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mobile social media

Vogue started a Whatsapp group for fashion news, aka a broadcast list for its stories

whatsapp_vogue

In what seemed like a really smart move, British Vogue announced during February it was introducing a Whatsapp group.

Sound like an opportunity to be front and centre with what’s going on in the fashion industry at the drop of a hat in a group with other fashion people? As Vogue put it: “Joining our group means we’ll message you as soon as the creative director of Dior is announced, or the Chanel catwalk pictures go live, or the Oscars dresses land on the site: no more scouring Twitter or relying on tabloids for your latest fashion fix.”

Slightly punchy comments there (note both channels will definitely still be used) but, it does make an enormous amount of sense as a media entity to push the instant message route. I’ve been tracking how such closed networks can be a wonderful means for communicating directly with fans and customers on the brand and retail side – the power of Whatsapp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger means there’s growing expectation for personalised communications, the issue really is just being able to get in front of customers in the first place.

To do it on Vogue’s Whatsapp doesn’t actually mean in a “group” per se as there’s no conversation going on. Which is actually a real shame. Control worries aside (this is Vogue), being able to strike up a dialogue on the feed about whatever news is coming in seems like a far more appealing and native use of the platform.

Instead, this is about Vogue creating a broadcast list. To turn to the Whatsapp explanation: “A Broadcast List allows you to create, save and message a list of contacts instantaneously. Recipients receive your broadcast message like a regular message – directly in the individual chat. Recipients also do not know who else received the message and do not know that it was sent as part of a Broadcast List. When they respond, they only respond to you individually. In this sense, it works like the bcc (blind carbon copy) function in an email. In order for specific contacts to receive your broadcast message, they must have your phone number saved in their address books. This allows our users to control from whom they wish to receive broadcast messages. We work hard to curb spam in WhatsApp so that everyone has a positive messaging experience.”

Of course, the publicity around Vogue’s plans means it’s phone number was pushed out so creating a weighty broadcast list must have been fairly straightforward.

I finally joined it yesterday morning, and over the course of the day got three messages:

  1. “JUST IN: See every look from this morning’s Chloé AW16 show here: LINK”
  2. “JUST IN: See the Balmain #AW16 show – complete with corsets and model hair colour swaps LINK”
  3. “Introducing British Vogue’s April 2016 cover girl – Rihanna: LINK”

Note every comment comes with a link meaning it does indeed feel very much like broadcast and not so much the personable messaging tone you’d expect on Whatsapp. Considering it’s landing in my app – otherwise a very personal space – it feels out of place, cold and not very different to what you’d see on Twitter. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting move, and one that could easily be adapted over time to better suit the audience it’s targeting. If Vogue’s sensible, it has those links set up as trackable so it can at least see just how much traffic the platform is driving.

As an aside – whoever is running this channel is always online. Always. Got to imagine it’s pretty likely they’re also running their own personal Whatsapp convos on the same handset (work phone or not) as a result, which could make the endless requests to join the group pretty tedious. If you’re keen, the number is: +44 7481 340261.

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business e-commerce Editor's pick mobile social media

How retailers are using mobile messaging to change the way we shop

In 2016, you might find yourself texting more with customer service reps than your real friends.

mobilemessaging

E-commerce has made some major technological strides in 2015, but one area in which there’s definitely room for improvement is customer service. The majority of online stores still filter you through a list of FAQs before asking you to fill out a form, eventually sending some sort of automated response to your email inbox, and still making you wait 24 hours before anyone gets in touch. If you haven’t actually made the purchase yet… well, you might just never bother.

Fortunately, some retailers are trying to streamline that experience, inventing a new way for us to shop in the process. Nordstrom launched TextStyle this summer to allow customers to be in touch with, as well as buy directly from, sales associates or personal stylists within the same text conversation.

Berlin-based e-commerce giant Zalando similarly introduced instant messaging with its stylists, but through Facebook-owned Whatsapp, which is Europe’s leading messaging app. Though less popular among US consumers, it has 900 million monthly active users worldwide, and sees more than 30 billion messages sent everyday. With Zalando, shoppers are able to use it to get in touch for advice and tips.

