Is “Selfie Culture” the Future of Customer Care? Just Ask Zappos

Share By Alexandra Kirkman

It’s no secret that millennials like to take photos of themselves and share them.

But if there was any doubt that the term “selfie” has escalated beyond a social media-obsessed generation and become mainstream, just recall Ellen DeGeneres’ stunt at this year’s Oscars.

The selfie culture is sweeping the globe and some forward-thinking companies are capitalizing on it by providing personalized customer service.

Zappos, already lauded for its exemplary customer service (one call lasted nearly 10 hours), is at it again  with a new program that offers the services of a personal stylist via Instagram.

Social media braggers and fashionistas, take note: If you post a selfie with the hashtag #nextOOTD (outfit of the day), a real-live Zappos stylist will send you personalized recommendations customized to your look.

While it’s a pilot program, the news has the Internet abuzz, with business and fashion outlets alike asking if this is the next frontier in online marketing.

Marketing experts say Zappos is catering to modern customers’ needs for a more personalized experience, even if it’s via the web.

“What they’re doing is a really innovative way of using social media,” says Daniel Toubian, a principal for retail and consumer brands at Maxymiser, a multichannel customer experience optimization and personalization company.

“It fits in with the trend that we’re seeing around selfies, Instagram and hashtagging, but also what we’re seeing on the marketing side around personalization: Offering customers, online and offline, a more relevant personal experience. That’s a tool that brands are using to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive environment.”

Indeed, personalization is key when it comes to marketing strategy—and the treasure trove of data provided by social media platforms  allows companies to cater to consumers like never before.

And consumers are taking note: According to digital marketing consultancy MyBuys, 40 percent buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels.

Some businesses are jumping on the personalization bandwagon in ways that seem comparably “low-tech” compared to the solutions that Maxymiser, MyBuys, and similar firms provide—but the results are similarly effective.

For example, at Eleven Madison Park, a fine-dining restaurant in New York, the maître d’ Googles the name of every guest who comes in each night in order to get as clear a picture as possible of their preferences, so the staff can tailor their service accordingly.

One of the thorny issues presented by personalization is the ongoing debate over consumer privacy, and to what extent sites like Facebook and Twitter can—and should— use your personal information and online behavior to sell you things.

For example, it’s no accident that those shoes you were just looking at online suddenly magically appeared in your Facebook news feed.

The fact that customers “opt in” to Zappos’ #nextOOTD program differentiates it from other online marketing strategies.

“The fact that it does require an effort on the part of customers is a plus—they want to engage with Zappos,” says Toubian.

That said, Toubian believes the challenges presented by the program are considerable.

“Do I think this is going to change Zappos’ business? Not directly, though it will get them a lot of press,” he says.

“The problem is it’s very difficult to scale—an issue that is very similar to the Groupon challenge.”

Toubian points out that Zappos would have to hire literally legions of stylists to analyze and respond to #nextOOTD Instagram posters—a cost (and manpower) consideration likely to give pause to other retailers who might follow suit.

In some ways, it’s the ultimate digital-age irony: Possibly the biggest threat to a program rooted in the evolution of the Internet is the potential lack of humans needed to man its decks.

All that said, the potential power of the selfie as a revenue generator for companies large and small is a concept that savvy marketers are jumping on.

Zappos may well have seized on the “Next Big Thing” in social media marketing, but only time will tell if it will have any measurable impact on its bottom line.


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