The building blocks of social commerce

Send the Trend founders

Send the Trend is a great example of a ground-up social commerce company.  In a video interview with Entrepreneur Magazine, CEO Divya Gugnani explains the company’s core DNA:

Curated content

Like or Gilt Group, Send the Trend takes on the role of fashion curator by constantly editorializing their product mix.    Visitors who come to the site expect a level of fashion quality, just as they would from any trusted luxury brand.  Consumers depend on Send the Trend’s fashion expertise and contribute their own style by creating their own MyStyle page.

Social by design

The brand experience is based on the way fashion shoppers inherently search, browse, and share great fashion finds, ie social by design.   The curating and sharing environment created among like-minded shoppers generates a community ecosystem.

Send the Trend already has a strong social media presence with nearly 250,000 Facebook fans and 12,000 Twitter fans.  Additionally, they use Youtube to publish rich content, Pinterest for first-view photos, and Tumblr for an inside peek at the company itself.

Social incentives

For starters, Send the Trend uses a classic “tell a friend” marketing technique.    Users are asked to invite a friend with $10 cash credit.   When that sendee purchases, the sender gets $10 credit.

Like Polyvore or Pinterest, users can collect items and place them in their virtual, hosted collection.  The user is then asked to promote their MyStyle page.  They earn a commission when someone registers on the site or purchases via their MyStyle page.

Additionally, users are literally given store credit when they share Send the Trend items on Facebook or Twitter.   Users become brand advocates just by sharing their favorite items with their network.  The social insight here that fashion-find sharing feels nature because shoppers have always behaved this way, even before social media.   Send the Trend community members are proud of their finds and happy to share them among their fashionista friends.

Geo targeting + personalization

In addition to product curation and incentives to share, the Send the Trend website detects your location and services geo-specific recommendations, like sweaters for visitors from the Midwest and sunglasses for visitors from California.     Together the combination creates a more personalized browsing experience.

Focus on sales

Lastly, Gugnani emphasizes the importance of sales in every faction of the business.  Remember that your brand and all your shopping features are built to sell.  The entire social commerce flow needs to optimize the shopping experience.  The entire brand experience, including all the social building blocks, is a finely tuned, guided sales experience.

How to build a Facebook marketing campaign

TV ads compete for consumer attention

Advertising has historically been about interruption.  TV ads appear, for example, between segments of your favorite TV show.  The problem with the interruption advertising model is that the message is not contextual or relevant.  Users are focused on their show, so they’ve learned to dismiss any brand interruptions as annoying.

Brands are finding their voice on Facebook.  From pages, brands can invite their customers to interact with them in a more personal way, beyond classic interruption marketing.

As brands plan Facebook campaigns they have to consider how to carefully approach their audience on this new medium.   Why would a user care about what the brand has to say?  Why would that user become a fan of the brand?  Once they are fans, why would they engage in the campaign and share the brand’s content with their friends?  How do you earn their trust and encourage them to voluntarily share your message?

Here are some best practices to launching Facebook campaigns:

Be useful

The best examples of brands on Facebook include an example of the brand creating utility.     Solve a problem that your are uniquely qualified to solve.  Your Facebook app is essentially extending a new, free service to your customers.   Use Facebook as a new way to serve your customers.


Nike+ is a great example of a brand that extended its core offering (clothing and shoes) to creating utility for the athlete community they have cultivated.   Nike+ provides training tools that help their customers’ track and share their fitness progress.     The Nike+ Facebook app solves a problem, which makes it an order of magnitude more compelling than a standard TV ad.

Mark Zuckerberg’s take on advertising (and this is not a direct quote) is that advertising on Facebook has to be as good as everything else on Facebook.    This means that advertising needs to be socially generated content that is contextual and personalized for every user.

Be relevant

Don’t bore people.   Timing is everything.    Your content cannot feel spammy, it has to be contextually relevant.   Likewise, your content needs to be relevant to your brand or it will just confuse users.

