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Gilty Secrets: 10 Marketing Techniques From Today's Hottest eCommerce Site

IMB_GiltGroup To say that is on fire may be something of a understatement. The site, which features daily special sales of luxury products at discount prices is on track by some estimates to pull in $400 million in sales for the 2010 calendar year. The growth of has coincided with a shift in how many consumers are thinking about luxury products. As a recent USA Today piece noted, "the new world of luxury is less about designer labels and glitz and more about shopping savvy and an I-feel-good-owning-this mentality." has grown to over 2 million members by catering exclusively to this mentality.

What makes the experience so irresistible? A big part of it is the sense that you are getting a great deal on products from brands that are normally much pricier, but smart marketing is just as much of a component in the success of Taking some time to analyze what makes the marketing so powerful, here are 10 techniques that is using which might help other brands to duplicate some of this success:

1. Featuring amazing imagery.
The experience on starts with amazing imagery. This is clearly not a site selling average products, because everything about the imagery used on the site indicates a premium and desirable experience. More than that, the images are changing every day, which demonstrates that there is fresh content all the time and that the site will be worth visiting again and again.


2. Offering a sense of exclusivity.

Core to the experience is a sense of exclusivity. You need to be invited to join the site by a current member, and only once you become a member can you access all the special deals. The irony of this is that they have plenty of "sneak in" ways to become a member without getting invited through secret links – but the SENSE of exclusivity is what is most important. It doesn't pay for them to actively prevent people from becoming members, but they work hard to make their current members feel as though they are part of an exclusive club.


3. Focusing on the backstory.

Every product sold on has a backstory which is almost as important as the product itself. Why? Because when it comes to many luxury products, there is an inherent need from the customers to have a shareable story that they can tell to others along with the products they purchase. It is not about buying a blender. It is about buying a blender from a Belgian company that has been making them since 1930, and that you cannot find in any retail store near you.


4. Creating an urgency to purchase without excessive pressure.

Every product that you put into your shopping cart expires after 10 minutes. This may seem like a diabolical move to pressure you into purchasing – and to some degree it does work like that. The aim, though, is to limit the amount of time you can hold onto a product that someone else may want to purchase. As a result, the sense of urgency to buy is built into the site, and when coupled with a relatively easy return policy, it means that they can focus more on converting browsers to buyers in a timespan (10 minutes) that most other ecommerce sites would envy.


5. Providing significant rewards for referrals.

IMB_Gilt_5_Significant_Referrals Once you become a member, the reward for referring someone else to the site is a whopping $25 in credit – far more than most other sites. This adds to the exclusivity experience, but also makes it likely that people will share their referral link far and wide with others. As you probably noticed, it is working for me also since I used my own referral link in this post as well.

6. Integrating deeply with email marketing.

Every day, members of get an email telling them about the special deals of the day and reminding them to visit the site to purchase those products before they sell out. They have a blog and a Twitter page as well, but for the vast majority of their users, email is likely driving the largest consumption and traffic because much of their target audience are at work where emails often come with pop up notices letting you know a new one has come in.


7. Selling items that are sold out.

As items sell out or are held in member's shopping carts, the site automatically lets you know and gives you a chance to be placed on a wait list for a product. Not only does this add to your emotional sense of wanting a product (after all, if it is "sold out" it must be good, right?), but it creates a secondary sales channel for where you may not have been able to purchase the product you were most interested in, but might come back to purchase it if it were available. The other benefit of this model is that it helps for projections and planning new sales if you have a good sense of the most popular products based on something active such as a consumer being asked to be put on a wait list for an item, versus something more passive such as impressions to a product or brand page.


8. Standing behind products they sell with editorial.

IMB_Gilt_8_ValidatingProducts Not only does offer new products every day, they also stand behind the products they do offer. This "seal of approval" concept lets consumers know that the products they are buying are authentic but also tested for quality and will be exactly what they expect. This also allows on the backend to work with more and better companies to feature products because there is an inherent validation that takes place for a brand that does get featured on that may extend to that brand building more of a relationship or awareness among a desirable group of consumers.

9. Creating a daily ritual.

Every day at noon EST, an email comes noting that the sales for that day are open. Conveniently scheduled at the time when many office professionals are taking their lunch break, this consistently allows to create a ritual for their customers. Not everyone will buy a product every day, but just knowing that this format will take place every day allows consumers to plan a visit to the site as part of their day and helps to drive a big spike in traffic because you know that as soon as the deals open online there will be a frenzy to buy the most popular items before they sell out.


10. Customizing to platforms.

Soon after the iPad was launched, was ready with an app for iPad users that allowed them to purchase directly from the app. Today, more than 10% of overall sales come from the iPhone and iPad mobile platforms that this number is growing. By offering a customized experience for users on certain platforms, is making it easy to purchase no matter where you happen to be.


Not every brand will have luxury products or find this daily sales method easy to duplicate, but taking some of the marketing lessons that already knows could help a large number of brands who have some ecommerce component of their sites to create more engagement with their customers, and convert more of them to action as well.

12 thoughts on “Gilty Secrets: 10 Marketing Techniques From Today's Hottest eCommerce Site”

  1. Oh wow, the time limit on the shopping cart is genius! 10 minutes is great amount of time to decide on the purchase but it does keep it within a constraint – I wonder if they did testing with shorter time intervals – say 2 minutes, would people jump all over it then?

    Oooh, what about a reverse pricing. Say “if you buy it now it’s $10 but for every minute it will increase back to its original price of $20!” – that could be perfect for emotional buys and hit them unexpectedly as it goes into the shopping cart.

  2. What I like most about this, and what I feel can be realistically implemented by small business owners, is the deep understanding of what makes their audience tick. They know that the feeling of being “in the know” is driving a lot of activity, and that “I got a deal” is driving purchase. Those factors, along with imagery reflecting a world we want to step into, plus backstory … they create a complex, special, robust brand.

    And can I just say how much I love the double meaning of the brand name? Totally up my alley!

  3. Just goes to show that people like to think they’re “saving money” when in fact they’re spending – a LOT!

    Reminds me of the adage, “The more I spend, the more I save!”

  4. Loved the post, exclusivity really brings back customers and brand identity is also very important in this regard when trying to build an effective ecommerce business

  5. A Great article. Very thought provoking. There are a lot of ideas that can be applied for local businesses, my area of concern. I am just trying to apply the timed discount for a concrete flooring company – before it goes off.

    It is not always the glamor businesses that make money.

  6. Featuring amazing imagary… wow, making it more like a great print publication. Goes to show it’s not just about the words, it’s also about the visual experience online. Kudos to them!

  7. Imagery is great! It’s truly pictures speak a thousand words. Plus, experiencing the privacy make sense. It denotes that only trusted individuals are there.

    Therefore, we must congratulate Gilt for this. Thanks also for the advice you’ve shared. *wink


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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