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Talking With...ModCloth CMO Kerry Cooper

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It just takes one look at their website to realize that ModCloth is one cool company. Built around the premise that "we want to be the fashion company you're friends with," ModCloth relies upon a variety of media, tools, and messages to actively engage with their audience. In advance of her keynote at's Online Merchandising Workshop next month in San Diego, ModCloth Chief Marketing Officer Cooper took time to share her thoughts on social media successes, their unique "Be the Buyer" forum, and how they integrate the company's blog into their overall strategy.

Many digital retailers are increasing their focus on Facebook and Twitter, but ModCloth has taken social engagement a step further by using partner sites like Kaboodle and Polyvore. What have you learned by participating on these relatively new platforms?

Having a presence on Polyvore, Kaboodle and other sites like Tumblr allows us to collaborate with their communities and tastemakers in a way that is about fashion and our girls’ lifestyle. This subset of customers wants to think about how an item will fit in her wardrobe before purchasing or just wants to experiment and enjoys styling and conceptualizing looks in her free time, especially for big events like choosing a holiday outfit or an 80s-themed party.

Knowing that there’s an audience that wants to interact with our product this way has been something we consider in our engagement strategy, especially with contests that include styling elements or even tools. Most recently, we ran a contest utilizing the Polyvore mini editor on our ModCloth blog. We also think about engaging this audience with our ModStylists, who provide live style advice and product information for our customers and supports that segment of the ModCloth community looking specifically for styling advice on the ModStylists’ Facebook page. These sites and tools are giving girls the freedom to really become stylists and style curators like never before and since supporting the customer’s voice is our mission at ModCloth, we want to continue to think about how we can offer more contests and site features that allow her to express her creativity.

The ModCloth shopper is young, trendy and no doubt on the high end of social media usage. Based on the tools your target shopper uses to influence her friends about your product, what insights or projections can you share on social media trends?

Our customer definitely is a heavy user of social media. And, I don’t think you can talk about social media without talking about Facebook. I think for marketers, Facebook will continue to evolve its ad platform to a very interesting way of reaching their target market. I think we’ll see a lot of experimentation with commerce on Facebook. I don’t think Facebook is a great platform to replace standalone ecommerce sites, but I do think it’s an interesting way for retailers to attract customers. I also think Twitter will figure out how to monetize its platform and be an interesting place for marketers to reach their market.

As I mentioned before, there are many sites beyond Facebook and Twitter that will continue to grow and be an important part of her life. Tumblr and new sites like Pinterist become places where she can highlight her tastes and curate collections and find like-minded friends to follow that are more around like-interests than friendship. In a similar vein, our girl is sharing more often, and exciting new tools to enable her sharing like Go Try It On are letting women get fashion advice before they head out the door. Online tools are allowing shoppers to get advice from the people whose opinions are most important to them--their friends.

Our shopper is always connected, so I think we’ll continue to see massive growth in mobile, as well as marketers and ecommerce companies finding ways to connect with her in those small moments of downtime. I think part of the growth of the “daily deal” sites or Gilt has come from impulse buying -- in Gilt’s case, at a specific time -- but I think in all cases, an opportunity to quickly show her ideas and engage her is a fast retail fix.

Finally, social media tools are opening up the business process. Many other companies have seen the benefit of crowdsourcing. Sites such as Threadless are also using crowd generated votes to produce products. Technology allows people to be a part of business processes and make decisions that affect them, and the public loves it! Tools such as Polyvore and Kaboodle allow users to be the stylists and create new trends. These sites are able to share interesting information on trends, popular brands, and influential celebrities based on feedback from users. Using customer generated products and content will continue to be a growing trend within social.

More outwardly than most other online retail sites, ModCloth allows customers to “Be the Buyer” through an online forum built into the purchasing interface. What other ways are you using engagement techniques to influence your product offerings?

You’re right, we want our customer to be at the center of the buying experience, and Be the Buyer is a great way to have her help us decide what we should buy (and how much we should buy)! One less obvious way we engage our customer is through our merchandising on the site. We launch 25-50 new products a day, and we tend to buy in small lots, so if products sell out quickly, we offer our girl the opportunity to click “Notify me on Restock”. This allows us to gauge demand we missed and notify customers directly when the item in their size returns to the site. We also listen to how she “loves” items and how she reviews them. We believe customer reviews are so critical to buying the right product that we built our own reviews feature that allows customers to upload photos, provide their measurements, and rate on fit, length and quality.

Of course, we’re always looking for feedback through Facebook and Twitter. We have many product conversations each week on our Facebook page where we are getting great responses. Our team talks about our social sentiment cross-functionally to make sure that the big themes as well as smaller issues are understood by the team internally.

The ModCloth blog is a key feature of your brand site. What types of successes are you finding with this content?

The ModCloth blog is a great vehicle to connect with our girl, tell her our story and the unique personality behind our brand, and connect our community. The blog gives our customers the chance to learn more about who "she" is, the girl behind the outfit. We want to support the indie and vintage-inspired lifestyle through style tips, relevant news that resonates with our readers and their lifestyle, and contests that engage our readers and encourage them to feel part of the ModCloth community. Our girl loves the creative side of life, so features like fashion, culture, cooking, and DIY engage her with the brand. One of the principals we start with is that anyone who’s passionate fashion can find value and inspiration in our content.

One thing that I think sets our blog and our overall voice apart from other retailers is that we have our employees’ are the voice of our brand. We hire amazing customers as our employees and think it’s important that, as they are a part of the ModCloth community, their voices and ideas are what drive the blog. We talk about oft-avoided subjects such as plus-size clothing, or the sexist context of the retro styles we all gush over. In 2010, we wrote a three-part series explaining to our customers why ModCloth hasn't been able to carry large quantities of plus-size clothing, and asked our readers to help us fight the industry traditions preventing us from doing so. This week, we kicked off swimsuit season with a "Vintage Sexism" post on body hair and the societal pressure for women to shave. Not the most glam topic to bring up when we're promoting swimsuits, but we knew we could pull it off. And we did -- the reader responses have been incredible. In short, the blog is a great way for our girl to engage with the brand in a “real” way and help shape it.