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The untapped potential of social proof for fashion retailers

Whether it’s choosing a bustling high-street store over a quieter competitor or scrolling through Instagram to get the latest fashion inspiration, consumers prefer to be guided by the wisdom of the crowd when making a purchase.

This is down to the psychological phenomenon known as social proof. When faced with a decision, we tend to follow others in order to make the best choice.

But social proof isn’t just a psychological tactic to influence consumers. New research shows that consumers view social proof content as a key part of the decision process.

In the report, we surveyed the social proof strategies of IRUK Top 500 retailers and matched them with customer expectations. Surprisingly, despite customers’ interest in social proof, we found that top retailers aren’t using the tactic to its full potential. Apparel and footwear brands in particular are only scratching the surface.

Here, we’ll look at three ways fashion retailers could boost customer engagement using social proof:

Make the most of User-Generated Content (UGC)

UGC is an ideal marketing tactic for a world driven by social media. On Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, your loyal customers can become your best marketers. But many retailers are not capitalizing on the power of UGC to increase engagement on web and email channels.

Younger shoppers are especially receptive to UGC, with two in five (41 percent) of Millennials saying they find photos from other customers useful when making a decision. Yet, only one in five fashion brands we surveyed provides UGC on email and web channels. Adoption was even lower among footwear providers (10%).

Especially clothing and sneaker brands relying on fast-changing trends and consumer sentiment stand to benefit by offering UGC across all channels.

Real time social media feeds can increase click throughs from marketing emails and product listing pages by making shoppers feel part of a tribe. On product detail pages, photos of other customers with the product help shoppers imagine how they will look and feel when they wear the item. Showing how the clothing fits on real people increases trust and lets consumers know what they’re getting. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) also kicks in, as customers see that other shoppers are wearing the latest trend.

Encourage urgency with real time product popularity

We desire items more when they are popular or scarce. This is good news for retailers as FOMO messaging is a quick-win to help fashion brands increase conversions. Marketers can encourage a sense of urgency by using real time stock levels to demonstrate scarcity (“there aren’t many left!) and popularity (“lots of people are buying this!”). This makes clothing more desirable without changing anything about the product or the price, so marketers can drive more sales without excessive discounts and promotions.

And shoppers value this information too. In fact, almost half (43 percent) of consumers prefer to know how many products are left when making a purchase decision. But of the ecommerce retailers we surveyed, fewer than one in ten (8 percent) indicate current stock levels on their website. More surprisingly, not one retailer provides this information in marketing emails.

A similar popularity effect can be achieved by showing how often an item has been purchased or viewed recently. This indicates that stock may run out soon, and shows that the product is creating a buzz – an especially powerful form to nudge shoppers towards a purchase.

Popularity messaging can also enhance the performance of triggered email programs. When a customer receives a cart or browse abandonment email, they have already shown interest in an item. Demonstrating that the viewed product is low in stock or very popular could be the final push that persuades them to click through.

Build trust with ratings and reviews

For shoppers, customer ratings and reviews have become an indispensable part of the decision-making process. Our research found that almost two thirds (61 percent) of consumers find detailed product reviews useful when making a purchase, while more than half (56 percent) look for star ratings. In terms of perceived usefulness, ratings and reviews are topped only by product details and shipping information.

It’s therefore surprising that only one in five (20 percent) fashion merchants has adopted these tactics. Since online shoppers can’t touch or try on clothing as they can in store, feedback from other customers could provide the final puzzle piece in the purchase decision. For the retailer, reviews could also be used to provide customer-led insights for the design of future collections.

The biggest untapped opportunity comes in the form of ratings and reviews in emails. In bulk messages, star ratings spark interest and encourage click throughs. In shopping recovery emails, detailed customer reviews reassure shoppers about the item they were browsing.

Scalable marketing that meets customer expectations

For brands truly looking to engage consumers they must understand the types of social proof tactics available, and map these to customer data insights to identify what’s going to be effective in meeting consumer expectations.

Fashion retailers looking to effectively engage consumers don’t have to rely on expensive influencer marketing campaigns. Tactics such as customer reviews, user-generated content and popularity messaging provide scalable, cost-effective ways to improve the customer experience and drive sales.

Implementing a multi-channel social proof strategy is easier than you might think. Today’s marketing platforms offer a comprehensive set of tools to automatically pull real-time social proof content into emails and web pages.

Learn more about how retailers can extract value from social proof in Fresh Relevance’s upcoming webinar The Retail Social Proof Barometer: How top retailers match up to consumer expectations

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