Meanwhile, Tictail, a Swedish marketplace for independent designers and small businesses, has just launched Tictail Talk, an in-app messaging tool that enables its sellers to chat directly with customers. “We’ve done a lot of research and across the board live chat is the leading communication channel in customer service; 95% of shoppers opt for it,” says Siavash Ghorbani, co-founder and CTO of Tictail. “And it makes sense: we all use messaging as our primary form of communication with friends. It is intuitive and real-time.”

Perhaps more importantly, he notes that it also decreases cart abandonment “by keeping the shopper within the purchasing experience”. Today, 60% of sales on Tictail come from mobile, and that number is only increasing.

Ana Andjelic, SVP and global strategy director at the consultancy Havas LuxHub, says online commerce is still very much a sport of guessing and any retailer helping to make that less the case is more likely to gain conversions. “Shopping online provides a lot of information, but being able to talk to an actual human on the other side of the chat app helps tenfold to alleviate a lot of anxieties that surround the online purchase.”

FacebookMessenger

It’s impossible to talk about such aims with instant messaging and mobile commerce without looking to China. Tencent-owned messaging app WeChat, which has nearly 650 million active users worldwide, is the market leader in this space. No longer just a tool for conversation, it’s also now a primary place for shopping, and that’s what western retailers, and competing platforms including Facebook Messenger, are looking to replicate: instant messaging with a buy button. On WeChat, an app that most people in China already have, you can hail a cab, split the bill in a restaurant, order movie tickets and, of course, buy clothes. WeChat Wallet is integrated in the app meaning shoppers don’t have to leave at any stage in order to complete a purchase. In terms of speed and ease of checkout, WeChat far surpasses any US retailer’s mobile capabilities.

The product roadmap for Facebook Messenger, which has 700 million active users, is distinctly similar to WeChat’s – an integration of tools that enable users to seamlessly move from conversation to commerce. Facebook began bringing businesses onto Messenger this year, including Everlane, which uses the platform to communicate with customers and even allows them to buy products within the app.

An added benefit is a thread of messages tracking a relationship between the brand and the shopper. As Ghorbani says: “Tictail Talk is an excellent way for brands to keep tabs on a shopper’s purchase history so that they can go back to users with new styles they think they’d like, information about when product is back in stock, even let shoppers know if they are hosting an open house, holiday sale or unique product collaboration.”

Michael Kushner believed so strongly in texting relationships between retailers and consumers that he co-founded Stefan’s Head, an SMS-based e-commerce brand. It’s built on the idea of having a conversation with “Stefan”. Informal text messages cover everything from new music to cool brands. Every couple of weeks it also includes details of new products coming out — the team started with graphic T-shirts but is evolving into exclusive collaborations with other designers and artists. “We think you should be able to message with a brand just like you do with your friends,” Kushner adds.

StefansHead

It’s about reaching consumers in the place they spend their time already, and doing so in a way that feels personal, but not too invasive or pushy. It works because it’s for a demographic that sends messages as second nature. The millennial audience has grown up with messaging, which is something Ryan Babenzien, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based, start-up footwear brand, Greats, says is key.

“They’re living with their mobile device, so we’re communicating with them in the way they prefer. If we call them, they might not pick up; if we email them, they may not look at it. But with text, you will open it. That’s how we’ve been taught to treat messages,” he says.

Though Greats uses text as one-way dialogue at this point, it’s getting 100% open rates on what it sends, and starting to see conversions follow as a result. Today, 40% of its revenue comes from mobile, up to 60% when a new exclusive shoe will launch. “If something is seen to be very scarce and could be sold out quickly — that’s when kids want to use their mobile phone. That’s something to grab hold of,” Babenzien adds.

What all this means is that 2016 will likely be the year that retailers get much savvier about how to communicate with us via instant messages and/or text. If it solves online customer service headaches and makes shopping that much easier, we’re all for it. Just make sure you have a good mobile plan.

This post first appeared on Fashionista.com