by Kim S. Nash

How Levi Strauss Is Making Online Shopping Social

Jul 20, 20113 mins
Consumer ElectronicsFacebookRetail Industry

Levi Strauss, a 2011 CIO 100 winner, is integrating its website with Facebook to get shoppers liking and buying the company’s iconic jeans

Levi Strauss is using social media to try to kick the blues. The private company, known for its denim jeans, has weathered the changing of its top executives and annual sales that have slid up and down like a faulty zipper. But a new social commerce strategy has won Levi millions of fans and a 2011 CIO 100 Award. The simple idea: Entice online friends to buy Levi’s iconic jeans using an icon.

“We know consumers use social media sites to connect with their friends and family. And we know consumers like to get their friends’ input when they shop. So we combined these ideas,” said SVP and CIO Tom Peck in an email interview. “We’re reaching massive numbers of consumers where they spend their time: online.”

Working with Facebook developers, Levi integrated Facebook features into its e-commerce site last year. When shoppers log in to Levi’s site using their Facebook credentials, they can see which Levi’s products their friends have liked, with “See It” and “Buy It” buttons next to each product picture. If none of a customer’s Facebook friends have liked any Levi’s jeans lately, strangers’ likes appear and text urges visitors to be the first among their friends to like a given product. An ad on the right side of the page shows which friends have upcoming birthdays, to help spark purchases.

Some companies, unlike Levi, still wrongly position social media as a back door way for customers to interact with them, says Kate Leggett, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. They wait, for example, until a customer tweets a complaint before engaging with him. United Airlines famously ignored a customer whose guitar the airline broke until he posted a funny song about it on YouTube, Leggett notes.

Instead, she says, companies should take the initiative to figure out how customers want to interact with them on communication channels such as social networks. Then they should roll out social technologies in a way that meets customers’ needs and is aligned and integrated with the company’s business processes and overall customer-service strategies.

Levi’s approach is to link to its e-commerce site from its Facebook fan page. Other retailers sell on Facebook directly. For example, 1-800-Flowers opened one of the first storefronts on the social network.

Levi has proof that Facebook is important to its customers, says Peck. Facebook users visit Levi’s fan page a million times a month, and 4.4 million have clicked the “Like” button—up from 180,000 in 2009. During the big shopping days after Thanksgiving last year, 50 percent of the traffic to Levi’s website came from Facebook. Now, on a typical day, 30 percent comes from that domain.

Peck declines to reveal sales generated by Levi’s work with Facebook, but credits the partnership with allowing it “to market and sell directly” to consumers.

Facebook is faster and more creative than some traditional enterprise IT vendors, Peck says. “They don’t sit back and take years to innovate, [which] pushed us to be more nimble.”