How to Make Your E-Commerce Website Social

by Kristin Ewald on July 17, 2013
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Back in 2005, former caterers Ron Berrett and his wife, Maggie, started Royal Palm Event Supply to sell hard-to-find event supplies and table linens. Their profits turned out to be in tablecloths, so in 2007 the couple renamed the company LinenTablecloth, started manufacturing their wares in their own factory in China to cut costs and ensure quality, and focused on retailing “elegant but affordable” linens online.

The year they launched LinenTablecloth.com, the Berretts invested about $20,000 in a pay-per-click Google ad campaign targeting the wedding and special events markets. They also spread the word through their catering network. Today the company offers linens through storefronts on eBay and Amazon. It serves the hospitality industry as well as wholesale vendors, and its inventory recently expanded to include linens for the home.

The former mom-and-pop shop, based near Portland, Ore., has grown to 55 employees and revenues of more than $20 million in 2012. Six of its full-time employees are dedicated to customer service, one manages the Amazon and eBay accounts, five spearhead their marketing department, and “Ron is on top of everything,” says SEO manager Kristina Anderson. “Customer care is our biggest department, because that’s how we think they should be valued. We’re always looking for ways to help them.”

Customers, in fact, are helping the company grow by socially interacting on the website through a suite of easy-to-embed apps. According to marketing manager Ashley Thomas, “Social networks are the place where people catch up and learn about products and new companies to find things their friends enjoy. Social commerce is booming. It’s faster, easier, and improves loyalty.”

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently spoke with Anderson and Thomas about their marketing strategy and how combining social apps with e-commerce is generating hundreds of daily user posts and additional sales.

ISBB: How would you describe your overall marketing strategy?

Anderson: We are shaping up our SEO strategy as the linen industry leader. We use a combination of content marketing and link-generation strategies while improving user value. Over the past year, our goal has been to minimize ad spending yet enhance [pay-per-click] and leverage the power of social media to increase brand awareness and customer engagement. Social is our second-best channel. Email newsletter marketing is also strong. Our list is organically generated, not bought. The incremental traffic we’re attracting from social media sites and our newsletter, brings in significant conversions.

How are you using “social commerce” to grow your business? 

Thomas: A rep we knew told us about ShopSocially, a company that enables social commerce for retailers. They give you a choice of nine social apps, which are easy to set up in minutes and hosted through their platform. We use a Share-a-Purchase app that pops up at checkout and offers a discount for your next purchase if you share the purchase with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and through email.

We use their Get-a-Fan app on our home page. When you “like” us, you get a coupon code for a 15 percent discount. If you’ve already liked us, there is a button to press, so that those customers are also served. It’s a great way to show our appreciation for loyalty plus gather new customers.

What results are you seeing?

Thomas: We started getting fans immediately. We generated more than 3,000 “likes” within three weeks. It has lifted our SEO rank. Engagement activity on the site has increased by 78 percent, and our sales conversion rate is four times higher with the use of the apps. People spend an average $20 more per sale.

We learned that offering a smaller incentive to say thank you made people shop more. It’s not just about incentives. Customers get to see us through social networks. They share pictures of what they bought with us. They feel valued, and we want to prove that we value them. It’s an awesome way to connect with customers.

How much does it cost?

Thomas: We signed up for a three-month trial for a small fee that started in February. That way we would could see what kind of customers we would get and find out if they were loyal and if the ROI was really there. Now we have a one-year contract and pay a flat fee per month. After meeting a certain threshold, we will pay for additional “likes.”

Before the new strategy, were you disappointed in social platforms’ effectiveness?

Anderson: We were not happy with Facebook advertising.

Thomas: You can’t get word-of-mouth referrals from Google. Getting great, down-to-earth customer reviews on sites like WeddingWire is better than going to Google and saying, “We have great deals.” Now people are coming to us through friends. Right when they jump to our page, they “like” us. We pay for actual conversions and fans, not for clicks. These are people who have come to us on their own.

How are social media sites most useful in your marketing mix?

Anderson: Facebook is our social media help desk. Instead of calling us and waiting, people think they can get answers faster when they post them on Facebook. We try to respond quickly to posts. We have more than 71,000 fans, so we want to be able to reply to those customers in a way that works for them. Twitter is best for us to find new vendors, like photographers or floral shops. Pinterest helps us share ideas. We don’t have one strategy: We customize our approach depending on each audience.

Are there other ways you engage your customers?

Anderson: Customers are the staying power of every business, so we want to provide more services — what they need, what they are asking for. How can we eliminate steps to make it easier to buy? We just launched a layout planning tool that helps you lay out your table and get of a visual feel for how the settings will look together in a room.

We have a tablecloth sizing tool that shows you how to choose the right size and shape cloth for your tables. We’re also working on a wedding budget worksheet and a new resource center where our customers can access these free tools in September.

Corporate social responsibility is also part of your marketing strategy. How?

Anderson: When we grow, others grow too. We say, “it takes a community to make a dream event.” We’re trying to showcase venues in our area for possible events by featuring them on our website. There is a new cafe in town called Seriously Cupcakes. The owner is also offering catering services. We plan to provide our linens to enhance her photo shoots and then post them on our home page, blog, and Facebook. We are a for-profit business, but we also want to help other businesses grow.

Why is analyzing your usage data so important to your growth?

Anderson: All of our business decisions are based on listening to what customers are telling us. When you help the customer, you strengthen the value of your brand and ultimately that is what impacts your bottom line. We use Google Analytics, Pinterest Web Analytics, YouTube viewing data, and Moz (formerly SEOmoz) to help us learn about our keywords and traffic patterns.

We study the onsite search terms people use to improve our SEO. The data also help us identify new product opportunities. For example, we learned that people are really into zebra stripes and we did not have any. So we got started manufacturing them!

A former journalist (Time Inc.) and executive web producer (MSN Sidewalk), Kristin is now a small business owner whose company specializes in website makeovers and produces content that is designed to engage customers, build brands, and generate sales for B2B and B2C clients.

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