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BoF Live: How Brands Can Use E-Commerce to Create Lasting Customer Relationships

From the shift to storytelling to user generated content, Shopify Plus’ Head of EMEA Shimona Mehta and Ilia Beauty CEO Lynda Berkowitz joined BoF’s Robin Mellery-Pratt to discuss customer acquisition strategies and how e-commerce can build consumer relationships that last.
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LONDON, United Kingdom — As consumers rapidly moved online to navigate lockdown restrictions this year, e-commerce sales saw a significant boost, accelerating its share of total sales to 30 percent by 2025, up from 12 percent in 2019, according to consultancy firm Bain. However, the opportunity to acquire new demographics online is finite as more and more brands compete for their attention — new strategies are required to connect with and retain customers today.

In partnership with Shopify PlusShopify's enterprise commerce platform, empowering the world's leading fashion and apparel brands — Lynda Berkowitz, CEO of beauty brand Ilia, and Shimona Mehta, Head of EMEA at Shopify Plus, joined BoF's Robin Mellery-Pratt to discuss the most effective tactics businesses to capitalise on pandemic-related customer acquisition opportunities and build customer relationships that last through e-commerce.

Here, we share with our community the four key insights from the conversation.

Inform and Educate Throughout Path to Purchase

“The shift to storytelling is key. Who you are, what you’re about… connecting with your core customers from a values perspective,” says Mehta. “Telling the story throughout the paths to purchase is also key — whether that’s educating consumers on product, sharing sustainability commitments or practices, or surfacing content from your community to get them to engage with products. […] Consumers are looking to purchase from brands that they connect with.”

“Over the past year, as our business has started to grow, we found a lot of people knew our products but didn’t know our brand,” says Berkowitz. “And over the past 10 years, the brand has transitioned from organic [and] natural to something that people are calling ‘clean,’ which is not a regulated category. We have to communicate to our customer what it is to us. We had to invest in the storytelling around our brand.”

Telling the story throughout the paths to purchase is key. Consumers are looking to purchase from brands that they connect with.

The BoF and McKinsey State of Fashion Report 2019 found that 42 percent of Millennials and 37 percent of Gen-Z want to know what goes into products and how they are made before they buy. What’s more, when a brand has a strong purpose, consumers are four times more likely to purchase from that brand according to a 2020 survey by communications agency Zeno Group. Clear and consistent communication of a company and its products is crucial.

Enter into Dialogues About Your Brand

Today, 64 percent of consumers want brands to connect with them, according to social media software firm Sprout Social, which has over $111m in funding and counts Shopify and Edelman as clients. A further 70 percent of US consumers surveyed by Sprout Social said it is important for brands to take a stand on social and political matters.

“[Consumers] want commitment from us. They hold us accountable to those core values that we speak about,” says Berkowitz. “When BLM happened — an ongoing movement, but [this was] the year where the rubber hit the road and people have to be held accountable — we took a hard look in the mirror. For us, all of that feedback has afforded us the ability to look at our brand through crystal clear eyes and make some changes.”

“The information and knowledge you gain from your community when you reach out and talk to them is amazing,” says Mehta. “Not all feedback is meant to be actioned, but it should be taken seriously. Which feedback appeals to your values?”

Nurture User Generated Content

Focusing on User Generated Content enables brands to crowd-source creative from their community, accessing digital assets with greater authenticity and real customer sentiment.

“If we talk about UCG, we saw throughout covid-19 gyms being fully shut down. So Gymshark started to bring person trainers onto its social channels to generate content and share at-home workouts. It was inspiring a community of health-focused individuals who love Gymshark, but it was providing work for personal trainers.

Its focused on health and focused on community. Its Sweaty Selfie campaign encouraged its community to send in post-workout selfies for Gymshark to donate money to the NHS. The message is, let’s be healthy together, let’s be engaged together and love and support our healthcare workers,” explains Mehta. The campaign garnered over 35,000 posts.

People want to buy from other people, they don't want to read copy. UGC is one of the fastest growing categories.

“Real, authentic UGC is the only thing that really converts. It is nothing but a visual review. People want to buy from other people, they don’t want to read copy,” says Berkowitz. “It’s not about getting more followers and likes, it’s about building that long-term commitment. We have a direct loop for UGC. We look at what works in real-time and convert that back to our creative team. It’s one of the fastest growing categories.”

Innovate Display Strategies

Mehta cites bath and body products firm Spongellé, which is placing items together on product pages and surfacing its most popular items from across different collections together, resulting in a 3x increase in conversions — and 57 percent of its revenue is driven through customisation.

“It’s the possibilities of creating engagement. Particularly now, we’re forced into recreating that in-person touch and feel capability online,” adds Mehta. “We don’t want to use technology for technology’s sake, but it is great to use where it makes sense, [like using] AR/VR to see furniture placed into your home, or every angle of a new shoe. Think about what are the most important engagements that you’ve created with products in store. How can you leverage that to recreate that connection in a digital way, without over killing it?”

“In beauty there is tremendous value to upload a photo and see what a colour might look like on you. Particularly as, in physical stores, you still can’t test product. However, I believe that there’s still a lot of opportunity with video. I look at my own shopping patterns and if it’s a static photo, I don’t look twice,” says Berkowitz.

Video assets reportedly drive an 11 percent higher conversion rate and 2-3x higher click-through rate than static imagery, according to B2B marketing agency Ledger Bennett. Mehta and Berkowitz both refer to the increased opportunity for consumers to envision products through video over imagery.

"I want to see the fabric moving, I want to see the texture of the fabric up close, and that's what we do in cosmetics. We do such textural, sensorial shots and I want to see that in fashion too."

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Shopify Plus as part of a BoF partnership.

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