Social keeps lifestyle brand healthy

Gaiam’s Marshall on how technology and word-of-mouth combine to drive sales and retain customers

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing e-commerce marketers today?

A: It’s the same challenges that are facing the entire marketplace: the economy and the impact it has had on all of our businesses, and figuring out how we can continue to grow when consumers are clearly spending less than they used to.

Q: Is it a safer bet in times like this to invest in customer retention rather than acquisition?

A: We’ve focused on both, but we have doubled down our retention efforts and are doing everything we can do to make sure the customers we do have are satisfied and coming back, as well as telling friends and family about Gaiam. We’re also putting a large focus on our online marketing efforts.

Q: How do you encourage customers to spread the word about the company?

A: We’ve launched heavily into Web 2.0, with a Facebook page and Twitter page, and we’ve beefed up our YouTube profile and the amount of video and content there. We also redesigned our product page and integrated some sharing functionality, such as the ability to e-mail a friend and post a review directly from our product page on Facebook or Twitter.

Q: Do you segment based on behavior or e-mail the whole group?

A: We segment. We’ve got some strong affinities within our product categories and we like to recommend other products we think customers would be satisfied with.

Q: What are important elements to focus on in a site redesign?

A: We went through a fairly massive overhaul of our product pages to integrate on-page pan and zoom, personalized product recommendations, enhance sharing functions and add video directly on-page. We’ve seen decent uptick in our conversation rates with the new design, and a lot more customer interaction with the personalized recommendations that we launched.

Q: How important is it to keep a database of customer behavior for cross-channel promotion?

A: As a direct marketing company, anybody who has not invested in a robust customer database is really missing out.

Q: Do you drive people online from the catalog, or does catalog live on its own?

A: We do both. Our customers are free to call and place orders over the phone or go to We also have a content site that we launched a year and half ago, called Gaiam Life, which is purely a content and information site. We do that as a service rather than a sales pitch. We really invested in teaching our customers how to live greener, happier and healthier lives, and hopefully they’ll choose us when they buy those products.

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