Customize The Catwalk: Topshop And Facebook Partner On A Social Runway For London Fashion Week

Topshop, in partnership with Facebook, is using social media to enhance the runway experience for customers and collect data that can help the retail chain make better decisions about its business strategy.

The fashion world has for years been among the most social media-savvy industries, and this year is no exception. High street fashion empire Topshop is taking its shopping experience to a new level online this Sunday with a live, sharable, customizable, shoppable, and data-savvy London Fashion Week runway experience.


“Customize the Catwalk”

For the first time, via, customers will be able to customize Topshop Unique designs as models strut down the runway by viewing the items in different colors. If they like what they see, viewers can buy Topshop Unique looks directly off the runway while watching the real-time catwalk video. Customers who choose to order items from the catwalk during the show can expect delivery of their items months ahead of industry lead times.

Fashion, of course, has always been about much more than just clothes. Topshop customers can buy parts of the runway experience by purchasing the music the models strut to and purchase the beauty products used to complete the models’ runway looks–and receive their items within 48 hours, along with styling advice and lessons inspired by Topshops’ in-store beauty bars. Linking real-life experiences to online experiences is something Justin Cooke, Topshop’s digitally savvy new chief marketing officer, considers a key component of the brand’s digital marketing strategy.

“Shoot to Share”

The entire Topshop fashion show experience is sharable. Users can capture and share on Facebook live photos of the looks without interrupting their show experience with Topshop’s “Shoot the Show” tool.


Cooke says the “Shoot the Show” feature–which Topshop developed directly with Facebook’s in-house team–was inspired not by other fashion houses, but by media organizations’ use of social media. During Sunday’s Topshop Unique show, fans viewing the live video stream will be able to snap photos of models as they parade the stage by clicking the “Shoot the Show” camera icon on the video player. A Facebook share box will pop up and the user can hit “Share” without interrupting the presentation.

The New Guy

“It’s what I’m calling social entertainment,” Cooke tells Co.Create. Cooke recently left Burberry, where he was vice president of Public Relations and Events and worked on the company’s digital innovations with Christopher Bailey, one of the industry’s social marketing pioneers. Cooke speaks at a rapid clip about his new role as Topshop’s CMO. At any given moment he’s performing verbal arithmetic as he adds up the potential Facebook-driven revenue of his future ideas, quoting Eric Schmidt, or name-checking his inspirations, which include an array of non-fashion digital innovators such as Apple, Nike, Starbucks, and Google.

Indeed, many of Cooke’s ideas have been shaped from outside the fashion industry. “I’m not looking at fashion brands, I’m looking at brands that understand the way they connect with people and where they socialize their products,” Cooke declares. “I was actually inspired by NIKEiD and Aston Martin,” he says of Topshop’s “Customize the Catwalk” feature. “If you go on [Aston Martin’s] website, when you look at their cars, you can change the color of the car and it changes immediately. It’s such a beautiful way of doing it. And NIKEiD, I met with the guys over there over the years, and they gave me a lot of interesting stats around how high the engagement is when you allow customers to customize a piece. I love the idea of bringing that into a live environment.


“If you think what that will mean for [Facebook’s] platform in the future, that stuff is coming off live events, that’s really quite engaging and we’re quite proud that we challenged them to develop that for us,” Cooke says.

Cooke views Topshop’s affordability as an asset to his social marketing strategy. “If we’ve got millions of people watching on, obviously we have the potential to reach hundreds of millions of people through friends of friends–but the idea that people can actually take something away and purchase a five- or six-dollar item, whereas a lot of the people who play in this space are luxury and the cheapest thing they offer is thousands, I think that for us is fascinating,” he says.

Multi-Platform, Multi-Everything

Cooke is focused on tying together product and experience, real-life and online life, as well as content. “Some people want to be engaged with the music, some people want the fashion, some people want the technology–it’s really about every platform, every device, every channel, and putting the content in the hands of the customer and saying, ‘You show what your favorite part of the journey is, you share it with your friends.'”


In addition to being streamed on the Topshop website, Facebook, and in a pinned tweet at the top of Topshop’s Twitter account, the runway shows will also be streamed live on giant screens inside many physical Topshop stores–while customers are shopping, the music inside the store will change as the runway show in London begins, changing the atmosphere of the physical stores themselves.

Customers can also buy merchandise without fighting the crowds that accompany the first day of a Topshop line launch. Topshop’s brochure contains bar codes that customers can scan with the Topshop app, which allows them to purchase the item. “So you can literally go in, get this brochure, which will come out two days before the launch, scan it and you’ll have the products at your home, and you won’t have to queue, you won’t have to have people jumping on your head,” says Cooke.

