Social in 2014 is just like the web in 1996

If social media existed in the '90s

Take a look at your favourite brand's Facebook page. It's pretty mature, isn't it? It's well managed, it's active, those guys really know what they're doing. And it's not just Facebook - look at the way businesses use Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and a million other tools. Social has definitely come of age.

And then step back and put all this into context. It might seem like we've reached an end-point, like we've gone as far as we possibly can but, in truth, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of social's potential. How do we know that? Because it's happened before - with the birth of e-commerce.

Back in the early to mid '90s, the only corporates who saw a business use for the web were the marketing guys. Excited by this dynamic new platform, they were the ones who established websites for their brands. But the new tech didn't automatically deliver a new way of thinking and, consequently, these websites were little more than online versions of the print brochures and corporate resources they were already producing, coupled with some touchy-feely fun for the customers.

ASDA's website in 1996 offered everything from jobs and recipes to java games to entertain their customers. The one thing it didn't offer, though, was the ability to buy things. The UK supermark ASDA's website in 1996 offered everything from jobs and recipes to java games to entertain their customers. The one thing it didn't offer, though, was the ability to buy things.

Meanwhile, pioneers like Pegasus (who set up the world's first online travel agency, and now power giants like Ebookers, Orbitz, Lastminute and Hotwire), eBay and Amazon had identified an infinitely greater potential for the web - the ability to sell direct to customers, any time day or night, anywhere in the world, disintermediating traditional retail, shaving overheads to a bare minimum, reinventing shopping forever. These pioneers invented a whole new channel - e-commerce - and the reward for their innovation was 20+ years of dominance. Brands and traditional retailers are still paying the price for their tardiness back in the '90s, and you only have to look at what's recently happened to the likes of HMV and Jessops to see how costly that price has been.

The same thing will emphatically happen with social. We're still in the mid '90s when it comes to how brands interact with their customers via social. It's a toe in the water - something for marketers to play with. Just like the brochure sites of old, corporate social outposts collate information for their customers, they engage them with fun distractions (competitions, polls, Pinterest boards, pictures of fluffy kittens to share), they stick a flag in the sand for their brands.

But the future will only arrive when social expands beyond the social media we're playing with now, or even the social media marketing people assume is cutting edge. The inevitable, essential future is Social Commerce - shopping where we socialise, buying things with our friends, accessing offers and exclusives via viral networks, influencing the price and nature of products with our collective, social voice.

The question, though, is whether brands and retailers will make the same fatal mistake they made 20 years ago and allow someone else to corner the market before they can get so much as a foot in the door. There's still time to act, but the next six months are going to be fascinating to watch.


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Going, going, gone. What's going to happen to retail when the sales are over?

Sale Ends Today

Oh, Banksy. Always bang on the money with your witty observations (although - ironic art fact! - this oil on canvas swipe at consumerism didn't actually sell when Sotheby's tried to auction it in 2008). We are totally obsessed with sales, which is why it comes as no surprise that everyone from Buckingham Palace to the 99p Store chain is knocking off money quicker than the late Ronnie Biggs (incidentally, how do 99p Stores have sales?!).

Unsurprisingly, that's led to a slightly busier high street than usual (though not everywhere, it seems), but let's not kid ourselves here: people aren't shopping because the recession's over and they're merrily splashing the cash. They're stockpiling in preparation for the moment the sales end, making sure they have everything they need before that 80% off is actually off.

At which point, everything's likely to get rather bleak.

Traditionally, the post-sales period between leading up to Easter has been retail's time to experiment: click-and-collect, loyalty cards, even the world's first ever online store (1992's Book Stacks Unlimited) all came into being during Februaries past (as did the mobile internet and Facebook, incidentally). So now's definitely the time to plan something fresh and innovative.

The


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Flash in the pan: why the private sales fad crashed and burned

Flash in the pan: why the private sales fad crashed and burned

Oh, ye of little truth. The co-founder of the private sales site vente-privee, Ilan Benhaim, recently told a crowded conference hall that his site added 10k users per day last year yet, rather surprisingly, doesn't pay for traffic. Apparently, it's all word of mouth in the private sales world. It's all buzz and peer-to-peer and social. Except, clearly, it isn't.

Unless, of course, someone else paid for this ad...

Google advert for vente-privee

I'm not surprised that vente-privee advertises, but we are a little surprised that Mr Benhaim felt the need to bend the truth like that. There's no way a site like vente-privee could possibly sustain itself without calling in the keyword cavalry. Why? Because private sales / members'-only sales / secret sales / flash sales (call 'em what you will, they're all the same thing) are inherently un-social, for these three reasons:

1. For your eyes only?

There's a common ruse when it comes to private sale e-stores. It's expressed differently from site to site but, basically, it translates roughly along these hoary old lines: "Our prizes are so crrRRRazy, our suppliers will only let us show them to our members." Now, admittedly, I had an extra portion of cynicism with our cornflakes this morning,


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We all agree, right? Affiliate marketing is starting to suck.

We all agree, right? Affiliate marketing is starting to suck.

It's amazing how candid people can be when they don't realise (or don't care) thatyou're listening. Here's a direct quote from a chap called Chris Rempel who works as an affiliate marketer. We're not saying it's representative, but... well, just take a look:

"Remember that most people still honestly believe – and follow – the bullshit myth about 'great content' and 'great user experience'. Exploit this for all it’s worth by outranking them with swaths of cheap, shitty links – and passable content."

Charming, innit? If you'd like to read more of this stuff, feel free to click the quote and explore his website. He's a bit of a hero to black hat affiliates, and he's made a lot of money out of doing this stuff - so, hey, he must be doing something right.

But not for you. And wasn't that supposed to be the point of affiliate marketing?

Let's back-track a little. Back in the mid-'90s, some very bright sparks (among them Amazon - lest we forget how the big A rose to such prominence) realised that the entire internet could serve as retail outposts for their online stores. Why spend a fortune advertising then converting on your site when,


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Football Retail: Still Living In The Dark Ages

Football Retail: Still Living In The Dark Ages

I'm… long pause… shuffle of feet… awkward silence… a Spurs fan. There I said it. But don't worry if you're a fan of any of the other 18 perfectly-respectable premiership clubs (or even Arsenal), this is a friendly, well-meaning blog post. I mean you no harm. Besides, we're all in the same boat when it comes to being fans. We're all walking wallets. Cash cows. Client reference numbers. We're consumers of the official beer, the official ticket provider, the official online betting companies. But we're never, ever, customers.

The word 'customer' suggests that we own our custom and that we have any choice where to bestow it. But, like a failed safe-cracker doing a duckfoot, we're locked in for life. There is only one shirt we can buy (which, incidentally, is why us Spurs fans are a wee bit disgruntled that this oneis besmirched with evil red). We don't have the option of buying a Fulham shirt instead (we don't want to be laughed at in public) - what they offer we buy. Because we have no choice.

But this is, let's face it, a pretty ropy way to run a retail business. In fact, it's got icky echos


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