When consumers shop for themselves, web search is a relatively easy prospect. Are you looking for a black sweater? You’ll search for a “black sweater” or perhaps visit the website of your favorite retailer and filter their sweaters by color and size.
Shopping during the holidays, however, can be more complicated since we are often looking for perfect gifts for our friends and families. This makes it challenging for brands to influence consumer purchase decisions through traditional marketing tactics.
Here’s why: When you shop for someone else — a friend, partner, spouse, or parent — you often need inspiration and education about the product. Social media offers this in the form of “social proof,” and brands should be using customer photos to showcase products during the holidays. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful form of marketing , and authentic customer content can serve several major purposes for both the brand and the consumer alike: inspiration, validation, and education.
For instance, if you visit the Macy’s website to find a holiday gift for your brother, there might be 5,000 different products to sift through. That kind of volume can be daunting, and you may need the inspiration to help figure out which product would make the best gift. When you are deciding what to buy for a friend, it can be tremendously helpful to see a curated selection or the product contextualized with “real” people showing how they stylize a jacket, watch, gloves, or scarf. Surfacing the social proof of a product becomes even more important for brands during the holiday season when purchasing behavior is on steroids and is centered on someone other than the shopper.
Brands that want to capture the dollars spent in this way might want to rethink how to integrate the “inspiration” aspect of shopping into their e-commerce sites. For instance, J. Crew does a great job by prominently displaying on its website “gifts for him” and “gifts for her” recommendations. Those types of inspiration-driven sections on a retail site can boost sales when consumers need a helping hand to guide them through the purchase funnel. Social content can provide that leg-up.
Likewise, since some large brands struggle with perception, social media is a smart mean by which to demonstrate the versatility of their products. For example, yoga ball chairs may be only marketed and pushed as a workout tool, when in reality consumers are using them just as much as office chairs. Likewise, kombucha is usually promoted a “health-first” drink, but consumers are also using the beverage to make cocktails. Social proof and user-generated photos can demonstrate the wider range of post-purchase use cases.
What’s more, the inclusion of social content into an e-commerce experience feeds into existing consumer behavior , further driving education and validation. Case in point – many millennials search by hashtags on Instagram and Pinterest to see how a product might apply and how others use it. In these scenarios, customer photos operate as peer recommendations that inspire others to try these products.
Keeping new search and buying habits in mind, brands can mimic this style of discovery on their own eCommerce sites, such as allowing for hashtag searches or incorporating curated styles from influencers.
Doing so can drive several goals: show off new uses for products, foster authenticity and enhance storytelling, and improve discoverability by increasing the likelihood of impulse purchases. The result is not just providing social proof, but connecting with target consumers in a more meaningful way, and helping them to give that perfect gift.
This article was written by Kyle Wong from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.