Don’t broadcast.   Stimulate

Your messages should be conversation starters.   Get people to talk about you.  Stimulate your community to join the conversation.  Likewise, highlight your super fans and make the story about them and their experience with the brand.  Their story is your story.

Keep it simple 

Many Facebook campaigns end up as complicated gimmicks.  Focus on the core idea and deliver on that idea.  Remember what Steve Jobs taught us about product design – simple is better.

Plan with a purpose 

Huggie's Hong Kong Facebook campaign

Focus on what your customers care about.   For example Huggie’s produces highly absorbent baby diapers, but they don’t necessarily need to hit their customers over the head with product specs.  They found that mothers care about baby photos so they focused on highlighting their fan’s babies, which really caught on.

Know your own voice

Your brand has a personality, let it be heard.    Small businesses have always succeeded by building personal relationships with their customers.    Don’t just post content, talk to people.

These themes apply to mass customization and product configurator design because interactive design tools inherently create deep brand experiences.   Fans want to get to know your product and what better way to let them than to let them design their own versions of your brand?

(NOTE:  This post was inspired by talks by Paul Adams – Researcher, product manager, designer at Facebook, and Mark D’Arcy, Director of Creative Solutions at Facebook.)

What is “social by design?”

Mark D'Arcy - Facebook

The web is going through an exciting transformation right now because it’s being rebuilt around people.  The web’s first iterations were focused on content and products.   The reason social is so hot right now is that the social web is evolving into a closer reflection of how humans have always interacted.

Most brands are currently in the process of “adding social” as a bolt-on approach to their existing websites.  These brands start with a pre-existing product-centric structure, then add ‘social features’ like “like” buttons and social sharing widgets.

Is a website that includes social sharing widgets “social?”  Mark D’Arcy of Facebook compares conventional bolt-on approach to adding salt to French fries.  The French fries themselves don’t change at all; you’re just sprinkling on some social.   The result is mediocre.

The next step is rebuilding your business from the ground up so that it is “social by design.”   Social by design means focusing on people first, then technology and products; the core experience is the social element, not just an afterthought.

Example of a share widget

Spotify is a recent example of a product that is social by design.  The music sharing application offers a core value of sharing music.  The secondary experience is playing and enjoying music.   Users login to Spotify with the Facebook ID to see their friend’s playlists, even real-time gestures of what their friends are listening to, ie “Dave is listening to enter the sandman by Metallica.”

Another example of social by design is Facebook Photos.  Facebook prioritized photo tagging over core photo editing features like red eye correction and filters.   What’s important to Facebook users is the person in the photo and the context of the photo, not the quality of the photo itself.   Early photo sharing applications like iPhoto and Shutterfly focus on photo editing as the core value (features), but lack any contextual sharing functionality (people).  The key is not to re-invent desktop-like photo editing tools within social networks, but to focus on a more simplified and shareable approach to photo publishing on Facebook.

Another great example of social design is a “gift ideas” experiment at Etsy.  Etsy’s experimental “Gift ideas” feature let’s you search their library of content based on what your friends have liked on Facebook.  You can select a friend and see a visual search result of gifts that match their Facebook likes.   Brilliant.

The theme here is that products and services are being rebuilt from the bottom up to focus on people.   New sexy ecommerce business models are all people-centric, rather then just another marketplace or online shop.   People are what make brands compelling, whether it’s service staff, friends who recommend that brand, or other shoppers who endorse the brand.

How does the lesson of social-by-design apply to product configurator design?   The design experience is usually too daunting for users, which is why many mass customization businesses fail.  Design-your-own has to be as easy as selecting, comparing, and shopping.  Customization experiences that are social by design and dead simple will be the  most successful.

(NOTE:  This post was inspired by talks by Paul Adams – Researcher, product manager, designer at Facebook, and Mark D’Arcy, Director of Creative Solutions at Facebook.)

What do consumers like about designing their own products?

What did you like about the product configurator?

We recently ran a research study that investigated consumer tastes and preferences in the context of product customization.  The goal was to find out what consumers want from a product customizer.  We asked them to run through a Treehouse Logic product configurator and then respond to a series of questions.

