Today we have a guest post by Andrew, the Marketing Manager at GoInstant:
For all the great stuff that the internet can do, building a personal connection is much easier in person. Go to a shoe store, a car dealership, or even a McDonald’s, and you’ll notice that the human touch matters. To create great customer experiences, offline stores have learned how to cultivate strong personal connections with their customers. It’s how they provide value in a world where they can’t compete with Amazon on price. Whether it’s a smile at the cash register, or a calendar from your real estate agent, they know that great customer experiences need a bit of wonder in them. If they can provide that bit of wonder through a personal connection, loyal customers will keep coming back.
A new generation of e-commerce companies is realizing that they can also make strong personal connections with their customers. By using those connections to build unforgettable customer experiences – ones that only offline businesses had been capable of in the past – they’re competing with much more established e-commerce companies, like Amazon and Zappos, who haven’t seized on the importance of building personal connections. In other words, incredible customer service isn’t enough today. You need a more personal, human connection with your customer in order to really make their experience a great one.
Whether it’s with a technological solution or a dedicated salesperson, here are a few companies that are building great online customer experiences off of a foundation of personal connection:
Quarterly Co. doesn’t fit the standard definition of an “online retailer,” but perhaps that’s why they hit the nail on the head in terms of companies that really make it personal. Rather than simply selling items online, Quarterly attempts to bridge the gap between online and face-to-face interaction through a service that allows subscribers to connect with influential online contributors. You then receive items in the mail from them that tell a story in a much more personal way than words or pictures on a page, and so every subscriber feels a powerful connection to their service.
This online shoe store requires potential shoppers to take a style quiz prior to browsing the collection. Once you take the quiz, Just Fab’s stylists will create a personalized style boutique – a handpicked selection of new shoes and handbags – that is sent to your e-mail on the first of every month. You can then log into your boutique and shop a unique assortment that was created just for you. By personalizing shoe shopping, Just Fab makes customers feel truly special.
At Threadless, everything sold is designed by ordinary people. Artists create designs for apparel, accessories and home goods and submit them to one of Threadless’ design challenges. The community of online shoppers can then participate in the choosing of designs that will be sold on the site by scoring and critiquing submissions. Giving consumers the ability to participate directly in inventory decisions makes them feel special, creating a uniquely personal experience, and adding wonder into what would otherwise be a bland online customer experience.
Most guys don’t like to shop – online or in stores. Trunk Club solves this problem by making it really easy for them. Once you create an account, an Expert stylist will be in touch within 2 business days to discuss your fashion needs. Based on the consultation, they hand select a trunk of items and ship them right to your door, risk free. You have 10 days to try everything on – in the comfort of your home – and decide what to keep and what to send back. Shopping in stores isn’t even that easy!
The holidays are right around the corner. If you’re still in search of the perfect gift for that special someone, giftplum has you covered. You can log into the site with your Facebook account. There you’ll be asked a series of personal questions about the person you’re shopping for. giftplum then tailors the resulting gift selection to your answers. If you see a gift you think they might like, but you aren’t sure, the site has a unique “ask a friend” feature on each product page that lets you submit the gift idea to any of your Facebook friends and ask for their opinion. By the time the gift gets given, both the gift giver and receiver have had a great customer experience thanks to the personal connection that giftplum enabled.
Where do you wear your TOMS? To the park? To prom? To your wedding? Toms Shoes wants to know, and they make it really easy for you to show them by uploading a photo directly to their site. In addition to shoes, the company also sells eyewear. You can try on glasses or shades using the Virtual Try-On App, which takes your photo and lets you see what each pair of glasses will look like on your face. You can then share the photos directly to your Facebook wall.
TOMS was also one of the first companies to popularize the “one for one” charity concept. For every pair of shoes or glasses you buy, they donate one to a child in need. In other words, every time you buy something for yourself, you get to feel the awesome sense of joy that comes with doing something good for someone else. There’s nothing more personal than helping someone in need, and it creates a customer experience that makes wearing TOMS an unforgettable act.
What exactly do all of these companies have in common? It’s not a business model, or a product, or even an industry. Instead, they all believe that the internet can be a more intimate, personally-connected place than it currently is. They’re trying to differentiate by offering a uniquely engaging customer experience, and they’re building that off of personal connections. Since not many websites have figured out how to build these connections, these new entrants are left with a competitive advantage.
Even Zappos doesn’t have a strong answer to this problem. They, like so many other e-commerce companies, instead have to rely on their customer service team to provide a great customer experience. That’s great, but does it go far enough? It’s starting to seem like the answer is “no.”
What online retailers have you seen that go above and beyond to “make it personal?” Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
Andrew is the Marketing Manager at GoInstant, a co-browsing software company. He writes regularly about building better customer experiences online, because he really believes that technology can be made more beautiful, personal, and human.