Companies talk about building relationships with customers. A lot. In the normal buying cycle, most businesses only begin the customer relationship once the initial purchase has been made and quantifiable information is available. Even for online retailers who have the ability to allow prospective customers to create accounts and provide personal information, a relationship is just out of reach until the point of sale.
So while etailing may be the new normal, normal is only that until another disruption occurs and the intersection of social channels and commerce is the next and most interesting frontier. In the past year or so, major players like Pinterest and Twitter have added buying buttons directly to their platform. This is meant to shorten the buying cycle by removing the steps where a potential customer is taken to the item’s web page, they place it in a shopping cart and eventually check out. You like, you click, you buy, but remarkably, there’s little to no interaction with the vendor from which to build the relationship.
On these same platforms, and more so through Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, consumers are building relationships with people and brands that they can interact with on a one-to-one basis prior to making a purchase. These are immensely strong relationships that the potential customers build through watching videos, reading blog posts, having conversations (depending on platform/channel) and most importantly, identifying with that person or brand as an expert and a trusted advisor. And these consumers of social content – myself included – are more than ready to open their wallets when social entrepreneurs release a product because the transaction is seen, and more importantly, felt as a validation of their relationship. I’ve bought cookbooks from YouTube hosts and backed Kickstarters for gadgets to show my support of the person I’m a fan of and it’s only served to solidify those relationships.
For traditional retailers, this is the Holy Grail that very few are able to attain, where consumers self-identify through the brands that they support. Top of mind examples are Apple and Nike who have fans lined up for days outside of brick and mortar stores to get the latest release and will sing the praises of that brand as “someone” who gets them as a person and consumer, though they may have never had a meaningful personal interaction with those who create and so effectively market the products. Being able to create a meaningful relationship that establishes a connection and then offer products and services which supplement or enhance is a goal as brands continue to evolve their online personas and the way in which they interact with consumers.
The interesting next phase will be how the social vendor grows the relationship with their customers and whether they align with traditional product lifecycle phases or find a convergence which blurs the line further between vendor and consumer.
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