Trend Mapping: How the retail sector uses social media to drive sales

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The facts are simple – social media is not a passing trend. A statistic that’s as easy to understand is that with over 3 billion around the world using the Internet, social media is no longer a choice, but a necessity for brands. Every business needs a social media presence today, for it is the fastest way for connect with consumers, increase brand awareness, and boost sales.
Social media is changing reality of Indian retail, changing consumer behaviour in terms of how people want to receive information and communicate with brands and retailers. But are retailers responding in kind?
The story of Huda Beauty accentuates well the tremendous power of social media. Today, Huda Beauty is a company with a valuation of more than $1 billion and all of this in a matter of less than even a decade. What started off as a beauty related WordPress blog soon gave way to the launch of a cosmetic line by its founder – Huda Kattan. Much of that growth, according to an article in Fortune magazine, can be credited to Kattan leveraging her Instagram presence, where she now has whopping 39.3 million followers!

India & Instagram

In India, the story is very different. Where small and entrepreneur driven brands have gone all out in exploiting the power and influence of social media to not just attract but also to divert sales of their merchandise, it is the bigger names which are treading cautiously and though active on the medium, haven’t been able to keep with GenX when it comes to their social media strategy.
Take the case of a Delhi based brand, Noo Noo Shirts, which began its journey in 2017. The brand today claims to derive most of its sales from Instagram. “Besides having offline presence in multiple stores across India and having our own online store, from the onset, Instagram has been by far the most influential channel for us and almost 50 percent of our sales are driven through Instagram advertising,” says Anukool Kumar, Head of Marketing – Noo Noo Shirts.
Sustainable fashion brand FORet too began its social media journey using Instagram. Supriya Shirsat Satam, Founder & Creative Director – FOReT states, “We launched our brand this year and we consciously started with Instagram. For a sustainable brand like ours, where we are creating a conversation around exclusive fashion and lifestyle, we find Instagram to be the most convincing platform for us as the audience here is always seeking something new.”
Reiterating the influence of Instagram over other social media platforms is Hyderabad’s Almond House. The brand, which has a store in Hyderabad and other stores across India at various international airports in the country, enjoys massive patronage from loyal customers. Now, with an aim to reach out to newer customers, they have chalked out their social media strategy to include their presence across various platforms.
Panneerselvam, Head Strategy & Growth Almond House says, “At Almond House, while we are present on all popular social media platforms, it is Facebook and Instagram which have essentially been the drivers of our social media strategy. Lately, we have observed that Instagram has been most impactful in the last year or so and that Facebook is losing its relevance owing to the fact that is advertising driven. The category that we are in (sweets and gourmet foods) is more visually driven and a medium like Instagram is helping us showcase our delicacies better than any other platform.”

Social Media Statistics

  • According to Statista 2019, the number of social media users in India is 351 million (including 260 million on Facebook and 110 million on Instagram), and is expected to rise to 448 million by 2023.
  • The most popular smartphone activity is visiting social networks (Statista, 2019), reflecting the growing popularity of social media amongst users.

Echoing similar views on Instagram taking over Facebook, Ayesha Accessories Founder, Jacqueline Kapur says, “The young urban fashionable millennial has drifted from Facebook to Instagram. Over the last two years especially, we have seen much more interaction with our Instagram followers in comparison to Facebook users.”
Ethnic wear brand SOCH is also present on FACEBOOK, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. Vinay Chatlani, Executive Director, SOCH is of the opinion that each of these mediums has its individual features which are open for any marketer to use wisely. Talking about his brand, he says, “Branding and engaging with our community is one of the key brand KPI’s, the objective of which is met on Instagram. Instagram stories is a great tool to constantly engage with your fans with interactive questions, filters, stickers etc. Our business metrics are met through Facebook, where we run performance-oriented campaigns, leading to sales through the website. Pinterest is used as a discoverability medium, as women are mostly looking for inspiration on different styles before their purchase journey begins. YouTube is hygiene and is used as a repository of all content that we put up.”
Like others, Westside sees the use of Facebook and Instagram extensively for their social media reach. Umashan Naidoo, Head of Cosmetics and Customer, Trent Ltd. talks about the shift towards Instagram saying, “With the transformation of social platforms to commerce platforms, we are seeing a shift from user consuming content to discovering (and now even purchasing) products. The evolution of Instagram from an online photo-sharing application to a tool for businesses to promote their brands and products has led to a change in the consumer shopping experience. Since last two years Westside has seen a positive trend in website traffic and conversion from Instagram shopping. Though Facebook has a wide reach, multiple marketing options on Instagram such as video engagement, Instagram stories and influencer engagement helps to create brand and product awareness.”

