

But simply replicating e-commerce in different platforms doesn’t necessarily cut it.  In fact, the WSJ reviewed a report by Forrester recently which warns brands not to rush out and add ecommerce functionality onto their social platforms as the ROI is still questionable.  Their study suggests that  early adopters of shopping carts on Facebook had seen only modest results, and in most cases not until after they’d established a loyal-fan following. But there does seem to be an emerging opportunity here for brands to explore, whether that’s incorporating e-commerce or replicating the store experience in some other way.  So here’s my pick of the bunch which I feel work brilliantly.

#1 – Asos Facebook page

Asos claimed to be the first in Europe to open a virtual store on Facebook where fans could buy their merchandise without even leaving the site.  Whether that’s true or not I don’t know but it’s clearly paying dividends for Asos who now boast almost 1 million fans already.   The e-commerce app they developed has the same functionality as that used on their main website including add-to-basket, edit cart contents, check out and order-tracking features.  But now they can tap into all the benefits of building a fanbase on Asos at the same time.

#2 – Amazon mobile app

I have the Amazon app on my iPhone and have to say I absolutely love it. It’s so simple to use and brings all the benefits and convenience you’ve come to expect from Amazon directly into the palm of your hand – so you can effectively browse the whole Amazon store without even getting off the sofa (or the loo for that matter).  But for me the best function is the barcode scanner.  I used this the other day when I was buying a flat screen TV.  I popped into various stores on the high street to review the latest products.   I checked them all for picture and sound quality and prices.  I even spoke to the friendly salesmen for advice.  Once I’d decided on the one I liked the most, I simply scanned the barcode using the Amazon app and found the exact same model on Amazon.  Not only was it £100 cheaper but I could also check all the consumer reviews to give me the social validation to go ahead with the sale.  I completed the transaction with a couple of clicks on my mobile (whilst in the other store) and had the TV delivered the very next day.

I must admit I did feel slightly guilty about abusing the high street retail system but since they didn’t have the one I wanted in stock that was their look out.  Also at least I paid something for my TV, which is more can be said for the London looters!

#3 – O2 Guru TV

If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should check out O2 Guru TV – they’ve delivered a fabulously engaging virtual store experience by creating a custom channel on YouTube.  It’s not a virtual shop which uses ecommerce as such but rather a portal for handling customer service queries. So customers can go there to find videos on a range of topics from the latest handset reviews to how to reduce your mobile tariff when travelling abroad. It’s a a video rich resource which is not only social and interactive but also excellent for driving awareness through video search optimisation. I’ve heard it’s had a positive impact on reducing call centre volumes too.


#4 – BMW on eBay

It’s easy to think of virtual stores within the retail sector but what about other industries like automotive.  Well, if you’re a BMW owner, the prospect of driving to your BMW dealer to pick up a spare part or accessory could be a thing of the past.  Nowadays you can simply visit their virtual store on eBay – BMW Direct.

#5 – Ocado on the Go

The Ocado on the Go app is available on the iphone and android. As you’d expect you can browse and buy all your groceries, as well as book a delivery slot directly from your phone. Very impressive functionality.  I probably wouldn’t do a complete weekly shop on it as it’s quite a protracted process – not sure my iphone battery would last that long – but I do occasionally amend existing orders or do a mid-week top up shop when I’ve forgotten something. According to econsultancy, they have 10,000 users registering every month and 4,000 checkouts a day. In fact, mobile transactions now account for 12% of Ocado purchases.

#6 – First Direct iphone app

I guess First Direct’s whole raison d’etre is around the virtual store proposition – after all if it wasn’t for telephony or online banking they wouldn’t exist.  But their latest app is a natural extension of the virtual store. It only has limited functionality at this stage – so all you can do is check your balances and make payments/transfers directly from the app. But for checking things on the fly, it’s perfect.

