Sheplers, Charming Shoppes Execs Weigh In on Ecommerce Trends

Jan 13, 2011 11:28 PM  By

QR codes gained visibility this holiday seasons as mainstream merchants started using them in stores, direct mail pieces and online. But Bill Bass, president at multititle women’s apparel mailer Charming Shoppes, doesn’t believe the hype.

Speaking during a session on ecommerce trends Monday at the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention, Bass wanted to know who “the three people in the room are” who are actually using their smartphones to scan QR codes.

“I have yet to see people whip out their phones and scan these things,” said Bass. “My feeling is this is an advertising-industry-driven fad.”

But Bob Myers, CEO of Western apparel merchant Sheplers, wants to take Bass on a road trip to Japan, where smartphones have been standard for about five years and users routinely scan the boxy-looking 2D codes for additional product information.

Myers said he sees people scanning them in U.S. stores, and if they drive people to a consumer’s website, it’s a good thing.

Bass wasn’t too fond of another emerging trend, the customer-driven on-site conversations taking place of the website of high-end general merchant Nordstrom. He likes the idea of customers running the conversations there because shoppers tend to trust other consumers more than they trust merchants and manufacturers, and that lends credibility. But if no one is having the conversations, the concept doesn’t work.

Myers is fond of on-site conversations because site visits go up, the customers create the forums, and the site also becomes a resource.

“The more conversations that happen, the more people buy,” Myers said. “And that positions for being the place to talk about fashion. The ones discussing fashion on Nordstrom.com are highly qualified customers.”

But the trick, Myers said, is to get that conversation syndicated across multiple platforms, including Facebook.

Meyers and Bass did not disagree on everything. They’re both fans of what outdoor gear and apparel merchant Backcountry.com is doing with product images as user generated content on its merchandise page.

“The shift is from controlling your brand image to customer-centric merchandising,” Bass said. “We see it a lot with customer reviews, now it’s ubiquitous. Customers want to know what other customers are doing with the product.”

What’s more, Myers added that it helps Backcountry.com said that interactivity with customers helps it become a destination site as well as an ecommerce site. Plus, it’s free content that many merchants could never afford.

“It’s on the product detail page, so it’s good for conversion rates,” Myers said. And the fact that it’s all searchable content helps them with their Google rankings, he added.

Bass and Myers were also in agreement that social shopping like The Wet Seal offers – you can connect with Facebook and shop with your friends, is not ideal for most merchants. Bass said it’s a reincarnation of something Lands’ End tried in 1999 that doesn’t get a lot of usage to be worth the investment. Myers added that two college-aged kids said they would never shop like that.

“We’re constantly looking for the shiny, cool object,” Bass said. “We need to filter through the 50 cool objects to find the three to five that are going to matter to your customer.”

Bass and Myers both felt that adding shopping tabs to your Facebook pages is a good idea, if managed right. The main reasoning is that the teens and twenty-somethings have mostly replaced email with social networking.

“None of us have found a way to make money on Facebook, but you can use it to put your merchandise out where people already are,” Bass said. “For a lot of companies, email marketing makes up one-third of ecommerce sales, and we have to figure out something to take its place.”

Myers said marketing to the people who “like” your Facebook page is a great way to reach your biggest fans, providing you can do it fairly inexpensively and often.

What would he promote to Sheplers’ Facebook fans?

“I would want to offer fans a pair of cowboy boots that are signed by some country music star and only make it available to my biggest fans [on Facebook],” Myers said. “You need to fish where the fish are.”