Prosumer — kinda sounds like a ligament you could hurt while playing tennis. In actuality, the term originates from a book called The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler, which made some insightful predictions about what the face of consumerism could look like in the future. The word prosumer simply comes from the two words “producer” and “consumer.” Toffler felt that at some point the consumer would become the producer, meaning that the buyer would in some way be selling or shaping the product. More than thirty years after the publication of The Third Wave, e-commerce sites are continually unlocking the power of prosumerism to increase sales and engage customers.
However, this can be a scary notion. I mean, how do you control the messaging of people who aren’t your employees? How do you shape how you and the customer interact? No fear, let’s take a look at a couple approaches to prosumerism and highlight some sites that are succeeding wildly.
The Reality TV Approach
In the epic words of How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson, “Please pack up your knives and go. Your work of art didn’t work for me. Your time’s up. I have to ask you to leave the mansion. You must leave the chateau. Your tour ends here. You’ve been chopped! You’ve been evicted from the Big Brother house. Your dessert just didn’t measure up.” In other words—YOU’RE GONE.
This type of prosumerism engages customers by letting them vote on what the company sells or manufactures. Uncommongoods is a site that prides itself on finding the coolest products, and it lets you decide. This site lists many objects on any given day. The consumer then votes if he or she should sell the product. It excites customers to know that they are actively contributing to the site’s content, and it keeps them checking back to see the results. The ultimate power is in the hands of the shopper. They decide who gets to stay on the island. . .err, I mean website.
Brand Ambassador Share
It’s every company’s goal to attract adoring fans. Not every e-commerce site will illicit pop star fan screams, but every company can harness word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone knows that a customer is more likely to complain if something goes wrong. If something goes right, well let’s just say it isn’t newsworthy: it’s expected. For example, I tweeted the other day how responsive a certain company’s customer service was. Ten seconds later I got a response from a friend who had a negative experience. It was like she couldn’t just let me be happy.
For this reason, a certain type of prosumerism offers an incentive to the consumer to share his or her product from a positive perspective. LivingSocial’s “me + 3” campaign demonstrates this perfectly. Once a consumer buys a deal of the day, he or she is urged to share it via Twitter, Facebook, email, text, etc., in the hopes that three of his or her friends will buy, and he or she will get the deal for free. An example share would be “I just bought this awesome vacation getaway. Join me! The beach looks amazing!” The consumer is actually advertising for the company. Geeeeennnniiiuuusss. Furthermore, three potential lifelong customers are equally priceless.
Show and Tell
The last type of prosumerism mentioned here, and my personal favorite, incorporates social media and web design to influence the consumer. In this case, the prosumer has already purchased the product and then chooses to photograph him or herself using the product. They then Tweet or Instagram the photo and it appears on the company’s website.
The other day I was about to buy a necklace from Stella and Dot. The model looked great with it on, but she was a model. I don’t lack self-esteem, but I am also not delusional. I needed to see real people wearing this necklace. I scrolled down to see details and found a whole slew of pictures of real people who had bought the necklace. SOLD.
Dagne Dover is a new company that sells high-end purses. Their claim to fame is that they fit everything (and I mean everything) in one bag. They even have a video tutorial. But to drop $245 on a bag, I want to see more real-life examples. I am not trusting a staged video. Cue, Dagne Dover’s ‘upload page,’ that will get you inspired to “wear it” with images of unpaid fashionistas touting their new bags. It definitely made me a believer. (PS I am still secretly coveting it).
Lastly, Rent the Runway is a site that allows women to rent luxury dresses for special occasions. Again, we are faced with the model dilemma. Sure, the Brazilian 19-year-old can wear that skimpy dress, but how short will it be on the real me? Rent the Runway has a whole section called “Woman like Me.” For each dress, buyers write in and send pictures detailing fit, style, and experience. They also mention their measurements for comparison.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Prosumerism
1. Create an upload page: allow people to upload pictures, quotes, anecdotes. You can then decide what you want to do them. It never hurts to have feedback.
2. Send an email two weeks after someone has bought the product/service and ask them to review it.
3. Test a social media campaign that rewards word of mouth advertising. It can be as simple as, “when your friend makes a purchase on our site, they get $5 off and so do you!”
Prosumerism is still in its infancy. Every day, companies are creating innovative ways to allow the customer to feel connected and engaged. Creating a synergistic experience that is informative and fun increases the likelihood that the consumer will buy. Get creative. Interact. Have fun!