The Clout of Instagram

Chirag Tekchandaney, Co-Founder & Director at B- Label states, “Our brand is mainly present on Instagram and Facebook, the two leading social media platforms. The most influential platform for us has been Instagram. It is amazing to see how at any event when asked about our brand, people tell us “Yes, I have seen your brand on Instagram”. And it can be seen across the whole industry, especially when you see that influencers have a proper source of income promoting products and producing content for their audience on Instagram.”
Veteran brands like Metro Shoes and Liberty have social media campaigns which have seen quite some traction. For Metro Shoes, Alisha Malik, VP – Marketing and E-commerce, Metro Brands counts on Instagram though she also highlights the influence of TikTok stating, “Given the product category that we are in, Instagram has become the most influential platforms for us. We have grown significantly in the past 2 years. Influencers on Instagram are very popular. This has started to give us good organic conversions as well. TikTok is becoming a very influential platform as well and we are looking to incorporate that into our future strategy.”
Talking about his brand Raisin, Vikash Pacheriwal, Co-founder – Raisin says, “Although Facebook has a wider presence with more number of everyday users, in terms of returns and engagement Instagram has emerged as a catalyst for our sales as it practically provides a virtual platform for window shopping. The last two years have seen massive changes across the various platforms with Instagram and Twitter gaining immense popularity to the point of it being imperative for a brand’s existence in the market.”
The Granddaddy of Social Media: Facebook
Anupam Bansal, Managing Director – Retail, Liberty Shoes adds to this saying, “Our recent social media campaigns like ‘Chal Badh Chal, In the Name of Liberty’ helped in reaching and connecting with the customers.”
What remains interesting to note is that where for newer brands, it is Instagram that plays an important role, according to Bansal, for their brand, Facebook remains a medium to connect with their patrons. To reiterate the point made earlier on how big names are treading cautiously when it comes to their social media strategy, Bansal accentuates the same stating, “To stand out of the clutter, brands have to make a lot of effort. We are still experimenting with social media to establish a connect with our target audience in Tier II & III towns and cities. The ROI has not been very promising based on our social media, but we are building the creditability to achieve our desired target.”
For eCraftindia too, it is Facebook that scores over Instagram and this according to Rahul Jain, Co-Founder & Business Head of eCraftIndia is owing to the target audience for their brand. He explains, “For our brand we found Facebook to be more influential but for many brands Instagram has been giving better results. It all depends on product segment brand is targeting. For young crowd between age of 14-30 years Instagram has become much popular then Facebook. For our brand where we are targeting people above 25 year of age specially married people, we are getting better results from Facebook.”
Red Chief too gets its fan-base majorly from Facebook though Rahul Sharma, General Manager – Marketing, Leayan Global Pvt. Ltd. admits to the power of Instagram. “In the last two years, we have diverted our focus on social media. Today, we are getting the majority of our traffic from social media platforms, out of which Facebook plays a major role. But one thing that can’t be ignored is the growth of Instagram in contributing to traffic. It is a new emerging platform for our audience, where they engage and inquire with us on regular basis.”
For The Moms Co. too, Facebook has worked well. Malika Sadani, Founder & CEO, The Moms Co. says that Facebook is important to her brand in terms of reaching out to their core target audience which is moms and moms-to-be. “Our content on social media is about sharing information that adds meaningful value to our consumers’ lives.”
Joining the Facebook fan brigade and highlighting the power of WhatsApp alongside it is Petal Gangurde, Vice President – Brand & Marketing, XYXX Apparels Pvt. Ltd. “Nothing beats Facebook in terms of reach and conversions. Instagram is fast playing catch-up. Both these platforms are also the most robust in terms of audience, insights as well as innovation in ads and content formats. While organic reach has hit new lows, the impact of these platforms on awareness, trial, consideration and repeat purchase is massive. I think the past two years have seen Twitter struggling and being relegated to the sidelines as a customer support channel for brands on social. I feel LinkedIn and WhatsApp are emerging platforms for brands to leverage and while they are restrictive in their current avatar, the possibilities they offer for innovation and experimentation by brands are exciting.”

