Fluid's social platform fits Vans, JanSport well

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Vans added social networking to customization so users could work with friends on shoe designs
Vans added social networking to customization so users could work with friends on shoe designs

As a predominantly teen-focused brand, Vans has already been playing in the social media space for some time and counts 293,000 fans on its Facebook page. It wasn't until more recently, however, that the brand incorporated social networking capabilities directly into its e-commerce platform. 

In April, Vans relaunched the portion of its shop.vans.com Web site on which consumers can create their own custom sneakers. Vans worked with online retail solutions provider Fluid Inc. to improve the backend functionality of the site to make it easier for
the shoe manufacturer to both change available patterns and improve customer navigation.

In addition, there is a new chat and share function that allows someone engaged in creating a shoe design to invite others to collaborate on the design using instant messaging, text messaging or e-mail. The person being invited to collaborate receives a link to the shoe design and, after clicking on the link, is able to make comments or suggest other designs. 

Dedicated social shopping sites like Kaboodle have been around for years. What's different about what Fluid is doing is that it's bringing the social networking directly to a brand's e-commerce page so visitors never have to leave the site to "shop" with their friends. The offering is part of Fluid's soon-to-be released Fluid Social 2.0, which also will enable online retailers to let online shoppers connect with Facebook from their Web site.

"Social networking has become so important to our customers that it's important that we reside there," said Katie Bongiovanni, director of e-commerce at Vans.

Adding social networking to the custom retail site made sense because customers are often looking for input from their friends, she continued. 

"A lot of times, people use the custom site for shoes in a wedding," said Bongiovanni. "With the chat and share function, a bride can share her design with members of the bridal party, and they can collaborate on it."

The new service is a great marketing hook as well, Bongiovanni said. Vans is promoting the chat and share function via online ads in skate, surf and fashion sites as well as via a promotion for Vans.com visitors and Facebook fans. 

Since launching at the beginning of April, traffic to the custom shoe site is up significantly — as are sales, Bongiovanni added. 

"Social validation plays a key role" for the younger demographic that is Vans' target audience, said Andy Lloyd, CEO of Fluid. Being able to collaboratively shop with a friend is a great way to provide the validation to buy, he added. And, for retailers, it brings a new shopper into the session.

Backpack manufacturer JanSport, which also has a large teen audience, is the first customer using the new Facebook function. This means anyone who is on the JanSport site and looking at products can go into Facebook, search for someone in their friend network and send them an invitation to comment on the product under consideration. 

Visitors also will be able to see any comments their friends have made about Jan­Sport products as well as products they've indicated that they like. 

"It's not a coincidence that Vans and Jan­Sport, which are younger-skewing brands, are the first to adopt this platform," said Lloyd.

However, there are many purchases where consumers would like to collaborate in real-time about whether or not to buy something, he continued. Fluid expects to announce several additional customers in the near future, including a major appliance manufacturer. l

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