“You can never underestimate that your customer has different needs at different times at different moments of their life,” Cooke says of Topshop’s multiplatform approach. “I’m not saying that I’m going to plow all my money into digital media. I love that if you arrive in a new city, you maybe see a billboard up on the skyline, or if you pick up the daily newspaper you’ve got a really beautiful message about your sartorial, maybe your suiting in a business publication where a different kind of audience will get it, and then your iPhone has your fun content. For me it’s about everything overlapping.”


Content, Content, Content

The social experience isn’t meant only to drive sales during the event (or afterward, via recorded video). Content is also a key part of Topshop’s engagement and branding campaign–“the top of the agenda,” according to Cooke. The company is putting a premium on its content-creation efforts and is gamifying customer content creation with a “Tweet Off” competition. “During the show, until midnight (fans can) review the show in 140 characters; everybody gets to be an editor and we’ll pick the best one and that person will win tickets to come to the actual live show next time,” Cooke says. “That’s a really important part of the message, this physical vs. the digital, how you connect the two spaces.” Physical content still plays a dominant role, as well; Topshop also produces a print publication.

Data, Data, Data

The enhanced social experience isn’t just convenient and fun for customers–it’s also providing Topshop with a gold mine of valuable information that’s having a real impact on its business strategy. “We’ll get so much insight from people–say, actually, everybody wants yellow and it came down the runway in white,” muses Cooke. “There’s a data-capture element that the business can rely on.”

“Even just comparing the engagement on a look you can customize versus a look you can’t will be really interesting–the amount of time people spend with that, how many countries we reach, especially when you think of markets where we don’t have a store and is really the only access people have to the brand,” Cooke says, lighting up with excitement. Geographic data on-site and from social media may even help Topshop determine where exactly in the world it should open its next stores or pop-up shops.


User data during the show will also help Topshop put the right products in front of the right customers. Topshop Unique is the “aspirational” (e.g., most expensive) side of the company’s product line–a Topshop Unique coat can go for two or three hundred pounds. “The 14-year-old watching the show, they’re going to engage with the show, but then they’re going to be served and re-targeted with product that is available now,” Cooke says. If that customer spent time during the show with a 100-pound black coat, Topshop will make sure that a 10-pound black coat that’s currently available in the store appears to them the next time that customer logs in. Looking at data about the products customers load into their virtual shopping carts, but don’t end up buying, could help Cooke and his team think of publicity and marketing strategies to accelerate the buying process.

Topshop already has millions of users registered via email and 2.6 million Facebook fans. Cooke, a football fanatic, is interested in “the scheduling and rhythm” of email blasts and is guided by his experience as a subscriber to sports email newsletters. One of the newsletters he subscribes to “will send me an email saying, you know, the football match is about to start, like 10 minutes before–that kind of call to action that I care about, I enjoy that. I don’t want to be sent stuff that is irrelevant.” At Topshop, Cooke says “we can do so much stuff around really careful curation of content for the right people through data–that’s going to change a lot of the stuff that we do.”

“One of the joys about having this great relationship with people like Facebook and Twitter and Google is these guys have the biggest databases in the world,” Cooke says. “When you think about overlaying that social data with our brand data, and with their shopping data, and what city they travel to, that is really powerful, and it’s something that I’ll be getting really deep into because I actually think we can unlock millions of revenue from what we already have before we attract any new customers,” Cooke says.


Interestingly, this isn’t Topshop’s first foray into the real-time shopping space. Years ago, Topshop tried selling items off its catwalk, according to Cooke, but that was before it had connected all its digital and social platforms in a strategic way. The company also offered a feature which allowed customers to try makeup on via the camera on their computer screens.

Cooke says he’s inspired by the energy of Topshop’s Oxford Street flagship store, and wants to recreate that buzzy atmosphere every time Topshop does something live or enters a new market.

“I really believe that everyone in this space, in luxury, in retail, is selling product, and the reason we’re going to win and win big is because we’re selling experiences,” Cooke declares. “We’re going to create an incredible experience around our brand which is going to define us.”


“This digital innovation with Facebook marks another exciting step for Topshop,” wrote Topshop mogul Sir Philip Green in a statement to Co.Create. “I feel confident that the show experience offered via to this global audience is genuinely something new, giving them a view from our very own front row, and enabling them to access and customize some of our key trends in clothing and beauty quicker than ever before.”

Of course, the digital runway experience isn’t for everyone. Some fashionistas will always enjoy snagging a Fashion Week ticket, fighting the in-store crowds, and trying on frocks in high street dressing rooms. That’s fine with Cooke, because Topshop is growing its social media initiatives with all platforms–even real life–in mind.


About the author

Anjali Mullany is the editor of Fast Company Digital.