Increasingly customers shopping online want to know the history behind a product, not just its specifications and price, so tell them a good story. 

By Ali Price (Co-founder & CEO, Lydali)

In today’s retail landscape, storytelling is not something that comes up often. Whether you’re walking around the mall or clicking through a large online retailer’s website, style and price tend to be the primary focus, and it’s rare to spend time thinking about where products came from, what the process was of making them, and who was involved.

Our world is becoming more and more connected through technology, and consumers are beginning to expect transparency around the pricing and production of the things they buy. This trend has already been picked up in food – it’s easy to find out where food is coming from, and shoppers often understand the value of eating local, seasonal produce or buying fair trade coffee.

The fashion industry isn’t there yet, but shoppers are starting to think more about what they buy, and more and more people are looking at the things they wear saying “Who made this?” Rather than looking for the designer or brand, they’re going to want to know about the actual maker. Was this scarf produced in a garment factory in Bangladesh under terrible working conditions? Was it made by a woman in Bangladesh using traditional practices and organic materials? These things matter, and they’re stories that aren’t currently being told.

Before starting Lydali, I spent several years working in marketing and communications at Kiva, a non-profit focused on storytelling – engaging lenders by connecting them with individual borrowers around the world through the telling of their stories. Kiva was one of the first organizations to radically link strangers online through crowdfunding, and they did it by sharing compelling stories about the Kiva borrowers around the world. When I left Kiva to focus fully on Lydali, I didn’t know what radical transparency through storytelling in e-commerce would look like.

What we’ve built allows you to get to know the individual people or groups behind each product we sell. Maybe you’re browsing our site and you like a brass bangle from Cambodia? Click through and read about Chantha, the home-based artisan who started learning the craft of jewelry-making at the age of 16 and has now begun creating bangles out of melted down bullet-casings and bombshells that litter the Cambodian countryside leftover from years of war. Maybe you’re reading about our producers from 25 countries around the world? You can click through and shop a specific individual or group’s collection of products after learning about the people in the group and the tradition behind the goods.

Storytelling is powerful for any startup, not just for e-commerce. When you’re thinking about how to engage users, bring in new customers, or build viral ambassadors, think about the stories you can share that will allow people to really connect with what you’re doing.

Stand Out

Identify the stories that help your product stand out from others. Whether you’re building an app, running an e-commerce website, or think about the stories that add context to your product that will help people to identify more with what you are doing. For Lydali, our products stand out from similar things being sold at Anthropologie or Madewell because of the human connection and story behind what we sell.

Hook Customers With Stories

Connect with customers through stories. We have more tools than ever to connect with customers or users on a variety of platforms, so use those platforms to share stories. Everlane does a great job of sharing their production and pricing through well-designed infographics.

Empower More Storytellers

Equip people to tell their own stories in your community. ModCloth has done an excellent job of engaging their community and encouraging their customers to interact with their products and website through tagging photos on Instagram that might make it onto the site and sharing style opinions through their Be the Buyer program.

Evoke Empathy

If you’re a non-profit or a socially-minded for-profit, tell stories about people that evoke empathy and empowerment. Charity:Water shares stories that are positive and empowering, rather than sharing stories that make you feel sorry for the people benefitting from the wells they dig.

Do you offer your customers compelling stories?

ali priceAbout the guest blogger: Ali Price is the co-founder and CEO of Lydali, an ethical fashion e-commerce startup that tells the story of the individual makers behind the products they sell. With a background in microfinance and fashion, Ali loves exploring the intersection between development and design. Follow her on Twitter @aliprice, or Lydali @lydali.