Gilt founder: Social is key to e-commerce growth

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A screen shot of Gilt.com's June 7 homepage
A screen shot of Gilt.com's June 7 homepage

Personalization, social sharing, high-quality design and robust functionality are all must-haves for e-commerce success, said Alexis Maybank, founder and chief strategy officer of Gilt Groupe, speaking at the June 7 keynote address at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

Gilt Groupe, founded in 2007, has roughly five million members, 400,000 of who are daily unique visitors who often come to the site right after the company's noon email blast. This is likely because the emails are very targeted to customers, Maybank said.

According to Maybank, the e-commerce game is no longer just about selling products, but about creating a seamless, very visual, sharable experience for the user, she said. Gilt aims to create a world in which it is "romancing products," and sweeping customers away by the products on offer, "often in under a minute's time,” she said, adding that Gilt frequently conducts high-end photo shoots in the company's large studio.

“Content now is really best shared visually,” she said. “You need to tell your story through rich imagery.”

Customer data comes from a variety of places today, including where customers click when they're on Gilt's website, what they tend to buy and what they share with their friends via social media, Maybank said.

The products Gilt members share with their friends adds a large amount of useful information to the company's database, she said, noting that “it's through CRM initiatives that [we] are shaping our products, our merchandising and our customer support services."

Brands can use social sharing to continue to grow their relevance as a retailers, Maybank said.

“[Social media sharing] has allowed us to see friend networks and how your friends are shopping,” she said. "It makes customers say, 'Wow, Gilt really knows me. They know what brands I like, how I live my life and what I shop for.'”

Ultimately, she said, if an e-commerce site is well tailored to customers' needs and desires, they'll keep coming back for more, especially if the site is also beautiful to look at and easy to use.

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