Social media drives better service, not commerce: Shop.org 2011

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Social media does not drive sales, said Bill Bass, president of the Charming Direct division of plus-size clothing holding company Charming Shoppes.

Speaking at the Shop.org 2011 Annual Summit in Boston, Bass said brands should stay away from “bright, shiny objects,” such as Facebook and Foursquare. He conceded that social media is an effective customer service platform, but said he has “never seen anybody make any money on Facebook selling stuff.”

“Search [engines] and fast checkout make customers' lives easier. Foursquare doesn't make customers' lives easier,” he said. “I've never personally seen somebody whip out a cell phone and use a quick response code.”

Bass also said that companies that claim they manage online stores in the same way as bricks-and-mortar locations are saying “the dumbest damn thing I've ever heard in my life.” Charming Shoppes is the parent company of Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines Plus Sizes, among other brands.

He noted that physical locations see higher traffic on weekends, as opposed to e-commerce sites, which record more traffic on weekdays.

To further illustrate his point, Bass compared Ralph Lauren and Amazon.com's Web pages.

“The women on the Ralph Lauren page are beautiful. The Amazon page is not as beautiful. Customers are voting in droves with their dollars for Amazon's site,” he said. “Customers really like speed and convenience. Pretty pictures and dancing bunnies they don't get too excited about.”

Bass also said retailers should let e-commerce teams operate as relatively independent organizations, as opposed to making them report to marketing or sales teams. “E-commerce teams should report directly to the CEO,” he said. 

Although Bass cautioned the audience not to focus on “shiny new objects,” he said technologies that make shopping easier are worth the cost of investment. Bass cited his company's new “Fashion Genius” product.

The platform, which launched September 12, lets plus-sized women create a profile for tops, bottoms and bras that will generate personalized recommendations. To create the product, Charming Shoppes conducted 10,000 fittings to determine the minimum number of questions it could ask consumers to establish each body type. Consumers who create a profile are asked to answer a three-minute adaptive survey.

Bass also urged the audience to invest in iPad commerce functionality, which he said offers a “materially better experience” than websites.

During the question-and-answer session of the keynote, an audience member, in reference to Bass's comparison of Amazon and Ralph Lauren's homepage, said it would be “moronic” of Ralph Lauren to abandon its homepage's style for the shopping convenience of Amazon.com. Bass said he disagreed with the statement.

“If you're not doing iPad stuff, you should start right away,” he said. However, Bass said the form factor on smartphones is too small and “no one has yet cracked the [smartphone] code.”

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