#7 – M & S mobile site

M & S recognised the importance of virtual shopping or ‘mobile retailing’ a while ago and launched their mobile ecommerce site in May last year. Since then, their site has received nothing but praise due to its simple usability experience and seemless ecommerce integration.  In fact, according to eDigital Research which publishes the mCommerce Benchmarking Study 2011, the M & S mobile site came out on top.

#8 YouTique by French Connection

French Connection have created a well designed custom channel on YouTube called YouTique. It hosts a range of video including anything from fashion tips to more leftfield content to keep things interesting. They have incorporated video annotation too to  guide visitors through the channel.

#9 – Google shopping

If you can’t run to the cost of producing your own virtual store, there’s always Google Shopping.  A search on Google Shopping will collate all the products within your vicinity so you can see at a glance what’s the cheapest. You can then go on to buy online with just a few clicks.

#10 – Tesco Homeplus & John Lewis

Tesco in Korea came up with an innovative idea recently where they decided to bring the store to the people. By creating a virtual store on the underground platform, commuters could shop by scanning the QR code with their smartphone which would then add the item to their shopping basket. Neat.

Funnily enough, John Lewis have recently come up with a similar execution in Brighton where they’ve converted a window display from one of their Waitrose stores into an interactive shopping experience using QR codes.

#11 – Virtual Facebook

Perhaps saving the best till last. Here’s an exciting idea by Shaker who have created a virtual world within your social network. The video is a bit corny but if you jump towards the end of the clip you’ll get the idea. Who knows it might catch on.

This isn’t an exhaustive list so if you know any other virtual stores, whether that’s ecommerce based or simply replicating the store experience on other digital or social platforms, please share them below.

Ideas are useless. Execution is everything.

I’m sure there are plenty of memetic studies out there which help to explain why certain ideas gather momentum and self-propagate, whilst others barely feature on the Richter Scale.  Having failed to read them all I can’t claim to know all the answers. But what I do know is that coming up with a good concept is only half the battle. Quite often, what makes something achieve meme status is not so much the idea itself but the way it’s executed. How many good ideas have you seen which have been let down by poor execution? In fact,  to make the point a fellow planner @mvharrison once stuck a poster in our office as a constant reminder which says ‘ldeas are useless. Execution is everything.’

So what better way to demonstrate the importance of ‘execution‘ than to show a few examples from this popular meme known as ‘horsemanning‘…

 

Two unnatural bedfellows: eBay and BMW

You wouldn’t normally expect to see a luxury brand market itself on eBay but that’s exactly what BMW have done with their BMW Direct Store.

And they’ve done a good job too. BMW owners can now buy a wide and varied selection of accessories and merchandise without having to step foot in a dealership.  I wonder how long before you can buy a BMW 5 series?

Amplifying Random Acts of Kindness

CRM has been using Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) for years to help build brand affinity, loyalty and advocacy. But traditionally it’s always been delivered on a one-to-one level either to reward the most valuable customers or to prevent attrition from high risk defectors.  The best outcome in those days was that the recipient would remain loyal and sing the brand’s praises with a few mates down the pub!  But now that we live in a more connected society there are infinitely more opportunities for these Random Acts of Kindness to reach a far wider audience. Nowadays you can cherry pick a few unsuspecting customers, offer some form of surprise and delight, document it and then amplify this by publishing or seeding this content in various social media platforms.  The net effect is that a mass audience can see that you care about your customers and that the brand has a human side which can only do wonders to your brand equity.

The best example of this I can think of is Coke with their Happiness Vending Machine (see below) but if you want more inspiration then you must read this latest Trendwatching briefing. Not only does it highlight the growing importance of this trend but it also provides some useful and imaginative examples of how different brands have tried to apply it.

10 most popular reasons for ‘unliking’ Branded Facebook Pages

There’s a tendency when setting up a branded Facebook page or Twitter account to view this as simply another advertising channel to broadcast streams of content about the brand, products and latest offers. After all, these social handraisers have actively ‘liked’ your page so they must be receptive to this kind of content, right? Well not entirely. Unlike us, the average customer on the street doesn’t live and breath your brand every day and rarely gives two hoots about that latest press release or product video, let alone those glamorous photos from that launch party they were never invited to.

