UK retail accounts for 11% of global Internet retail sales, and the UK has the highest e-commerce spend per person of any country. In this increasingly competitive market, retailers are finding that social media can be an effective tool for engaging their consumers and driving sales.
Many big brands already boast hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, but going forward they will need to think carefully about how to effectively convert those followers into active customers and brand advocates. They’ll also want to continually evaluate the various social platforms to ensure they’re in the right place to meet consumer’s evolving needs.
According to think tank L2, Instagram has the highest browser-to-shopper conversion rate of any social platform they track. So what is it about the platform that makes it so influential over customer shopping habits and omnichannel selling methods?
Visual imagery is very effective at engaging customers. As a result, a social platform like Instagram that specialises in promoting imagery alone is of real interest to retailers. Since retailers are able to quickly carve out their own identity at low cost on Instagram, they can then promote products and concepts directly to their followers.
The real benefit comes from brand followers sharing content with their followers – a concept known as social advocacy. Social advocacy has the potential to reach significant numbers of users, and this exposure can considerably raise a retailer’s profile whilst also boosting sales.
Instagram - and its social media bedfellow Twitter - allows its users to use branded hashtags and location-based tagging, making it easier and more compelling for followers to promote the brands and products that they love. On a smaller-scale, individuals can easily share images of their latest purchase whilst tagging the retailer’s name.
Burberry provides a great example of a retailer using social media platforms to encourage large-scale social advocacy. Burberry recently ran an “art of the trench” campaign, in which users across a number of social platforms, including Instagram, were encouraged to share images of themselves in their Burberry trench coat using the #artofthetrench hashtag.
The campaign encouraged users to “like” or “favourite” the trench coat images and share them amongst their own followers. Widespread take-up of the campaign greatly increased the level of Burberry’s social media exposure, and boosted brand engagement overall. The campaign was testament to the value of sharing interesting content related to a product in place of pure product promotion.
Browser to buyer - a quick transition
Instagram currently doesn’t allow retailers to link to their website directly from a post, but UK retailers have taken an innovative approach to overcoming this hurdle.
Next and Topman have both invested in the third-party platform Like2Buy, which creates a separate shoppable Instagram feed that is easily linked-to via the retailer’s Instagram page. From this parallel feed, users can identify the item that caught their eye before purchasing it from the brand’s website.
From the retailer’s perspective, this approach offers consumers a smooth transition between social media engagement and point-of-sale. It also provides retailers with valuable insight into the customer’s transaction path, and identifies the social posts that led to the sale.
Of course, this doesn’t fully solve the problem of creating seamless buying processes. Potential customers still have to leave the Instagram app to make the purchase, and retailers risk losing the sale if the consumer chooses to continue browsing rather than leave Instagram. It will be interesting to see if Instagram adapts its approach on this behaviour.
Instagram and targeted email
A number of retailers have successfully integrated email marketing with Instagram, inviting users to opt-in and receive emails pertaining to products featured in Instagram posts they have “liked”. U.S. retailer Envelopes.com offers this to their Instagram followers using Socialite, a Bronto app. The advantage to consumers is clear: they can easily learn more and purchase items that previously caught their interest on Instagram, all via a ready-to-shop email which lands in their inbox.
Instagram offers a compelling case for the value of social media platforms within the e-commerce market. Strong visual content combined with social media’s sharing ethos makes for particularly fertile ground for commerce marketers. The path from social media user to commerce customer is gradually being paved. In the meantime, brands should continue to test and adapt their social media strategies as platforms and consumer behaviours evolve.
Georges Berzgal, Managing Director of Bronto Europe