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Commerce Goes Content: Retail Lessons From Alibaba’s Success

Commerce Goes Content: retail lessons from Alibaba’s success

This week, Alibaba managed to grow revenue with 25% compared to an already ecstatic last year’s Single’s day buying fest. An amazing achievement that every retailer wants to copy. One of the ways Alibaba manages to grow returning visits and revenue can inspire you to copy a part of that success: ‘Commerce going Content’.

Alibaba seems to surf on a wider wave of commerce companies producing content to engage (and persuade) consumers to create a more intense relationship with the (web)store and improve customer experience. Iconic brands are applying storytelling and content marketing for years now, and 2019 marks the moment where retailers have learned from these successful strategies to create more intense relationships with consumers and are (even more than brands) capable of translating this into direct revenue by adding them directly to customer experiences, offline and online. Amazon Live just launched and Taobao predicts that over the next 3 years, live-streaming on Taobao will generate over 500 billion sales transactions. and has et up their own ‘army’ of streaming video influencers. One of the top selling items is children’s fashion. Now you have to move to not miss out on this successful retail trend.

Alibaba success

How do retailers create and use content to accelerate revenue?

Of course, not every retailer can rival Alibaba’s live stream shows with international artists like Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey or self-proclaimed diva Kim Kardashian launching her fragrance line. But you do know – or should know – what relevant content is for your audience(s). Ranging from showing local heroes using/wearing your products to reporting on your own shopping festivals. Why don’t you (live) stream the busiest day of your local version of Single’s day, Black Friday or Xmas frenzy? Why don’t you publish a 4 min interview with the ‘customer of the day’, staff member of the week or the vendor of the month? Be inspired by non-retailers like the Dutch Rijksmuseum publishing a weekly Instagram interview on the progress of the restoration of the Nightwatch, or the Prado Museum in Madrid streaming daily items on someone telling an interesting fact about a painting. What’s the newest product you put out in the racks today? A daily two-minute report could get your customers hooked on following what’s new in your store and sharing the best ones with their friends.

How do you get viewers?

Of course, you probably won’t get 200,000 viewers in the first hour (like Xiaomi did) or sell 55 cars/second (Alibaba again, in another streaming event) and it might seem impossible for you to engage many (potential) customers, especially relative to the efforts you expect to have to invest in creating the content, but it might surprise you how much simplicity and persistence will pay off here. Very much like podcasts or Instagram accounts, steadily publishing content grows you a sizable audience of influencers that accelerates growth itself through the amplification factor of those viewers recommending content to others. You can accelerate that by offering rewards for referrals using VEMT’s referral feature or by offering prizes for the person with most successful referrals that week/month. Try offering VIP status to active followers or introduce a special ambassador program for those who prove to be worthy of that. These are easy-to-implement strategies with a quick and tangible result creating both turnover growth as well as delivering more data about individual consumers you can use for subsequent steps again.

How do you convert viewers?

Can you add a coupon for viewers valid only today? Or even within the next hour? Yes, you can. VEMT’s Experience & Loyalty Cloud allows you to define coupons with a validity with a second precision of which you can track usage exactly. Let viewers forward coupons to others to spread the word further about your content.

Alibaba Coupons

Publishing your content on social media is just a first step. There’s where prospects might find you and attention is high. Then, to grow audiences from your existing customer base and to repurpose content smartly, you can use VEMT’s My Account Pages which have been created to accelerate and publish content for members and guests as well. Participation by customers uploading their own ‘supporting content’ and responses, which can be rewarded for and shared to social media launch a base audience of your already loyal customers that show the right example to others. Let customers create shareable content by asking for their favorite outfits, how they were your clothes at their favorite events or destinations or what their favorite view is in a hotel or travel destination and reward them for sharing that content (with your stickers, link and branding) to social media. Several VEMT clients have been successful in turning user generated content into their steady free flow of new prospects landing at the webshop, delivering much higher conversions than (paid) ads or repetitive email traffic. VEMT allows you to offer stickers on pictures which you can brand and make relevant to your local audience. Dutch Kingsday or Sinterklaas, French 14 Julliet or Swedish midsummer night celebrations are not picked up by Instagram, but they can be used by your to engage your audience with relevant stickers, content or discounts to celebrate and engage.

From the lessons from Chinese retailers, you can learn that 2-way interaction is crucial. Live streaming includes reacting to comments, but also non-live content can be interacted on by posting updates with answers to questions or by showing responses from viewers or customers. Don’t repeat the strategies most retailers and brands use for email campaigns: just broadcast and count conversion rates, but ask your audience directly what the reason could be when conversion is low, or thank them and inspire them with a high conversion content item. You will get valuable feedback to improve and increase conversion further.

Equipment and experiment

Most of the content you need can be created from any smartphone and some editing apps. ‘Amateur quality’ video or quick reports are no hurdle for publication and can even contribute to the desired intimate atmosphere and authenticity. If 12 year old vloggers just using some apps can attract millions of followers, do not hold back on experiments to see what works for your retail store or chain. Make sure that branding is consistent and links lead viewers to places where they can convert if they want to. Introduce a followers program where they can register and profit from extra benefits after they do, and where the timeline alerts them to new content.

Another part of a quick start is – ironically – buying some of the 14377 ‘live stream products’ that Alibaba offers (https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/live-stream.html). Alibaba will profit from other retailers using content to accelerate as well. You wouldn’t expect otherwise…

Alibaba streaming products

Future Developments

As this article encourages you to start agile and build up experience, some might be interested to know what’s next, and fortunately that is quite clear. As you might have picked up on, artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing our world quickly. From a ‘Commerce goes content’ perspective this matters. A lot, actually. Already now, it’s not that hard to create content automatically (both text and pictures) with new machine learning models like GPT-2 (Google that! Soon in a product near you). Automatically creating personalized stories, product descriptions and  newsletters are within reach for retailers and brands, and this will change your approach of content creation. Assuming that the main key to conversion is relevance and experience, your ability to boost revenue will depend on the availability of the right data to train your models. If you start building that library of (user generated) data now, you will have a sustainable competitive advantage next year, smiling when your competitor is still hiring marketing interns to write newsletter articles that nobody reads or shares.

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