Selling with Twitter

Feature Article | May 9, 2011 by Christiane Stagge

Social media platforms and apps present additional avenues for product sales (image: Fotolia)

Social media platforms and apps present additional avenues for product sales (image: Fotolia)

Viral marketing on Twitter, gift certificates through Facebook – these days, you need more than just an online shop to sell products. Campaigns now require expansion to new channels. According to an IDC study, customers snapped up 174 million smartphones all over the world in 2009, and this number is projected to cross the 1 billion threshold by 2014. The social media platform Facebook, meanwhile, already has over a half-billion members.

The potentially enormous opportunities this presents to those running online stores are clear: Through smartphones, companies can reach their customers practically anytime and anywhere. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms can also provide information on customers’ interests, current locations, and opinions of certain products.

From one-sided to cross-media

However, mobile applications and social media are not making conventional online shops obsolete. The important thing is interlinking all of the elements in play to the greatest mutual benefit.

Read on for information on the following topics:

  • Online shops: what to keep in mind
  • Mobile commerce: selling products with apps and social media

What legal information does a Web site have to provide? What other regulatory issues need clarification when founding an online store? You can also find detailed answers to these and many other questions in IBI Research’s 300-page guide to e-commerce (German only).

Fully customizable: On Nike Store, you can design your own shoes (screenshot: Nike Store)

Fully customizable: On Nike Store, you can design your own shoes (screenshot: Nike Store)

Nike Store also gives customers a virtual magnifying glass for examining the smallest details of products (screenshot: Nike Store)

Nike Store also gives customers a virtual magnifying glass for examining the smallest details of products (screenshot: Nike Store)

Online shops: what to keep in mind

An online shop should provide an overview of the products on offer while also gaining the customer’s trust. Besides the brand message, ease of use and a clearly arranged format are most important.

Helpful features might be a search field that autocompletes user input, for example, or supports the entry of multiple search terms. A clear indication of how many results each search produces, filter functions, and content that helps the customer along when no hits are found can further facilitate the purchase process.

To aid orientation, sites should also differentiate between new and already registered customers during login.

Clear, meaningful product information – related to available colors and sizes of clothing articles, for instance – and 360-degree views are musts for good online shops. The online shoe store mirapodo even goes a step further by storing customers’ foot and shoe sizes in their profiles. From then on, the site only displays shoes that would actually fit.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com’s wishlists and other forms of virtual shopping lists make it easier for returning customers to find their favorite products more quickly. Shopping carts should also be clearly arranged and enable users to add and remove items at any time.

When it comes time to settle up, store operators should not only accept various types of payment – such as on account, cash on delivery, advance payment, credit cards, and PayPal – but provide clear information on shipping dates, delivery status, and data protection, as well. Displaying special certificates and seals of quality on the site engender further trust with customers, while feedback forms give buyers a fast means of sharing whatever comments or complaints they may have.

To take just one example of how the lines between e-commerce and social media have blurred, consider how Fahrrad.de has integrated its online bicycle shop with its Facebook profile.

Fahrrad.de has integrated its online store with its Facebook page, begging the question of where one ends and the other begins (screenshot: Facebook)

Fahrrad.de has integrated its online store with its Facebook page, begging the question of where one ends and the other begins (screenshot: Facebook)

With an app from the French optical store Atol, those who wear glasses can try out the latest frames right on their iPhones (screenshot: iTunes)

With an app from the French optical store Atol, those who wear glasses can try out the latest frames right on their iPhones (screenshot: iTunes)

Marketing campaigns through social media

Location-based services use smartphones’ GPS sensors or cellular localization to find out where users are. This is another area where social media and mobile apps supplement one another: When a person uses an app – be it Foursquare, Gowalla, or Facebook’s Places function – to check in at a location, he or she can also publish this information on Facebook or Twitter.

Those who work in marketing can take advantage of this function to combine effective campaigns with particular locations. When users check in on Facebook at the entrance to a movie theater, for example, the theater can reward them with downloadable gift certificates. In Cologne, Germany, the Hotel Domspitzen has run a similar offer by presenting a complimentary drink to those who tweet about their overnight stay.

The low-fare airline Germanwings, meanwhile, recently augmented its Web site with smart banners that use visitors’ IP addresses to automatically determine their current country and display important information from the nearest airport.

Mobile commerce

On mobile devices, simply offering a condensed version of your online shop is not enough: The site should take full advantage of smartphone functions, including cameras, GPS, and face recognition.

Elsewhere, mobile apps for iPhone, Android, and other platforms now make our everyday lives significantly easier. Lufthansa, for instance, has begun accepting check-ins by iPhone and also issues boarding passes directly to the device, making paper documents a thing of the past. Deutsche Bahn has followed suit with its Touch & Travel app, which also makes tickets passé. Before starting a journey, passengers can log in and download tickets to their smartphones. After they arrive at their destination, they simply log out. The corresponding fees are then drawn from their bank accounts.

From Google Checkout Mobile to PayPal Express, there are now a number of services that facilitate mobile payment by smartphone. The cellular providers O2 and Vodafone have also introduced mpass, which requires customers to enter just their cell number and a password to purchase items from participating online stores. Upon doing so, they receive a text message to confirm before having the necessary funds debited to their accounts.

Finally, the French optical store Atol les Opticiens offers a special app to those who wear glasses and own an iPhone 4. With it, customers can try on glasses in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Simply hold your iPhone in front of you to allow the camera to automatically recognize your face and take a photo. You can then superimpose a wide range of frames over the image.

Simply log in and hop a train: With Deutsche Bahn’s Touch & Travel app, you no longer need a paper-based ticket (screenshot: iTunes)

Simply log in and hop a train: With Deutsche Bahn’s Touch & Travel app, you no longer need a paper-based ticket (screenshot: iTunes)

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