80% of consumers say that user-generated content (UGC), such as the images and videos that other people share on social media about purchases they’ve made, helps them discover new products, making online shopping more engaging while increasing their trust in brands at the same time. UGC is viewed as more authentic and credible than a brand’s own content, and visuals shared by real consumers are instantly more relatable than professionally shot images of models or highly edited videos from paid influencers. Not to mention that they cost significantly less.
So, it’s not surprising that online retailers are populating their websites and marketing channels with visuals their customers are posting on the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok. But how do you go about creating a successful strategy for using your customers’ content to support ecommerce sales?
The starting point for many retailers is simply curating the product images and visual testimonials their customers are already posting. By identifying and sharing this content on their own social channels and crediting the customers, they can amplify its visibility and reach. And often these real visual recommendations can outperform retailers’ generic posts featuring professional imagery.
If you don’t already have a flow of customers sharing visual content about your products, there’s nothing to stop you being more proactive. Ask customers to post their own images or videos of your products under specific branded hashtags. Some brands have successfully used competitions to further encourage this, awarding prizes to the winners who are chosen by other social media followers. Not only can you quickly garner a high volume of UGC this way, but you also drive awareness and excitement around your brand.
To take things to the next level, companies are starting to nurture their own creator communities, setting briefs for customers to develop content for specific product launches and campaigns. The creators are rewarded with free merchandise and discounts and given recognition to help them feel part of the brand. It’s a way of forging closer ties with your most loyal and active fans, while making your marketing more meaningful for other shoppers who can see people just like them using or wearing your products.
Going beyond social media
Once you’re generating a steady stream of user-generated visuals, it’s time to look further than simply sharing them on social sites. Interweaving a mix of third-party social proof with professional product images on your ecommerce store can help overcome some of the barriers that have traditionally held back online shopping. It’s a way of bringing products to life for customers who can’t physically see, touch, or try them for themselves.
Showcasing UGC on your homepage or category pages provides inspiration and prompts product discovery, for example. And displaying real customer images on product pages offers additional context to reassure shoppers and drive more informed purchases that are less likely to end up as returns – supporting a goal that many brands are actively pursuing today .
For retailers including high quality UGC on their pages can keep shoppers coming back and ultimately paves the way for raising ecommerce conversion rates. And in fashion and beauty retail, there’s the added benefit that displaying authentic images from a variety of real customers wearing or using your products automatically addresses the requirement for greater diversity in marketing.
Adding shoppability and personalisation
One way to maximise the potential of authentic visuals on an ecommerce store is to make them ‘shoppable’. Shoppers can click on a customer’s photo of a sofa in their living room – or the pair of running shoes they’re wearing in the park – to instantly view the relevant product page (or to add the item to their basket). If you make the process easy and quick, shoppers are more likely to engage or make a purchase based on seeing other shoppers’ UGC.
Similarly, it’s possible to make the UGC experience more relevant and meaningful by personalising content according to individuals’ onsite behaviour and preferences. Ensure that the authentic visuals shoppers are shown are focused on the specific brands or product categories they have browsed or purchased before, for example. And include UGC of products that are complementary to the items they’ve already added to their shopping basket.
Another part of ecommerce that’s ripe for UGC is onsite product recommendations – already a widely used tactic for personalising shopping experiences and helping shoppers find products they might like to buy. By populating recommendations with authentic images, you can add a new dimension which increases their impact and shortens the path to purchase, ultimately resulting in more conversions.
Using authentic images can significantly improve ecommerce performance, but not all visuals are created equal. The most successful visual UGC strategies are the result of consistent evaluation and optimisation through A/B and multivariate testing. Not only should you test specific images and videos, but different image styles and formats. How does using UCG in a carousel compare to large hero banners, for example? Analyse the impact of changing the placement on the page and how specific visuals work in combination with other site elements.
Having recognised the growing importance of visual proof in driving product discovery and sales, retailers are keen to embrace it and use it to their advantage. The key is to develop a systematic approach to encouraging an ongoing stream of authentic customer content – and to use it intelligently across your website and other channels. As with all online content, visual UGC must be focused on creating an engaging and relevant shopping experience that’s continuously tested and designed to make ecommerce authentic and frictionless.
Damien Mahoney, Chief Strategy Officer at Nosto, the commerce experience platform