In fact, a new study by ExactTarget and CoTweet (via webpronews) has identified the 10 most popular reasons why people ‘unlike’ brands on Facebook. The biggest contributory reason is because the company posted too frequently or the content becomes too repetitive and boring. Other highlights from the study include 81% of consumers have either “unliked” or removed a company’s posts from their Facebook news feed and 41% have “unfollowed” a company on Twitter.  No real surprises there but it’s a helpful reminder to all of us that we need to try harder to engage and retain social handraisers than simply broadcasting brand announcements or promotional messaging.

Fanpage attrition rates is probably quite a new concept but it’s something I predict will become increasingly important as brands invest more of their precious marketing budgets on building social databases.  The good news is that it follows exactly the same principles behind any traditional  CRM programme.  So if you send them relevant, timely and engaging content, you can expect the brand relationship to grow.  But as soon as you start focusing on what you want to say rather than what they want to hear, your social handraisers will start to lose faith in this relationship and opt out.

9 essential tools to understand your customer’s social media behaviour

Before a brand commits to any social media campaign, activity or platform it’s clearly essential to understand how their target audience behaves in these environments.  For example, where is your target audience predominantly online? How active are they in this space? Are they the types of people who proactively share and contribute to the conversation or do they prefer to observe by the sidelines?  Are they likely to invest time and energy in UGC or would such an invitation fall on deaf ears? What digital platforms are they most comfortable frequenting online? And what are the motivations and key drivers that lie behind their social media behaviour?

Unless one can answer these types of questions, there’s a fair chance your social media efforts could all be in vein. The good news, however, is that there are a number of sources, tools and frameworks available which can help us build a fairly informed picture of our target audience’s social media profile. And the best bit, most of them are completely free! Outlined below are the ones I’m most familiar with or have found to be most useful over the years. I’ve also restricted the list to tools which can be applied across Europe markets and not just the US.

1. The Global Web Index

The Global Web Index (Lite) is a nifty little free tool recently published by Trendstream to help you view the social media profiles of different online audiences across Europe. It’s based on a quantitatitive survey and manages to overlay social media behaviour and motivations by country, age and attitudinal profiles. The full version will have a lot more meat on the bones but for a quick snapshot this Lite version can be quite an insightful tool, particularly when comparing against different markets.

2. Universal McCanns Social Media Tracker

This in my view is the holy grail when it comes to tracking trends in social media from a global perspective.   It’s been going a few years now and is an essential point of reference for anyone trying to identify behavioural trends in social media. There’s a free Silverlight-based tool here which is quite fancy but for usable insights and stats you really need to read the Wave 4 report . Considering it’s free, it’s absolute gold dust!

3. Forresters Social Technographics Tool

Forrester’s social technographics tool has been around for a while but is still a great way to map your target audience’s propensity to participate in social media.  With this tool you can get a decent idea whether your audience over indexes for certain types of behaviour. So for example, if they over index as ‘creators’ there’s a fair chance they’d be receptive to getting involved in a crowdsourcing or  UGC project. Conversely, if they’re predominently spectators and inactives, don’t even go there.

Unfortunately some European markets are not covered for some age profiles which I assume is because they don’t hold enough survey data.

4. Altimeter’s Engagement Pyramid

This isn’t a data analytical tool as far as I believe but rather a strategic framework to help map the different ways in which consumers engage in social media. I’ve reported on this before when it first came out as I liked its simplicity.  Even though there’s no data to substantiate this, it’s good common sense and highlights the importance of socialgraphics to help inform social media strategies rather than simply relying on traditional demographic and psychographic profiles.

