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Vans, the brand appearing on the feet of generations of surfers and skateboarders, may not be the first to allow users to interact and talk about products on its Web site, but it may be the best in terms of creating a seamless blend of shopping and friendly interactions.

On Vans.com, users can design their own shoes, including the shoe type, size, and design (from approximately 20 different choices), as well as the laces, collar lining, and the foxing (i.e., the strip that connects Vans’ signature sole to the rest of the shoe). After designing their dream shoe, users can share their vision with their friends online by inviting them to chat or e-mailing them an image. If a user really likes the design, he or she can even post it to a Facebook profile.

Because Facebook is embedded within the Vans site, comments made on Facebook transfer directly to the product site. Thus, when the would-be shoe designer visits his or her Vans product page, all his or her friends’ comments appear. No one needs to search through hundreds of unstructured Facebook postings to find relevant comments. Vans thus captures relevant data for the user’s purchase decision and keeps it organized in one place.  Vans’ target market of 12–24-year olds is extremely influenced by their friends, and online capabilities are key in the company’s efforts to lower social risk. Their friends may not like the product that they created, or they might offer enough positive comments that the users feel ready to take the plunge and purchase their personalized shoes.

To measure the success of this interactive platform, shoe sales cannot be the primary focus. Rather, the platform seems likely to help build brand equity and thereby have an effect on other Vans products as well.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the Vans.com e-commerce site work? 
  2. Would you purchase on Vans.com?

Fred Minnick, “Application Allows Online Shoppers to Get Friends’ Opinions in Real Time,” Stores, July 2009.