The Power of Social Commerce

  • A joint report by Deloitte & RAI titled, ‘Unravelling the Indian Consumer’ says that 28 percent Millennials purchase products due to social media recommendations and 63 percent Millennials stay updated on brands through social media.
  • As consumers are increasingly using social media platforms to share their purchases and experiences, companies are using social media to engage with consumers by leveraging various analytical tools and advanced analytics to decode the shift in consumer behaviour and shape their strategies accordingly. S-commerce or social commerce is the umbrella term used to describe the trend.

Sharing views from a mall’s perspective, Rajiv Malla, CEO, R Malls shares, “Facebook has been the most influential followed by Instagram, in the last 2 years the reach and engagement rate received from Instagram is significant and is being preferred over Facebook for paid campaigns.”
Bringing in the influence of Twitter and LinkedIn, Yash Kotak, Co-Founder & Director, Business Development, Communication, BOHECO & BOHECO Life credits the platforms for great business networking. “Facebook allows you to interact with a wider age group. Instagram, by far has been the most influential,” he says.
And it’s not just traditional sectors of retail who are benefitting from social media. The beauty and wellness segment is reaping great benefits from this platform as well. Sana Dhanani, the founder of The White Door Spa India says, “Instagram has only recently become the ideal platform for brands to be on, where previously brands would rely on Facebook for all brand communication. We saw a lot of traction and engagement on Facebook initially, it was a great way to connect with our clients. However, the audience has gradually moved over to Instagram. It has become an increasingly important social media tool for us, so much so, that over 30 percent of our actual sales, services queries and retail inquires are conducted through Instagram. We use the stories feature on Instagram to keep our clients updated on our newest treatments and in-salon products. Instagram facilitates direct interaction with the customer – we can address and personalise responses and information to best suit their needs and requirements, which is a value add. We also allow them to share their contact details with us and arrange a call back from a member of our team to address any further details they might have.”

Streamlining Social Strategy

Having a mere presence on any of the social media platforms defeats the very purpose the brand is present for on the said medium. What makes the strategy successful is constant engagement with the customer – be it to receive compliments or to deal with a crisis. Panneerselvam says, “Responsiveness on social media is extremely critical, how soon you respond and the stature of the person who responds makes a huge impact on the customer. Brands should be aware there would be some amount of negative / critical feedback that would always come on social media platforms and not to keep engaging with them which becomes a distraction from offering the real positive experience at the store or product level.”
Kumar bets high on making the best use of social media platforms to reach out to people stating, “It is the most intimate manner in which you ever get to connect with your customers / potential customers. It is a 1:1 interaction between you and the customer, and dare we say you have just a few seconds to attract the customer attention, but once you have it – it is the best possible engagement tool.” He stresses on the point that the social media strategy one adopts reflects what the brand is about. “If you are a luxury brand, speak in that tone and if you are an earthy / organic brand, sound like it.”
Reiterating the importance of maintaining the brand positioning, Dhanani says, “The look and feel of the social media pages need to be in sync with the overall imagery and the aesthetics of the page should also mirror the colour palette of the brand. Since we are a luxury brand, we are extremely cautious about the words, phrases and brand associations we delve into, simply because words like ‘half-off’ and ‘discounts’ don’t resonate with our brand ethos. Another way to engage the audience on social media is to provide them with as much information about a product/ service, for the end-user to be aware of the specifications, benefits, risks, and precautions to take, in order to make an educated decision about the service in question. Any additional information or queries should then be followed up offline on Direct Message or over a call.”
Jacqueline Kapur stresses on the need to use the right images and hashtags to garner the relevant followers. “It is important to have high quality interesting images with the right hash tags. At Ayesha we are trying to address emotions and issues which concern our followers, we talk about girl power and self-love, we create content which is reaching out to them through contests and other interactive posts. Using only product pictures and trying to sell them through the social media sites becomes very quickly boring and doesn’t build a brand.”
Satam, meanwhile, advises against the use of stock images. “Usually around festive seasons, you can find similar images across brands. It is important to create your brand story.” She further has another strong suggestion where she advises against being present on every channel unless you can see a promise in it for your brand.

