Avenue Stores Rebuilds on Social Commerce

 

Two short years ago women’s clothing chain Avenue Stores was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, one of many victims of rapidly changing tastes and misfires in the apparel sector. New owners Versa Capital Management plucked the chain out of the recycling bin and closed 100 stores. But the real secret to Avenue’s newfound growth is a strong investment in social commerce, which is delivering outsized conversions and helping to rapidly rebuild the brand’s position.

Avenue first tried to boost social engagement by appealing to its established mailing list, but the initial spike in social traffic quickly flattened. “We found that we were talking to a lot of the same people over and over again,” says Kristen St. Peter, Avenue’s director of e-commerce. “Our email list isn’t our entire customer base, or even everyone who shops our website.”

Paid social outreach provided an additional lift, with lookalike targeting helping Avenue reach relevant consumers in a cost-effective manner. But it wasn’t until Avenue revamped its e-commerce platform and adopted a social commerce strategy that engagement levels really took off. Avenue implemented ShopSocially technology in Q4 2014 to make it easier for visitors to convert into social followers, and for buyers to share purchases to their own social networks.

Social commerce provides a powerful and more natural alternative to organic and paid social posts by brands, because the social mentions come from a trusted individual. “When consumers log in to a Facebook account in the morning, they’re not going there to see what a brand’s doing today. They want to look at what their friends are doing,” says Jai Rawat, CEO of ShopSocially.

All of Avenue’s checkout screens now include a Share-a-Purchase offer, which provides a small incentive ($5 off a future $20 purchase) in exchange for sharing news of the transaction on Facebook. “Share-a-Purchase has been great for SEO, as well as referral traffic, and it gets our customers’ friends coming to the site and commenting,” St. Peter says.

Visitors who come to Avenue’s site through shared purchase links are doing more than just commenting. They’re converting into purchasers at a 14.9% rate and show propensity to stay loyal. “Customers who come through referral traffic know someone who likes our brand already, and are more qualified,” she says. “We think people coming through those referral clicks are more likely to become long-term customers.”

The other prong of Avenue’s social commerce plan is Social Connect, a landing page overlay that offers a small incentive for Facebook follows. The overlay isn’t shown to all visitors if a limited-time offer takes precedence or if the company is engaged in other marketing and merchandising tests. But the results when Social Connect is running are significant: 28.5% of customers who connect on Facebook also make a purchase, a conversion rate 10 times better than Avenue’s average for new visitors.

The changes are part of a broader strategy to unify the brand’s mission around an integrated, multichannel approach. For most of St. Peter’s 15-year tenure at Avenue, her e-commerce group was in a separate silo from the retail organization. Today, e-commerce is a fully integrated function of corporate marketing, and all buying and merchandising for both retail and online inventory comes from a single merchandising department. Up next: an expansion of social commerce strategies to Canada, Australia, and the UK.

Avenue’s widening social audience has helped the retailer further refine its marketing efforts by providing greater insights into consumer tastes and preferences through social discovery. “We know more about what our customers like and who our most engaged customers are,” St. Peter says. “That’s going to help us delve deeper into the data and get even better results.”

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