How retailers adapted their marketing during the pandemic

By Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO of TAKUMI.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the retail sector, forcing the closure of brick-and-mortar stores, and casting a shadow of doubt over the future of the in-store experience – with the collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams being cases in point.

In the place of high street retailers, online giants such as ASOS and Boohoo have emerged. Their touted purchase of Debenhams and Arcadia brands is a sign of the direction retail is travelling – accelerating a trend that was already growing pre-pandemic.

The abrupt shifts caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdowns left many high street retailers scrambling to keep up with their online rivals. The race to serve and attract consumers through digital channels is on.

Explosion of retail brands on social media

In August, our whitepaper, Into the Mainstream: Influencer Marketing in Societywhich surveyed over 3,500 consumers, marketers, and influencers across the US, UK, and Germany, found that almost three-quarters of marketers (73%) upped spend on influencer marketing in the past 12 months, with spending significantly increasing in the retail (79%) sector.

Similarly, in response to the pandemic limiting the number of marketing channels available, marketers have been exploring additional social media sites: over the next year, 58% of marketers said they’d consider working with influencers on YouTube, followed by a further 55% on Instagram, 35% on TikTok, 20% on Twitch, and 10% on Triller.

How have social media firms responded?

The shift of retail brands onto social media has resulted in apps improving their e-commerce capabilities.

Late last year, Instagram redesigned its layout to give more prominence to its Shopping and Reels tab.

Ever since its purchase by Facebook in 2012, Instagram has been evolving into the e-commerce hub of choice on social media, and the pandemic – and the subsequent increase in brands using the app – has accelerated these trends.

The transformation of Instagram from solely a content and social commerce hub will continue this year, and, with more brands using the site to connect with consumers, we expect the app to integrate Facebook pay into its shopping tab, allowing users to make one-click purchases in app.

However, Instagram isn’t the only app boosting its e-commerce capabilities in the wake of the pandemic.

Last October, TikTok announced a global partnership with the e-commerce platform Shopify, which will enable over a million Shopify merchants to create, run and optimise TikTok marketing campaigns that will attract consumers from TikTok’s growing user base.

Similarly, TikTok owner Bytedance launched a new payment service with Douyin in China last month, which will allow users to make purchases within the short-form video app.

What does this mean for influencers

The above additions are a sign of things to come in the social media space and brands and influencers will have to adapt to guarantee success.

For influencers, this adaptation will involve shying away from posed-for posts in favour of more authentic and engaging content. To achieve this, influencers should prioritise maintaining a consistent message on their account, especially as our whitepaper, Trust, transactions and trend-setters: The realities of influencer marketingfound that 67% of UK consumers would unfollow an influencer if they misrepresented themselves or their lifestyle and engaged in disingenuous brand partnerships.

To remain relevant in this changing environment, brands will explore new channels to maintain connections with consumers. As a result, influencer marketing will continue to become more important to brands, and will command a larger section of budget with each passing year. Although this will result in more work for influencers, creators must ensure that the brand partnership matches their profile, otherwise, they risk turning off followers.

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