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Avon’s social push lacks necessary mobile-first collaborative tools

Avon’s embrace of social in a major overhaul of its Web site comes late but can succeed if the beauty products seller creates a mobile marketing strategy that is custom to its brand, sales team and, most importantly, consumers.

In the first major redesign of its Web site in a decade, the company known for its Avon Ladies has revamped the site at to allow representatives to tap social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to provide customers with advice. Supported by YouTube videos, the redesign also underscores the need for a data-driven strategy that will not only capture quick wins, but also evolve to support sustainable results.

“Click-click should have been done many moons ago,” said Sheryl Kingstone, Toronto-based research director at Yankee Group. “The 128-year-old company has lost its edge in the market. Revitalizing the Web site with rich media content and tapping into social media is table stakes, not market making.

“However, their move to break down the walls between online and direct sales is essential as they embrace the digital world,” she said. “Avon feels their secret sauce is their reps, but they also want to build their digital brand.

“What they are missing are tools to collaborate that tie the sales reps to the customer in a mobile-first world. It’s not just about chatting, social integration.”

An Avon representative could not be reached for comment at press time.

Online sales
The Web site redesign, which also contains lively, interactive images of products and videos with beauty tips, is partly aimed at helping representatives to use ecommerce and social media, encouraging more to join the company.

Avon’s North American sales force has been halved to about 300,000 since 2007 while U.S. sales have dropped about 45 percent since 2004. The company has been losing money in the United States market for the past two years.

Analysts agreed that New York-based Avon has put itself at a disadvantage by embracing mobile so late in the game when it must compete with Sephora and other companies with up-to-date Web sites.

“It is a great start,” said Bruce Hershey, vice president of mobile strategy for Chicago-based Vibes. “However, how are they going to be able to keep the conversation going to drive recommendations, cross-sell products and or even share them with friends?

“For me, they need to have a mobile contact strategy and utilize tactics such as SMS, MMS, Wallet, such as Passbook and Google Wallet, combined with push to drive higher engagement, loyalty and conversions.”

Although Avon has a mobile-optimized site, other ingredients for a successful mobile transition are missing, according to Ms. Kingstone.

“The fact that they are only creating a Web site that is optimized for mobile is a big mistake,” she said.

“It’s not taking advantage of critical mobile-oriented requirements. What about clientelling tools for the iPad? What about native mobile application for both the iPad and other mobile devices? They need to embrace digital and mobile to attract a younger crowd already shopping at Sephora. Many may not have heard of the Avon brand.”

Avon representatives make money on the sales they make to customers.

While most of Avon’s competitors distribute their products to resellers such as department stores, drugstores, or cosmetic stores, Avon sells its products solely through its direct-selling channel of independently-contracted Active Sales Representatives and through its online website.

The direct-selling business model is at risk for incurring more costs due to representatives’ dissatisfaction and global legal restrictions.

Avon has been using mobile tools for some years in an effort to catch up with mobile-savvy consumers and representatives.

In 2009, for example, the company helped on-the-go representatives maximize their earnings through a mobile commerce initiative that leveraged a free “Deal of the Day” iPhone application to let representatives order Avon products at value prices anytime, anywhere.

Two years ago, a mobile application from Avon was available to anyone participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer as a tool to help users train for the walk and raise money from friends and family. The Avon Walk/runtastic Pedometer app was designed to help keep participants motivated while supporting their fitness and fundraising goals.

The app helped drive donations by enabling users to share their achievements via social media platforms.

Slow move
In the final analysis, Avon has its work cut out overcoming its slow moves into mobile.

“They are a mobile-centric brand armed with a sales staff that is always on go,” Vibes’ Mr. Hershey said. “Since they are slow to market, this may make their investment even larger since they need to play catch-up.

“There are really different types of strategies that brands can utilize,” he said. “Defense, offensive, do both or do nothing at all. In order for Avon to go win, they need to have a defense and offensive strategy to win.

“I think it goes back to understanding how much mobile has been influencing the current sales,” he said. “Once this is determined, I am sure the loss or gain will be very clear. The opportunity will be taking the sales that are influenced by mobile and closing the loop with mobile tactics/technologies beyond just mobile Web.”

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York.