Martin Keane, SVP, ecommerce, BlueflyBluefly has been in the business of selling limited edition and high-end apparel online for well over a decade. Now, facing competition from newer, more “social” brands like LivingSocial and
Gilt Groupe, the company is integrating elements of social commerce into its shopping experience.  

A big component of Bluefly’s strategy has been an integration of tools from social commerce provider Bazaarvoice. We
chatted with Martin Keane, Bluefly’s SVP of ecommerce, to get a read on the company’s experience with Bazaarvoice, as well as some insight into the shopping experience on Facebook, and Google’s

So, how does Bluefly define social commerce?

Social commerce allows us to reach more shoppers, in a way that is becoming the expected norm – through recommendations, reviews, blogs and other content. It’s not something separate. It fits into our overall objectives to grow revenue and target the right kinds of consumers.

Maybe the industry should start saying social ecommerce, since shopping – at least in a brick and mortar store – is often an inherently social experience.

That’s a good point, and it explains some of the changes that we’ve recently added to our site. We have hundreds of thousands of people visiting, but without ratings or reviews, there was no real way to show that Bluefly shoppers weren’t “alone.”

So it’s been about the introduction of life to the site, and showing shoppers the interaction happening amongst the community. Fashion purchases are extremely subjective, but customers still want to know about what other people thought – how it fit, whether it lasted, what the fabric was like – some validation. And that was missing from the experience.

What are the components of Bluefly’s social commerce strategy now?

We’re integrating with Facebook a bit, adding “Like” buttons on our product pages. We’ve also added the ability to tweet from a product page so shoppers can get input from friends while they’re actually ready to make a decision. They can ask “should I buy this?” But also say to friends, “keep this in mind for my birthday.” There’s some power in that.

But we really liked what Bazaarvoice could help us do – essentially create this social environment on with reviews and Q&A’s. We’d been hesitant to add reviews to our site for two reasons: we try to move through our inventory as fast as possible, and we often have a limited amount of an item, whether that’s 100 pieces of cashmere or three high-end, luxury handbags.

In those cases, having ratings and reviews didn’t seem to make sense, because items would turn over so quickly. But we’ve found that reviews are helpful beyond a specific product’s life cycle, by helping educate consumers about the brands we typically carry. 

Are you happy with the engagement that the reviews have fostered on your site? 

Definitely. We probably have north of 4,000 reviews now, and I think we’re closer to the tipping point of having a high volume of reviews on the site, which, in turn, encourages even more participation.

We implemented in July, and were very quiet because we wanted to make sure there were no kinks. By mid-September, we’d integrated reviews fully with email, and definitely saw an uptick afterward. Someone would place an order, get their product, and then 10-14 days later, automatically get an email asking them to rate the products they’d received.

Have you seen a direct impact on sales?

Customers who are interacting socially – be it writing reviews, asking product questions or answering others’ questions have a much higher conversion rate than normal.

We’re also seeing products with reviews start to pick up with sales vs. products that don’t.

There’s this notion of “review fatigue,” or consumers becoming wary of creating so much review content for sites like Yelp without getting anything in return. Do you plan to reward your best reviewers to stave that off?

I could see us offering some kinds of rewards for loyalty, but we want to be careful of getting into a situation where reviewers are expecting to get something for writing a good review. It should always be about what they really think of the product.

We’ll be reaching out to our best reviewers, but it will be more about letting them be recognized in the community as an expert. Sometimes that’s more valuable than a discount or other reward.

What about selling your wares on Facebook, the epitome of social commerce?

Not a huge percentage happens there, but if you go to our Facebook page now, you can do some shopping. We’ve been showing a selection of our cashmere, for example; clicking “purchase” ultimately drives you back to for the transaction.

We definitely foresee making a wholly-contained browse and purchase experience on Facebook at some point, and possibly integrating with Facebook Credits. It will be interesting to see what the company does with Credits, since it could be the currency that helps their platform get around any security concerns.

Any interest in Google’s

ShopStyle has been doing that for a while, but people are obviously going where the “story” is – and that’s with Google. I actually think they did a really nice job with Boutiques, but they’re getting far more exposure than most smaller companies would.

That said, we’re happy to have our products promoted through, just as much as we are on, which Google also owns.

Lastly, how do you see your social commerce strategy evolving in 2011?

We’ll be integrating another Bazaarvoice tool, Stories, next year, to help build out our Bluefly Closet Confessions site

We launched it this spring. It’s fun, with a blog and videos, and it gave shoppers the chance to film what’s in their closet and have the community vote on their favorite items.

People can post back with videos and photos of their own closets, and we even got celebrities like Nicky Hilton and Kelly Osborne involved. It’s super-social – getting people to share something about themselves – but the actual “shopping” experience is on the fringe, which is OK.