The Game of Retargeting Customers

Opting out from having a strategy that helps them retarget their customers to the site for actual sales, Panneerselvam says his brand does it because they are conscious of the fact that customers may not like too much of intrusion in influencing their shopping decision, “We do not retarget customers as we use social media for awareness, engagement and not for sales. We believe the customers are now aware that specific brands are targeting them, and they become agnostic to the same and in some case its considered as a intrusion into their personal space. So, we avoid re targeting, however we do put out engaging content for them to interact and thereby stay visible /relevant to their needs.”
Sharing how meticulously the retargeting strategy is planned at Red Chief, Sharma states, “Decoding the customer purchase journey is our approach of remarketing. We need to understand when they are window shopping and when are they planning to make a purchase. Those who have added a product in their shopping cart, but has not made a purchase, we retarget them in the first week of the month. As this is the time when their salaries get credited and they tend to buy new things. Secondly, those who have interacted with the website in last the 3 months but haven’t purchased yet are our second category. We keep our ad frequency between 5-7 times to get the desired results.”
Revealing the strategy in place at Westside, Naidoo says, “Westside’s Facebook page is predominantly used for retargeting, especially with our loyal customers who have not shopped for a longer duration. We also communicate with them for cross promotions. Typically, we see a huge spoke in engagement during contests. Relevant content and timely incentive works well to keep the social media audience engaged.”
Petal Gangurde of XYXX points out on the power of discounts in retargeting customers, “There has to be a healthy mix of content that creates the pull and incentives that finally push the consumer to purchase. Indian audiences are inherently price sensitive and have been spoilt for choice by e-commerce giants, so nothing works better than discounts, if the primary goal is sales.”
Raisin’s Pacheriwal too talks about the traction one can generate through discounts and contests, “It is a combination of all three systems that have worked out very well for us, the key here is to find the perfect balance between creating relevant content that gets the audience interested and then providing them with some incentives that further drives them to purchase our products. The occasional contests and giveaways further help us in generating new leads and attracting a new audience.”

