Ecommerce is always changing. The minute you think you’ve got it figured out, some new tech is released, a marketplace launches, and the way consumers buy evolves into something else than what you anticipated.
How people find your products is becoming increasingly important. Did they find one of your tweets interesting? Are your pins on Pinterest in line with their aesthetic? Connecting with your market in a meaningful way creates buying power.
To get a better grasp on why understanding your customers’ social buying behavior is so vital to ecommerce success, entrepreneur and business strategy consultant Sramana Mitra directs us to a case study on her blog One Million by One Million. She interviewed Smocked Auctions founders Amy Laws and Nicole Brewer on how they built a business through comment selling on Facebook.
Laws and Brewer began Smocked Auctions in 2010 after forming a close friendship that evolved from having young children of similar ages. Both women were looking for a certain style of clothing for their little girls, but most retailers sold the clothes for well above what either of them were willing to spend. They realized there was a gap in the market – women wanted high-end clothing for their kids, but not at prices comparable to a mortgage payment. Brewer and Laws decided to fill that gap themselves. They contacted wholesalers and manufacturers for meetings, bought discounted products in bulk, and ran their first auction on Facebook. Their first auction sold 30 items, and gained 300 organic fans on Facebook. Within a year, they had grossed one million in sales.
The Smocked Auctions business format is unique, in that it operates as a mix between eBay and Craigslist. Photos of the products up for auction are posted, one minute after the other, on the Smocked Auctions Facebook page. The price is fixed, meaning there is no outbidding one another. But, it’s first come first serve, for as long as the have stock available. Quickly, Amy Laws realized the magnitude of what they could create on social media. “Word of mouth is still extremely powerful,” she says. “Running a business on social media forces you to take care of your customers in a way that retail has never had to do.”
Only a few years have passed and the women at Smocked Auctions have just under a half a million fans of Facebook, where they still conduct auctions. They now manufacture their own clothes, and have hired a team to help. Though not all sellers run auctions through Facebook, there are practices that retailers can learn from the Smoked Auction team. Here’s how we suggest online sellers can mimic their business model.
Share your new products on Facebook, but let people know ahead of time when to expect them. Create a schedule that makes sense for your business.
- Order new stock frequently? Post product images and details every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm.
- Order new stock once a month? Post product images and details every FIRST Saturday of the month at 7 am.
Make sure it’s visible. Add it to your timeline photo so that it’s clear.
Try going “organic” – at least for a time. For the first full year of business, Laws and Brewer did not invest in any advertising. All of their sales and fans were completely organic. While this may feel scary, it was effective for them as a new business. Brewer says that for the first year, their business was built by word of mouth. “[Customers] would talk about us at the park with their friends,” she says.
Don’t let the idea of organic growth intimidate you. Yes, paid advertising may grow your Facebook fan count, but how many of those fans become customers? For a time, let consumers get to know you and your business, and recommend you to friends. A word of mouth recommendation is far more valuable than a paid “like” (and costs a lot less).
Engage with customers, and let them feel comfortable engaging with you. According to Laws, this is key. “We operate completely open to all of our fans. We have never deleted a negative comment. Everyone sees how we work through our customer engagements. If someone is not happy, they will let 400,000 people on our page know it. Anyone who wants to do business on social media needs to be hyper sensitive to social media.”
Though this can be intimidating, it helps create buyer trust. Even seeing one negative remark will let them know you’re not trying to “cover anything up,” and that all other reviews and engagements must be authentic.
In this ever evolving industry, it can be hard to not only remain relevant and accessible, but keep your business in front of the right audiences. We believe in the power of social media to build brand awareness and drive sales, just like Brewer and Laws do. Be aware of how your customer thinks and behaves, what sites they use, what they care about, and you’ll get their attention in all the right ways.