Indie fashion is a $40B business with at least 70,000 boutiques in the United States alone. This means we are talking about an industry that is bigger than toys and Blue Ray DVDs combined! To boot, online retail is a tough and high maintenance effort, especially when you are trying to figure out what the next big thing is going to be for any type of niche market. With apparel/fashion businesses ranging from small "mom and pop" stores to large retail chains spanning the U.S. and beyond, all of them selling online, the competition is fierce and puts even more pressure on retail buyers to be able to insightfully anticipate trends for the next six months to a year.
As a buyer, you are tasked with buying what you *think* will sell well in your retail storefront (online or physical location). If you decide to go big and make the investment with a new brand, you run the risk of missing your fashion mark and not moving inventory, forcing you to discount everything at a later date. Having owned a retail storefront myself a few years back, ending up in that situation is a major bummer. How do you know when to commit a risky amount of your fall budget to a fashion trend, a shoe brand, or a new denim line that you feel good about but aren't sure if it's gonna take off or not? To quell some of the future-of-fashion guesswork and narrow the margin of error when taking new brands online, companies know they have to do something different and creative to stand out and get ahead.
Moxsie launches the BuyerChat program
In early October of this year Moxsie.com, an online retailer with a focus on independent fashion, started their BuyerChat program, a crowdsourcing initiative that took advantage of their 115,000+ followers on Twitter. In doing this, Moxsie's goal was "…to let people behind the scenes in a whole new way and create a new breed of fashion insiders who are over the alienating experience of traditional boutique shopping." The program, using the #buyerchat hashtag on Twitter, is set up so that Moxsie's online community can participate via Twitter and USTREAM in a real buyer meeting with actual designers. Moxsie has essentially created a community of virtual buyers that provide feedback in real-time on new apparel and accessories presented at these meetings.
Feedback from this community is now an integral part in driving purchasing decisions by Moxsie's buyers. Influence at the ground level by large group of prospective customers that double as "virtual buyers", the result is a huge potential increase of follow through purchases down the road, yielding a higher ROI from marketing campaign initiatives.
By operating this way and infusing customer feedback into Moxsie's purchasing process, they are doing what all retailers and brands should always do - give the people what they want. The success of the BuyerChat program has given them a channel to successfully do just that. Having made the Internet Retailer's Hot 100 List, plus having received several other online accolades, what is next logical step?
Yesterday, Moxsie announced its partnership with Badgeville. Badgeville is a rewards system/solution for companies that have a heavy social play in their business mix and would like to create some sort of fun incentive for customers to stay engaged and involved with a brand and it's social activities.
To be able to do this effectively though, companies that want to focus more heavily on engagement need to realize that the old internet is being replaced. According to the folks at Badgeville, "The bad news for traditional websites is that the fast rise of social gaming and social media is not just a trend, it's the next generation of the Internet. The good news is that any brand can take advantage of the techniques that work from social gaming and social media to increase traction, retention, and overall engagement. That is what Badgeville is here to help sites do."
How does Badgeville work? Basically a publisher sets up a Badgeville account and specifies what type of badges they want reward readers with for various actions performed on a site. A couple examples of how you could earn badges would be things like, becoming a fan of a page on Facebook, clicking the "Like" button on the web page of a site, etc. All of these actions and their respective awards or badges are defined by the publisher so it can be tailored to their business.
I had a chance to speak on the phone a couple nights ago with Moxsie CEO, Jon Fahrner, about the rapid growth of the BuyerChat program since October, as well as the genesis for the decision to seek out and start working with a partner like Badgeville. When Jon came to the realization it was time explore a partnership and expand on the rampant success of BuyerChat and Moxsie's other social activities, the relationship with Badgeville seemed like a natural one.
"We realized it was time to find a technology partner when we saw that people found BuyerChat to be an exciting experience. Several of the first participants privately asked us if we had any job openings. It was clear we needed to give them recognition beyond a Twitter mention. Facebook badges made the most sense to call out their dedication to this discipline of fashion buying. Badgeville was in our Palo Alto startup network and happened to be down the street from us. We had just made the Internet Retailer Hot 100 list and they had just won a Tech Crunch Audience Choice Award. Their [Badgeville] CEO Kris Duggan and I talked and felt this could be an impact partnership for both of us."
So how will Moxsie Social Rewards work?
After working closely with Badgeville over the last month or so, the program has launched.
- Moxsie social rewards are cross platform -- #BuyerChat activity on Twitter leads to virtual rewards that can be easily shared on Facebook.
- It is an incremental rewards system based on #BuyerChat participation -- with the first badge and level rank granted after one #BuyerChat experience.
- #BuyerChat badges and rewards will include levels like Buyer-In-Training, Head Buyer and Celebrity Buyer.
- You can also "win" the entire event at each #BuyerChat based on the quality of input you provide Moxsie's buyer team. The winner will be hand selected by Moxsie merchandisers and get shopping credit to use at Moxsie.com along with a special #BuyerChat event winner badge.
- Information on past winners, upcoming events and top performers -- along with a leader board and a place to claim rewards including badges, level rank and winner awards will be posted on the #BuyerChat page: http://shop.moxsie.com/buyerchat. Participants in #BuyerChat will be sent a special direct message on Twitter with a secret link to claim their rewards.
It will be interesting to see if the Badgeville solution helps to augment social business. It's a dynamic time in social as businesses now are understanding the tools, the next challenge is to marry companies with their customers and their desired experiences as closely and personally as possible via social media. Innovation and forward-thinking is key. When I asked Jon about how he and his team plan to address future challenges, sustainability of successful ideas and what the game plan is for dealing with so many future unknowns with social, he made it clear that an open mind and putting bulk of the eggs in the community basket is crucial.
"We know that for the avid BuyerChat participants, we will need to develop more dimensions and more activities for them to carry out on their journey to achieve higher industry status. BuyerChat will extend to include other events and tasks - some of which are yet to be defined. This will be an exercise of evolving with the community. Luckily we feel like this has been the strength of Moxsie since the beginning. Indie fashion is an exciting industry and we can build in more exciting things to compliment BuyerChat."
If the Badgeville integration model works for them like they think it will, it'll be interesting to see how many others quickly follow in their footsteps.