Using Social Media to be Business Wise

Calculating the ROI when it comes to the money spent on marketing and advertising has always been a task too challenging to achieve. Though, when it comes to money being spent on social media, the strategy can be streamlined based on clicks and sale. Kumar says, “Since we are an online store, tracking is supremely critical and easy for us – every single penny spent is based on a calculation that will result in more sales. We have generated close to 30 lakhs+ over the last one year just from our online store which is driven completely via Social Media advertisement. Out of marketing budget, 75 percent is spent online media and 25 percent is reserved for offline spends.”
Kapur reveals the impact of social media on their sales, saying, “All our instore and online promotions are communicated through our social media platforms. Using the right hashtags and tagging our ecommerce sites and stores direct the customers to shop. As for tracking the patrons who visit our website, currently about 70 percent comes from Facebook and Instagram. As in any marketing activity it is difficult to calculate the direct impact on sales especially offline. Our brand still sells approximately 90 percent offline and only 10 percent online.”
Though the very fact that Ayesha Accessories has stopped advertising in print and currently only advertises on the online platforms reiterates the influence of social media for their brand. Kapur explains on this saying, “Since our target customers are online savvy millennials, most of our marketing budget gets allocated to social media initiatives. We used to advertise in print media but have stopped that totally about 5 years ago. Offline we work with in store promotions and collaborations with college festivals etc.”
Malik adds to this saying, “Social media has become one of the key channels for us to drive sales on our brand websites. Unlike the offline spends, online allows us to measure the returns on money spent. We monitor our social media engagement and sales through ROAS (returns of ads spends), while making efforts to improve the same.”
Revealing the strategy in place at BOHECO, Kotak states, “If a customer bounces from a particular product page on the website then we retarget him by showcasing lucrative offers for that product to increase conversions. We also focus on contests and Q/A posts from time to time to build engagement with having ‘Shop Now’ as the Call to Action. So, to sum this up, both the incentive-based system and contest participation go hand in hand to achieve the end goal.”
At Almond House, the team tracks conversions to their e-commerce page rather than using any of the tools to keep a track on sales being generated through their social media presence. “We also track engagement with customers with our posts to keep the brand relevant and connected to the defined target customer segment,” says Panneerselvam.
Not discounting the need for offline marketing initiatives, B-Label’s Tekchandaney still holds the view that digital marketing scores more brownies points owing to its affordability factor, “Judging solely based on ROI, the ratio of our marketing budget would tip slightly on the side of digital.  However, offline initiatives are also important, especially for an apparel brand. More so for us, who are trying to work with a material which is relatively unknown to people. We have to let people see and feel hemp clothing in their hands for them to know and understand the benefits which are unique to our products. However, offline exposure almost always comes at a much higher cost than digital, hence we take advantage of every opportunity that digital media, especially social media, presents.”
Dhanani restates, “I am a firm believer of not putting all my eggs in one basket, I follow the 60:40 ratio, as I feel that social media while important, should be complemented with offline activities. There has to be an equal balance, as the best way to become a loyalist of a product or service, is to experience it first-hand. Offline activities allow customers to touch, see and experience the luxury offerings of the spa which leads to forming an ideal opinion about the brand and also eventually would lead to them becoming a loyal customer.”
FOReT’s Satam on the other hand has taken an active decision to spend more on her online marketing initiatives. She justifies her decision stating, “Initially we started with a 50 percent split between offline engagements and online. However, our analysis has led us to the conclusion that offline engagements should be done only when the target audience is perfect, and the exposure is high. Otherwise, it is subject to only the given footfall and in a certain geographic location. Whereas, the same, if spent wisely on social media initiatives by advertising to the right target audiences could drive richer results and also assists in remarketing to them.”
Sadani of The Moms Co. reveals that about 20-25 percent of their sales are generated through social media channels. She says, “Since The Moms Co. is a digital-first brand, we spend 60-80 percent of our marketing budget on social media and digital marketing initiatives.”
At Red Chief, the total sales generated through the website is Rs 6 crore, out of which 60 percent came only through social media.
Speaking the budget spread in place at Westside, Naidoo says, “Approximately 60 percent of our social media marketing budget is concentrated on content curation. The rest of the marketing spends are segmented between digital platforms and on-ground activities to complement our social media initiatives. Our experience shows an on-ground activation complementing the core objective enhances the social media engagement.”

To Conclude…

Social media has introduced tools which enable two-way dialogic communication, in contrast to the one-way communication tools previously used by retailers and judging by the way customers are being influenced by various online platforms, it would be no exaggeration to say that social media is a crucial part of any retailer / brand’s business marketing strategy.
Indian brands are still a while away from taking steps to start engaging with their online customers, but with the traditional path to purchase where shoppers were solely influenced by retailers now being defunct, the retail sector in the country will have to play catch up with Millennials and Gen Zers on social media very soon.

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