The results are very telling:  User experience design is top priority.  Consumers are no longer of tolerant of websites that are not intuitive and fun to use.   Good usability includes application performance, a smart layout, and comprehensive navigation.   When users are exposed to an A+ site, they appreciate it.  During the user flow, consumers need obvious answers to questions like ‘where am I?,’ ‘what do I do next?’ and “how do I finish?”

In addition to ease of use, respondents mentioned the ability to navigate many choices, and the importance of visualization of the custom product.

  • 50% complimented the site’s ease of use
  • 33% appreciated the rich selection of choices, (ie a graceful solution to “the paradox of choice.”)
  • 17% raved about the visualization, ie zoom, alternate views, and the importance of seeing high quality, accurate images of the product as they design it.

179 respondents answered the optional open-ended question “What did you like most about the product customizer?”  Here are a few verbatim answers.

Ease of use:

“Intuitive, lots of preprogrammed options, fast, very EASY”

“Easy and simple steps with a quick update of pricing on additional additions.”

“Its intuitive design and customizing features”


“A wide range of selections.  Various colors.”

“I liked being able to choose colors for every component.”

“Broad options for materials and colors.”


“Very fast in seeing what I wanted to appear in my changes”

“The zoom feature  – the varying viewpoints of the product”

“I liked the visualization of the custom bag.”

[video] Bodymetrics addresses the fit problem

Bodymetrics addresses the fit problem of mass customization.   “Ordered jeans online and they don’t fit!”  Introducing Bodymetrics for Your Living Room.



[video] Personalization is about people: customink

Great video from describing the value of personalized products.

Personalization adds a level of value beyond the surface it is printed on.  Personalization delivers emotion, fun, captured memories, and brand relationships.  T-shirts unite!

Customization vs. product quality

In our recent research on consumer preferences in the context of product customization, we asked respondents to consider the product customization process.  We asked them “How important would the following factors be to you?”

(Red = very important. Blue = extremely important)


Quality is king.  Authenticity is a form of quality. Users are inspecting zoom images, researching where products are made, reading reviews, scrutinizing product specs and asking friends for their opinions.  Users want value above all else.

The importance of quality is worth mentioning because many companies that offer custom products tend to highlight customizability above all else.  Custom candy, for example, may NOT be inherently more valuable than standard candy.    It would be a mistake to assume that the ability to customize supersedes product quality.

Yes, customization adds value, and perhaps even merits a price premium, but customization in itself is not a fully baked value proposition.  The key learning here is that inviting users to “have it their way” means nothing unless the core product is desirable.   A custom fitted shirt, for example, lacks in quality if it shows up on your doorstep poorly constructed and made from cheap fabric.

Size / Fit

Far and away the biggest barrier to adoption of the online retailing market is “the fit problem.”   How can users match their body dimensions to custom products?   There is no clear answer, as this is still an unsolved problem.    Certainly, integrating a product configurator into the shopping flow is a good start, but the challenge is in making the fit process frictionless and 100% accurate.   There are millions to be saved in product returns.

Ease of use: check out process

Shoppers don’t tolerate awkward shopping cart check-out experiences anymore.   Brush up on techniques for converting shopping cart abandons.  Again, customization does not supersede the importance of the basics.  The basics include a smooth, fast checkout.

Here’s a great example of the impact of poor ecommerce design, Expedia removed one field from their registration process and increased sales by $12M.   Shoppers get frustrated easily, it’s important to streamline wherever you can to minimize the risk of abandons.

More on build-your-own experience, selection, and brand loyalty in a future post…

How important is guidance?

In our recent study on consumer preferences, respondents made it clear that guidance is critical in guiding them to make good decisions.

Simplicity vs complexity

Interestingly, age does differentiate users in terms of their tolerance for complexity.  But, “The customization paradox” applies to users of all ages.   Users are fickle.  They want complete control, but when you give them too much power, they get frustrated.   The key to mitigating “customization fatigue” is guidance.  Use templates with defaults, filter options, reduce steps, and show recommended combinations.    Make your design tool “customer proof.”   The trick is to give them power and to protect them from themselves at the same time.

