The next generation of millennial and Generation Z consumers is beginning to mark its prominence in the market - with millennials expected to make up the dominant global workforce by 2020 - and they are demanding newness, insight access and seamless service from luxury brands and retailers. This new approach to luxury shopping is giving rise to a new wave of retail, that's powered by social media. Young shoppers no longer want to go out of their ways to find the product, retailers must meet them where they are: on social channels.
Cue the emergence of social commerce which utilizes the power of communication on platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp to engage young customers with curated content, one-on-one chats and rapid-fire service.
Instagram, in particular, has so far been leading the way in influencing users' purchases via visual content. Now, the platform has introduced new shoppable features in order to create an easy, quick avenue between influence and final purchase.
The company said that the new feature - introduced quietly last March in Europe - was a response to continued customer requests. It aims at creating a "seamless experience" for users, who are now able to just tap to buy a product instead of having to switch between apps.
Luxury brands, from Burberry to Balmain and retailers, including Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion.com, have been quick to embrace the new feature in a bid to engage these digitally-savvy, mobile-dependent customers.
It's an expected move from the part of brands given the continued decrease in footfall at brick-and-mortar stores. According to Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas “luxury players are hitting the brakes on physical retail network expansion,” as they can no longer bank on opening new retail spaces to connect with customers. “Soft luxury mega-brands — including Hermès — have all wisely chosen to put physical retail network expansion on ice, while enjoying any positive organic sales growth trend as a boost to space productivity,” he added.
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For e-commerce players, moving transactions from the website to the right social platforms is equally important, as consumers are becoming more at ease with shopping on their phones.
The Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, which is gearing up to become mobile-only, said that Instagram is one of the most effective platforms for "triggering customer action through meaningful engagement."
Net-a-Porter, also recently launched a flash-sale of the editor and influencer Anna Dello Russo's wardrobe, exclusively on Instagram Stories. Given the accessible price points of the garments in the sale, the company said that it wanted to "make the collection available to the next generation of fashion enthusiasts" and the launch was met with a 98 percent sell-through on its first day.
While social platforms such as Instagram offer a big opportunity for brands to capitalize on user engagement, obstacles remain when it comes to scaling this nascent retail concept.
In a saturated market where newness and continuous product drops are king, it would be near impossible for a big retail player that often stocks up to 400 luxury labels, to use Instagram to showcase the breadth of its offer.
Tiffany Hsu, fashion buying director at Mytheresa.com and a digital influencer herself with 57k followers on her personal Instagram account, described the platform as "primarily an inspiration tool."
"The user is always redirected to the website. You can't feature everything on Instagram because the customer would simply get annoyed by the overflow of product. What we're drawn to on Instagram is unique, creative content," she explained.
Another opportunity that social commerce offers to brands and retailers alike, is the ability to have one-on-one interactions with customers, be it via WhatsApp or Instagram direct messages — and collect insightful data along the way.
A new generation of personal shoppers are using Instagram to inspire their customers and present them with the latest must-have seasonal items via curated, editorial content. They then field their requests via Direct Messages or by redirecting them to WhatsApp.
Threads Styling, a company that has been a pioneer in the online personal shopping and social commerce arenas, sees chat-based media as the only way to engage with young shoppers in the future.
As part of its business model, Threads shares images of stylized looks featuring product that has been newly launched in the market, via Instagram Stories. Users can then place orders by simply pressing “Swipe Up” and being redirected to a WhatsApp chat with a shopper. Given the easy access to the service and the high quality of its content, the company built a dedicated audience of affluent millennial shoppers across Europe and the Middle East. Given its fast-paced growth trajectory it has also received investment, to expand its services to Asia.
Net-a-Porter also believes that WhatsApp can soon be utilized to speak to its broader customer base. Its personal shopping team has been using WhatsApp to communicate with its slew of high networth shoppers for years and has even sold a Cartier Panthère watch via WhatsApp within two minutes of its launch on the site. Now, the retailer is working with WhatsApp to develop new technology that will enable all customers to complete transactions via the App.
"Mobile is the primary touchpoint for digital culture. This is how we are seeing the future of the luxury experience developing. Ultimately, the conversation via platforms such as WhatsApp is instant, faster than e-mail and more personal," said Net-a-Porter managing director, Matthew Woolsey.
Cover image credit: Balmain