Socially Savvy: coping with customer stampedes fuelled by the new breed of online influencers

June 13, 2019 Claranet Limited

The growing importance of social influencers on consumer purchase behaviour is changing the nature of traffic flow to retailer websites. The role didn’t even exist five years ago, but the value of the Instagram influencer market alone is now estimated to reach $2.3 billion next year. That’s a seriously interesting channel for retailers, but the peaks in demand they fuel can be so extreme and unpredictable that some brands risk failing to cope when a surge in interest overloads their web systems and servers.  

So, what needs to be done?

The story so far
2018 proved to be one of the biggest years for social media driving sales. According to research late last year by GlobalWebIndex, three in ten US and UK consumers ‘strongly agreed’ that the channel would play a role in their gift purchases over Christmas.

Supporting this, Instagram ramped up its shopping functionality over the same period with the ability to purchase via tags in Stories. Meanwhile, Pinterest made millions of Pins shoppable, with up-to-date pricing and information.

The real power of influencer marketing
The strength of influencer marketing as a channel for spreading brand awareness is gaining momentum as well. To put the scale of this into perspective, take a look at Tiana Wilson in the UK. Her number one YouTube video on Toys and Me has 71 million views. Compare this to the most watched TV broadcast in the UK of all time: the 1966 England and Germany FIFA World Cup Final (38 million viewers).

"Unless the technology is in place, e-commerce teams will struggle to keep their websites running."

It appears to be paying off as well.
According to the GlobalWebIndex findings, 54% of UK and US millennials questioned said they discovered a new brand or product through sponsored posts with deliberate promotion, 53% via recommendations on social media, and 41% through celebrity posts.

A new way of self-promotion? Shrewd retailers – particularly those in the fashion and health and beauty sectors – leapt on the bandwagon early and are now cashing in on their carefully-nurtured affiliate connections with bloggers and vloggers. For instance, at Missguided, social media is a core component of the business with advocacy from fashion bloggers such as Carli Bybel leading to intense sales days, when fashion fans rush to the website to find just-released ranges and recommended looks.

Carli’s influence can spike their website traffic x50. 

Keeping websites running
Social media influencers may offer a valuable new route for marketing and increasing revenues, but unless the technology is in place to support these peaks in shopper demand, e-commerce teams can struggle to keep their websites running, meaning sales opportunities are missed.

And today’s online consumers in search of a bargain have little patience. According to the retail data firm, Aberdeen, “Around 5% of organisations say that users have left their website after a one second delay.” One second? Now that’s a technology challenge to get your head around.

"Retailers are wising up to the value of scalable online platforms."

It’s little wonder that so many CIOs are making the case for upgrades to their web platforms, data centres, and network capabilities.

Missguided took on this exact challenge, migrating 170 servers into AWS (Amazon Web Services) within six weeks, moving the whole system onto a completely different architecture, removing all limited bandwidth, and adding a disaster recovery system. With a new database engine in place, through-put on the Missguided website increased from 2 million transactions per minute, to well in excess of 5 million. This means every order can be taken as it arises, with no need to deploy a queuing system or to delay any order processing.

This shows how retailers are wising up to the value of scalable online platforms that continue to perform when traffic, orders, and customer interactions suddenly surge. Accelerated sales growth will only be possible with the right technology and network support in place. At the same time, data security and compliance are reliant on fit-for-purpose platforms and networking infrastructure.

Back to basics
Social media experts recommend a mix of traditional social advertising – alongside word-of-mouth marketing and influencers – as the best strategy to guarantee engagement at trading peaks across the retail year. The beauty of social media for marketing is that brands can time and tailor their messaging and product placement directly to their target audience, and accurately measure results. Analytics and AI can be used to find the optimum means of reaching and engaging with core customer groups, and the right times to do so.

For example, it’s interesting that M&S opted for a cross-channel advertising strategy last Christmas. Aside from its yearly TV spot, during 2018 the brand adopted a mobile-first mindset, including shoppable Instagram posts and programmatic ads. For online-only retailers such as ASOS and boohoo it’s clear that a social strategy is vital, as they have no store network for customer discovery via merchandising, point of sale marketing, and shopper/assistant interaction.

"Retailers who are incredibly nimble at integrating those technologies will be the winners."

Securing the sale
As shopping becomes increasingly digital, social media is set to have a growing impact. That means retail brands building out a strategy that capitalises on social media's growing commerce initiatives. As we’re all learning, social offers the chance to have an impact at all stages of the purchase journey, from fashion trends and gift inspiration, all the way through to clicking to purchase. It’s just a matter of removing any friction, and providing safe, reliable systems to secure every important sale. 

But all this requires retailers blending their businesses with tech. As Lila Snyder, president of global e-commerce at Pitney Bowes commented recently: 

"To be able to build, maintain, and innovate all those different technologies, continuing the margin pressure they’re under, is nearly impossible. We’ll continue to see retailers pick their spots on the technologies they want to own and be great at. We’re going to see more and more retailers tapping into technology partners who can help them.

"Retailers who are incredibly nimble at integrating those technologies will be the winners."

Key takeaways:

  • The rise of social influencers has given retailers an effective new way to reach out to customers.

  • But the rush to buy is straining legacy tech to breaking point.

  • Cloud platforms such as AWS, Azure, and Google are enabling retailers to scale up when there is a spike in demand.

  • This is a great example of technology serving as a business enabler, not a business blocker.

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