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Private

Image by Holster® via Flickr

Private Event Retailing, or PER, has been a hot topic in the world of eCommerce the past few years. Now, however, depending upon who’s talking, you may be convinced that PER is more of a has been than a hot topic. In the world of crowd-sourcing sites like Groupon and with social commerce efforts abounding, it’s easy to look past the value that PER brings to the table. While it’s true that many people may have entry into PER sites and the products are flying off the “shelves” too quickly for some sites to feel particularly exclusive, it’s not too late the re-think PER and how it might effectively intersect with some other new technology concepts.

Companies like Gilt Groupe and (soon to be) eBay’s RueLaLa have had meteoric rises from the early days of the PER concept and both sold for hefty sums of cash. That obviously validates the concept of PER, but how fresh does it remain?  What can PER sites do to keep things interesting and fresh for both new members and the loyal long-time customer?

At lunch recently at the Barracuda Tavern in Boston, I was able to spend some time discussing the new and old in PER with a long-time colleague and friend, Jim Coleman. I’d worked with Jim many times in the past but our paths hadn’t crossed much in over a year. Jim is a User Experience expert at Optaros and, over some decent pub food, we found that we shared some of the same ideas about what PER could become and decided to work together to document some of these thoughts here in this blog and to create visualizations of some of our concepts. None of the individual concepts are new in-and-of themselves, but what is found at the intersection of these concepts along with a proper technical and visual implementation could really be interesting. It’s often at intersections where we encounter  he most interesting outcomes. Here are some high-level thoughts on possibilities that exist that could revitalize PER.

Gamification

Using common game mechanics to make something common a little more fun is a great idea. However, unless is drives behavior that is beneficial, a site will simply entertain the visitor without the benefit of them ever entertaining the idea of making a purchase. RueLaLa and Gilt both offer rewards ($10 and $25, respectively) when a recommended new member makes their first purchase. This is a great way to motivate existing customers to make recommendations, but as someone mentioned to me earlier this week, “Why am I not rewarded for their future purchases?”  I’ve often wondered about that and why there is no rewards program within a PER site that gives buyers an opportunity to buy “things” from points earned in a rewards program. The word “things” is in quotes, because it might only be necessary to reward frequent and loyal customers with virtual goods to keep things rolling. Here are a couple of examples of interesting rewards that can be found at the intersection of PER and other popular concepts:

  • PER & Loyalty Programs: Reward customers with points proportional to the dollar amount of each purchase and for each purchase made by a recommended friend. Customers should be able to spend these points to buy early access to private events, reach status levels to gain more exclusive access and perhaps place a badge demonstrating their status on a Facebook page or in an email signature.
  • PER & Crowd Sourcing: Use geo-location services, like Gilt does internally, to show the location of real-time purchases to customers. Promote a special offer to the city with the most purchases or highest-average purchase, perhaps a discount on a future private event or an invitation to a special local event, such as a private fashion show at a retail partner.

Why not consider creating a branded version of social currency that means something to your customers?  Some industries, such as the airline industry, have reaped significant loyalty from customers by creating a social currency (mileage points) that can be earned, spent or given as a gift. Badges exist in the form of luggage tags or special printouts on a boarding pass affording the lucky holder entry into an airline club or priority boarding of the aircraft. Rewarding customers with status that they can not only brag about, but also use to their advantage is a great way to build and maintain loyalty among customer in the most commoditized of industries.

Subscriptions

Sites like Amazon have changed the way think about subscriptions. Just a few years ago, subscriptions were for newspapers, magazines, some services, and the odd content focused web site. Last year, I subscribed to coffee. I wouldn’t have thought that possible ten years ago, but this is another example of how technology is changing the way we think about merchandising even though the concepts being applied aren’t new. I wrote previously on how social commerce isn’t really all that new, and subscribing to a product isn’t that new, either. Wine clubs, fruit of the month and similar concepts have been around for years, but technology and mature distribution networks have changed the possibilities for consumers.

When it comes to PER, why not couple the concept of a subscription service with the inventory typically reserved for private event sales?  Gather user preferences, similar to how Netflix asks subscribers to rate movies, employ a decision engine and instead of inviting customers to a private event, bring the private event to their door. Based on user preferences, price maximums and perhaps an opt-out queue to show a customer what is coming next, sites that focus on private events could increase sales from frequent buyers that know exactly what they like. For example, if a customer wears size 10 mens shoes, likes black European-style, slightly pointy leather shoes that are priced under $150, and frequently purchases such items, why not offer the customer a subscription to 4 pairs of shoes per year at a 10% discount?

Some sites are already moving toward a similar concept.  JewelMint.com is offering a service that allows users to take a style quiz and receive personalized monthly recommendations from Cher Coulter and Kate Bosworth. While JewelMint’s concept differs from PER at the core, the combination of concepts around personalization, recommendations by respected influencers and subscriptions are present. If you’re running a PER site, this might be a creative and effective way to further personalize the experience already offered to your exclusive user community.

Flash Events

Giving premium customers the opportunity to participate in otherwise unannounced events would create an atmosphere almost flash-mob-like amongst the most frequent and loyal buyers. Similar to designing an event to surprise passersby like a flash mob, design events that surprise and delight the loyal customer. As mentioned in Kent Zimmerman’s recent blog post on my company’s site, keep appropriate data and measure everything. Knowing which loyal customers are most likely to purchase a particular product will allow PER sites to cater to the discriminating tastes of their frequent buyers. Notify loyal customers via text message, Facebook message, email or a direct message on Twitter that there is an exclusive event happening in a matter of minutes. Reaching out to customers that have a particular buying history for products that are being offered at a Flash Event provides a great combination of exclusivity, last-minute excitement and product interest that may really drive conversions.

PER isn’t passe. It isn’t even tired. It may have lost a little excitement for early adopters who crave the opportunity to get exclusive deals, but the opportunities available at the intersection of PER and other concepts are full of possibility.