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Avon Lets Reps Embrace Social Media, But What about eBay and Craigslist?

Industries that rely on direct sales representatives feel the challenge of online commerce more acutely than most. Ignoring the internet when competitors embrace it could prove disastrous. It’s a situation that iconic cosmetics brand Avon wants to avoid.

Online sales represent something of a conundrum for brands like Avon and rival Mary Kay. The challenge is outlined in this article that explains what happened when latter famously cracked down on direct sales of its products on sites like eBay by its reps, who were drawn by what was a vibrant and profitable selling outlet.

Avon officially announced the redesign of its ecommerce website this week, calling it a “critical component of its digital strategy designed to enhance the social selling experience for Avon Representatives and the shopping experience for consumers.”

EcommerceBytes.com chatted with Avon spokesperson Jennifer Vargas for some insights on the company’s recent moves into a broader online presence. She explained how the company makes sure reps are credited for customer orders, even when they choose direct delivery from Avon, and we asked whether Avon had changed its thinking about online marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist.

EcommerceBytes: What are Avon’s customers looking for when it comes to ecommerce?

Jennifer Vargas: Across the board, we are seeing trends like: Consumers are making well-informed purchase decisions and seek online information, videos, ratings / feedback and most importantly word of mouth – the cornerstone of our business is personal relationships and recommendations so that is really Avon’s sweet spot. In addition, Consumers are also looking for ease of access – and the online store is “always open”, there are many delivery options to choose from, and signing in gives your Representative credit for your order.

EcommerceBytes: What perceptions of and beliefs about ecommerce did Avon have to change in order to get to the company’s current digital strategy?

Jennifer Vargas: When we began the process of redefining our ecommerce platform, we knew it was important to design the site together with our Representatives, so that it would work best for them. We convened Representative focus groups, hosted webinars and training sessions, and their feedback was incorporated into the new site.

It was important for us to design Representatives’ eStores and the Social Media Center sharing tools in the way that would make it seamless for our Representatives to reach their networks to generate sales. And to design the earnings opportunity in a way that would be additive to their businesses. By updating them regularly and soliciting their feedback along the way,

Representatives were excited for the new platform and couldn’t wait for it to launch! It helped avoid any misconceptions with the new site from our field of independent sales Representatives.

EcommerceBytes: Where do Avon’s direct sales representatives fit into the current digital strategy?

Jennifer Vargas: Representatives are the heart of our business, and we keep them in the forefront of every decision we make. They are front and center in this strategy. The primary goal is to help our Representatives grow their sales by reaching more customers and giving them more opportunities to showcase Avon’s products through social media.

Representatives are guaranteed earnings from their customers’ online orders, even when their customers choose direct delivery from Avon. And, once a customer enters her Representative’s name, all future orders are tied to that Representative through cookies, so that she continues to get credit for that customer’s orders. Online sales also contribute to a Representative’s overall award sales levels, helping her achieve the next level of sales / earnings and bonuses more quickly.

We offer a variety of sales tools to help our Representatives businesses, such as online promotions, which increase customer product trial and orders and increase our Representatives earnings. Running their independent businesses, Avon Representatives get access to training, along with our world class digital marketing suite – social media center, digital campaigns, videos, email promotions. All these link consumers directly to their Representatives’ eStore.

Representatives can leverage Digital Campaigns to attract new customers through Representatives’ existing social networks, helping them grow orders and attract new customers. Plus, we offer special bonus offers from time to time to encourage online sales.

EcommerceBytes: What is Avon’s position regarding sales reps selling the brand online through outlets like eBay, Craigslist, etc.? Is this permitted?

Jennifer Vargas: No.

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.