Why do young users want more complexity? 

Most likely because younger generations are accustomed to digital control, and are therefore more inclined to control hard products as well.

Per Frank Piller, consumers are finally ready for customization:  “I believe it took 10 years of consumer education on the net so that MANY of them feel confident to not just shop standard products from a catalog, but also co-create. Also, today’s 25-35’s – a core group of people buying custom goods – are trained by the interactive solutions of social networking, but also co-creation in computer games. This generation is the natural shopper for custom goods – and getting old enough now to have the discretionary income to buy custom goods online.


Design constraints

The reality is that customers are customizing YOUR brand.  They are empowered to customize within the constraints that you define.  Customers are great editors, but are they talented designers / creators?   Most customers don’t want a blank canvas, they want to start with recommended (virtual) products and make adjustments to match their tastes.  This is guidance at its core.   It really depends who your customization customers are, but guidance is appreciated by advanced and novice product designers.   Creativity loves constraint.


Users want to see suggested designs, what other customers are designing, the last 5 products built, product of the week, etc.   Inspire them with creative suggestions rather than asking them to be creative in a vacuum.

From our research, here are a few verbatim suggestions on how product configurators can improve:

  • “More suggestions or creations by others.”
  • “Better to provide a big pool of ‘good designs’ as showcase and customers could use those or work from there.”
  • “I think it can be improved by providing pre-customized products with option to modify the product.”

Research notes: The pillars of customization

Here are a few key points from our recent study on consumer preferences:

Visualization is critical

Many customizers don’t show a ‘WYSIWYG” representation of the final product, which is a mistake.   Visualization boosts consumer confidence and increases sales conversions.   Users expect accurate visualizations of their creations.  That said, they don’t necessarily expect tricky visual animations, just accurate ones.   Visualization help builds trust.

Pillars of customization

The fit problem

“The fit problem” is the primary barrier to adoption to buying custom apparel.     This is not just a customization problem; it’s an online retailing problem.   Asking customers to self-measure is very risky.  “…online retailing is being hit by crippling returns, up to 30% of goods are sent back: very often simply because they don’t fit.” – WSJ

User experience

Don’t expect your customers to be tolerant of awkward software design just because you offer customization.  What is good user experience?  Is it just a polished website design?  The answer isn’t that clear.  Designing a great customization experience is something we all agree is critical, but there is no universal answer to how UX design is done well.

Price premium

The majority of customers are price sensitive., Amazon and eBay are all about price savings, for example.   Groupon is the fastest growing company in history, and their core value is offering 50% off valuable products and services.   Per a recent Deloitte study: “discounted prices become an anticipated part of the consumer products shopping experience.”

Customization is not just for luxury products, it will be part of almost every shopping experience in the form of select, adjust design, add accessories, personalize, etc.   Brands that compete on price can also differentiate by offering customization.

BUT, luxury brands continue to thrive and can command premium prices for customization.   Burburry just launched a customizer that sells $7,000 fur trench coats.   BMW reports that customers that use their configurator spend 20% more than those that go to the car dealer.

The key here is to realize that for many brands, visual customization is expected. It is a requirement.  Price is still king.   But certainly, customization continues to be a differentiator that helps command a premium price.   At MCPC 2011, someone commented that personalization is the process of changing an object into something with a high emotional value attached.

(More on guidance in an upcoming post…)

Whitepaper 2011: What do consumers want from a product customizer?

What do shoppers want from an online customization experience?

Which product configurator features are most important?

  • Visualization
  • Intuitive design
  • Guidance / recommendations

Will shoppers still pay a premium price for customization?

Research objective:  To help the collective mass customization industry to build better customization experiences.

This is the second study we’ve launched on the topic of consumer preferences in the context of product customization.  See last year’s study.   This presentation was presented at the Mass Customization and Personalization, and co-creation 2011 conference, November, 2011.