5. TMW’s Motivational Drivers to Social Media Participation

Understanding ‘how’ your target audience participates in social media is important but only one piece of the jigsaw. It’s also important to ask yourself ‘why’.  At TMW, we conducted some research in conjunction with research agency ICM to help identify the motivations behind social media participation. We concluded there are 6 key motivational drivers for participating in this space.

  • Discovery: for self-development or to learn from others
  • Altruism: to help others make the right decision or become involved in the brand’s product decision
  • Social: to connect to the like minded, reinforce tribal identity or gain a sense of belonging
  • Fame: for personal notoriety or to challenge their ability against others
  • Escapism: for entertainment and an escape from the daily routine
  • Expression: as an outlet for their imagination or expression of personal identity

The interesting thing is that these motivations change according to different demographics. You can read some of insightful results from this study in a previous post here.

6. TGI Net Europa

Launched in September 2008, with new data released twice a year, TGI Net Europa combines the full TGI Europa database with extensive detailed information on internet behaviour and attitudes.  This isn’t a free tool unfortunately so you may have to ask your media agency nicely if you can use it!

7. Social Media Statistics Compendium by econsultancy

The Social Media Statistics Compendium is one of the reports bundled with the eConsulancy’s Internet Statistics Compendium.  It costs £250 on its own but is jam packed with useful stats on social media from a variety of third party sources.

8. CheckFacebook.com

If  you want to understand the profile of Facebook users within your market and compare this to your target audience profile, it’s worth visiting Check facebook. It’s free too.

9. Nielson’s Global Faces & Networked Places Report – March 2009

Finally, Nielson’s Global Faces and Network Places report looks at the social media market as a whole but does have a useful section on how the audience is changing and starting to mature.

Summary

So there you have it – a mix of tools and approaches to help you build up a social media profile of your target audience. It’s not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination so if you know any more I may have missed feel free to add them below.

Is social targeting the future?

I had an interesting meeting with a company called Tamtam Media this week who are the UK agents for Media6degrees, an ad serving company in the US who are pioneers in a new media targeting concept called social targeting.  I’m curious to see how this develops over the next 12 months or so as I imagine this will be the next big thing in digital media targeting.

Let me try to explain why.

For decades, demographic, psychographic, contextual and behavioural targeting have been the primary tools used by marketers and media buyers to reach specific audiences. But now there’s a new kid on the block called sociographics. By that I mean targeting criteria based on connections via social media sites.

What Media6 have done is build a sophisticated social graph which effectively maps the social connections of millions of people across a multitude of different social media sites, including flickr, facebook, bebo, myspace and any number of influential blogs.  Don’t ask me how they do it, let alone without contravening privacy issues – they just do!  All I know is that it involves placing 20 billion pixels across the web and tracking browser IDs. What this means though is that they can then serve banner ads via their ad network to anyone who may be socially associated or connected to one of your brand loyalists.

An example of how it works

So let’s say someone visits your website and orders a brochure or buys a product online.  Using pixels placed on your website and across the social web, Media6 can track the online behaviour of one of your brand loyalists to build up a picture of their social connections.  They also measure things like frequency and reciprocity to identify only the strongest connections.

Now the clever bit. If one of those close connections then visits one of the many media publishing sites within Media6’s ad servicing network – which includes the likes of MSN, Yahoo, Times Online, Facebook or Myspace – they bid for it and serve them one of your ads.  Not only that but if that person subsequently clicks on your banner to visit your website the cycle continues.

Clever stuff indeedy.

Why is this better than traditional targeting methods?

The reason this is such a powerful form of targeting is because it’s based on the simple premise that the people you know and regularly interact with are more likely to demonstrate similar brand affinities than those who simply share the same demographic or psychographic profile.  And according to Media6, the results appear to validate this theory, out-performing other traditional ad targeting methods by some considerable margin.

It’s a tricky one to get your head around I know, especially as I’m no media planner and probably haven’t explained it that well at all! But if I’ve whet your appetite, this interview with the CEO of Media6degrees might do it more justice!

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