You are reading part 2 of's (R)ETAIL (R)EVOLUTION.

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#2: (M)ETAIL

Giving customers a uniquely personalized or tailored experience is something that successful e-commerce sites from Amazon onwards have always focused on. But now, consumers sit at the center (and indeed actively contribute to) a far richer and more deeply personal and personalized online experience - meaning e-tail is increasingly (M)ETAIL.

Driving the (M)ETAIL trend is a shift towards more personal recommendations (from real people if not other consumers), along with ever more personalized products and services. Now, the CURATED CONSUMPTION mega-trend has been around for years (yes, that’s what our Trend Briefings looked like back in 2004 ;-) and we revisited this trend again in 2010, looking at how social networks and the rise of online identity were making almost all consumers SOCIAL-LITES. And, if you really want to dive into how social networks are reshaping buying behavior, then check out our full Trend Briefing on THE F-FACTOR.

Expect the trend for all forms of curation to continue, as consumers embrace everything that enables them to display their style and good taste (as on social ‘pinning’ site Pinterest), or to receive selected, high quality picks from trusted curators (as with independent, design-focused


The status boost that comes from discovering, compiling, commenting, recommending and sharing desirable, inspiring or useful products and services means that the trend for consumers to become curators will run and run. And while many consumers won’t need any encouragement to become SOCIAL-LITES, they will also welcome brands or platforms that reward them for their sharing.

But be warned, this isn’t about bribing people to tweet about you or ‘like’ you. Smart brands will be those that encourage or incentivize existing consumer behavior in a genuine and natural way.

RNKD: Winning wardrobes

Users of RNKD are awarded points for uploading photos of clothes and accessories in their closet. The more points a user has, the better their chances of winning a prize, with rewards including Zappos gift cards.

VANCL Star: Share your style and earn

Customers of VANCL, one of China’s largest fashion e-tailers, can set up their own personal stores as part of the brand’s VANCL Star initiative. Customers can upload photos of themselves wearing Vancl products, and as well as highlighting potential combinations and styles, they get 10% of sales generated from their pages.

Zara People!

Brands too can easily tap into this trend. Zara’s People! initiative asks fans of the brand to upload photos of themselves wearing at least two items from the Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Each week, a selection of photos are published on the brand’s website, with featured contributors winning EUR 300. Friend-based discounts is an Indian startup where consumers get discounts for sharing potential purchases with their social networks. The more friends a user has, the lower the price they pay.


Consumers will always be attracted to both the perfect fit and prestige of personalized or bespoke products, and, hurrah, e-commerce, with its separation of order and fulfillment, has long promised to deliver mass customization. And of course, the mega-trend for consumers to become producers continues apace.

Yet, while some early pioneer brands and entrepreneurs have been letting consumers create, design, tweak or edit their products for years, social networks make it easier than ever for these customer-producers to then sell (and therefore profit from) their own creations too.

Converse Made By Facebook app

Opened to selected testers from December 2011, Converse Made By is a Facebook app that enables users to design their own Converse sneakers and sell them to their friends on the social network and via their own virtual store, with users who sell enough pairs being rewarded with free pairs of Converse shoes.

uFlavor: Make-and-sell-your-drinks

Launched in December 2011, uFlavor offers consumers the chance to concoct their own soft drinks. Customers can choose from a list of 100 flavors and upload images to create personalized labels. Drinks are available to buy online via the uFlavor marketplace, and creators are rewarded for each sale.

Scottish Whisky Blender

Glasgow-based Scottish Whisky Blender enables visitors to design their own custom whisky blends, by choosing from seven hand-picked whiskies. Customers’ creations are also entered into the brand’s archive and available for sale by anyone with the unique code.

Kaiser Chiefs: Make-your-own album

In June 2011, UK band Kaiser Chiefs released their album “The Future is Medieval”. The band produced twenty tracks, and fans could choose ten to create their own version of the album, which they were then actively encouraged to sell. Creators received GBP 1 for each album they sold for GBP 7.50.


The opacity of production and distribution meant that customers were often left with products that someone else (i.e. distant brands) thought they wanted.

Now increased transparency and collaboration on social networks mean that consumers can help support production of specific items or projects that attract their attention. Platforms like Kickstarter enable entrepreneurs, designers and creators to pitch products directly to consumers.

And the near-infinite flexibility of e-commerce has allowed tiered pricing to move way beyond boxed sets or limited editions. Consumers looking for ever-valuable STATUS STORIES are often able to support favored projects not just with a purchase but a significant investment. Learn from:

TikTok: iPod Nano watch-strap

Chicago design firm MINIMAL created TikToc, a watch-strap attachment for the iPod Nano that raised over USD 900,000 from 13,500 people on Kickstarter. Nearly 1,500 people pledged USD 150 or more for editions laser-signed by the designer.

Coffee Joulies

The inventors of Coffee Joulies, metal ‘coffee beans‘ containing a thermodynamic material that cools excessively hot drinks, and then maintains the heat as the drink cools, put the project on Kickstarter hoping to raise USD 9,500. Nearly 5,000 people pledged over USD 300,000.

Benfeitoria: Auire Prisma bill identifier for the blind

Benefeitoria is a Brazilian crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter. A recent successful project saw Auire Prisma, a scanner for visually impaired people that could ‘read’ notes and say which denomination they are, get funded and go into production.


One of the benefits of shopping in-store is the ability to speak with shop assistants and get advice. But e-tailers too can now take advantage of the widespread adoption of social technologies to unlock innovative ways to replicate, if not enhance, these ways to serve online shoppers.

From tapping into publicly available if not volunteered information, or connecting consumers with other consumers to get better recommendations, there are endless online services that make it possible to find the perfect product. Take inspiration from the examples below:

ASOS Skype Style Sessions

February 2012 saw British fashion e-tailer ASOS offer customers free ‘Style Sessions’ via Skype. Selected participants could ask ASOS’ Style Advisors questions about ASOS apparel and seek out advice on purchases they were considering.

Needle: Customer-powered customer service

Needle enables companies to use loyal brand aficionados to assist in live online chats with customers, in return for points which can be redeemed for gifts. By discussing how they use the product in their daily lives for example.

CTrip: Automated Weibo concierge

Chinese travel site CTrip launched an automated ‘robot’ in Februrary 2012 that could automatically and instantly respond to Weibo messages directed at it, such as about flight prices, or hotel rates in specific destinations. Travel leads via Twitter for hotels

Latvian service filters Twitter traffic to show hotels tweets from people who have expressed an interest in traveling to a particular city.

Karma: Gift giving made easy

Karma is an app that enables users to easily give spur of the moment gifts. Connecting the app with Facebook also enables users to receive notifications about which of their friends they might want to give a gift to, by highlighting friends who have recently experienced something worth celebrating.

Ticketmaster: Recommended gigs based on listening history

The Ticketmaster timeline app for Facebook suggests recommended gigs for fans based on their Spotify listening history. The app can also tell users where their friends’ tickets are located to enable people to sit together.

You are reading part 2 of's (R)ETAIL (R)EVOLUTION.

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