Are Shein’s cutting edge marketing techniques enough?

Popular with Gen Z, Shein has received recognition for being a leader of social media advertising, but has also been criticised for its aggressive marketing tactics, which some have argued verge on manipulative. Shein has clearly chosen a ‘Close to the Wind’ path for its social media strategy, but whilst these kinds of tactics can work in the short term, they can only take you so far, and in the longer term the age-old fundamentals of commerce still apply. 

For brands that are, like Shein, looking to succeed in such a crowded online marketplace, engaging and attractive marketing and social media tactics must also be complemented with a strong ecommerce fundamentals. Generating traffic is only part of the process there is also the issue of conversion. This strategy has to deliver on the promises made on social media and place the customers and their needs at the heart of what they do. This is all the more important when targeting Gen Z, who are across multiple touchpoints and therefore use multiple paths to purchase.

The fundamentals of ecommerce

For any brand looking to sell online, there are five crucial ecommerce fundamentals that drive transaction completion, and which are needed to maintain Gen Z (and any other customer segment) as loyal shoppers. 

  1. Inspiration – Attractive marketing campaigns must be complemented with an online site that delivers on the ‘Brand Promise’. Consumers are always looking to be inspired about a purchase, and an ecommerce site that can showcase a brand’s products through engaging imagery and content is going to lead to stronger sales. This includes focussing on aspirational content that allows the customer to picture the outcome. For example, for a furniture company, a kitchen table isn’t just a table – it is a central hub where family life happens, and from where family happiness emanates. ‘Inspiration’ also takes responsibility for ensuring that there is a ‘compelling event’ that drives a transaction. Shein does this with timed offers and limited stock runs, which forces the customer to either buy or lose the offer or item.     
  1. Convenience – According to Sitecore’s statistics, 69% of Gen Z has less patience with slow or malfunctioning websites than before the pandemic. A website must have strong UX and therefore be easy to navigate and find the products that are appropriate. Above all, shoppers are looking for a seamless online experience that makes the path to purchase easy for them. This includes having all the information they need on the product, pricing, sizing (crucial in clothing and fashion conversion) delivery details , as well as an easy checkout process, including a range of payment methods that give customers optimal choice of how (and just as importantly when). For those brands selling internationally, proper localisation is a key part of delivering that convenience. 
  1.  Trust – Sales conversions are fundamentally built on trust. It is crucial that a brand or retailer communicates clearly to the customer that they will have a successful transaction – and that ‘success’ might apply to the product, to the delivery timing, to the customer service, to the ability to return if necessary, and to a range of other criteria. Trust can be built through multiple ways, from an FAQ page that gives reassurance, to helpful chatbots that can deal with common queries, to an efficient and helpful customer services team sitting at the end of a phone. Trust can also be built on reviews, both from authorities and from peers. Data from Fan & Fuel reveals that 92% of consumers hesitate to make a purchase when there are no customer reviews. So they are an important deciding factor for a consumer to reassure them about the service and the product they are purchasing.
  1.  Pricing – With such a plethora of options, it is easy for customers to continue to shop around if a product is not within budget and to look for alternatives elsewhere. Understanding your competitors prices and being able to provide a competitive match is the first step. However, this needs to be complemented with selective discounts and marketing tools to help generate a localised pricing advantage. Effective pricing strategies can help to win shoppers over and are a key pillar in achieving successful conversion rates. Shein is, of course, highly competitive in this area, and this is a major driver of their success, especially as their primary target demographic is Gen Z, which is highly price sensitive.
  1.  Engagement – Brands and retailers must remember that every time a shopper returns to your store, they are more likely to convert and make a purchase. The sales process isn’t about one visit, it is about understanding where your customer is in their sales journey and putting the right messaging  in front of them. For the mobile savvy Gen Z, this could be provided through creating a functional, user-friendly app that delivers push notification reminders to remain top of mind with shoppers. Engagement is also the reason why retailers invest heavily in loyalty programmes – once a customer is hooked, retailers can use data based on previous purchases to provide the customer with relevant recommendations on other products they are likely to purchase as well as give them exclusive discounts to further engage them later down the line. Shein is highly efficient in this area, using a combination of aggressive marketing and retention tools (like it’s app and post purchase offers) and offers a masterclass for challenger brands in how to acquire and maintain a customer base, even if it may fall foul of the more squeamish of marketeers.

Gen Z are becoming an important demographic to target. This demographic has grown up online and therefore arguably have the highest expectations when it comes to online shopping. Retailers like Shein have developed a strong social media and marketing strategy to attract the attention of the customer and draw them to the site. However, these tactics can only go so far and retailers looking to follow in Shein’s footsteps cannot forget that marketing is just one piece of the puzzle. Delivering a strong ecommerce offering that delivers on these fundamental aspects of ‘Conversion’ and  that is functional and seamless for the customer is the backbone of ecommerce success.

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