Stores across the country were forced to shut down physical operations as many states placed restrictions on indoor activities when COVID-19 struck. The business impact of the pandemic means that consumers are shifting more of their time online. So the question presents itself; how can companies adapt to social distancing and deliver more personalized online shopping experiences?
One answer is with user–generated content (UGC). UGC offers a way for brands to build more authenticity into their marketing and often leads to more sales. UGC is 35% more memorable than other media, and 50% more trusted. If that’s not enough to convince you, UGC-based ads also get 4x higher click-through rates than traditional branded ads.
Here we’ll look at how you can reflect in-store experiences online during shutdowns and how UGC can bring an authentic look to your brand.
1. Implement Live Chat
Live chat allows a company’s website visitors to chat with a customer service representative or a bot programmed to address shoppers’ needs. Shoppers can type in a question and receive a faster response than through email or support tickets. Live chat is rated as one of the top support channels. In 2020, more than 41% of online shoppers already expect the live chat functionality on websites they visit.
Face-to-face interaction is no longer a typical part of the shopping experience in 2020, but addressing customer inquiries with live chatting may be as close as you can get.
It’s important to respond promptly, as taking too long can leave shoppers with a negative impression. Consider hiring customer support representatives to handle live chat inquiries, or implementing AI chatbots.
2. Offer Personalized Recommendations
Personalization is one area where online shopping often beats in-store shopping. While retail stores focus on generalized layouts and styles for days at a time, websites don’t have that same rigid structure. Online stores can utilize shoppers’ previous interactions and activities to create a more personalized shopping experience.
Online shoppers today prefer personalized experiences. 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop from brands that offer relevant product recommendations.
If you sell on platforms like Shopify, there are plugins available that let you display product recommendations based on pages visitors previously viewed. Pixlee’s shoppable Instagram app on Shopify also allows websites to implement UGC galleries and track which content performs best.
3. Utilize UGC Efficiently
Speaking of UGC, you can take your personalization efforts even further by using content from customers directly in your website and promotional emails, a scalable and efficient approach. When shoppers see other real-life consumers engaging with your products, it’s easier for them to visualize themselves making that purchase and becoming a part of your brand community. It’s been said time and time again that your best marketing asset is your passionate customers because of the authenticity and relatability UGC conveys to the potential buyer, a remedy for the lack of authentic in-person shopping.
UGC is also very accessible and convenient for most brands with the right approach. Once you identify what UGC you’d like to feature, whether that be on a website display, promo email, or shoppable gallery of your products, you can get permission to use that content, and it will automatically appear on your selected web pages. While customers can no longer physically touch and examine a product in their hands like you can in a store, highlighting media from that product in action is a great alternative.
Furniture brand Kirkland’s keeps customers engaged during stay-at-home by syncing UGC and influencer content across all of its marketing channels, showcasing the interiors of their consumers’ homes to inspire future buyers.
Customers who engaged with Pixlee’s UGC on their site were a staggering 263% more likely to return, and average order value rose 14%. UGC has been proven to boost sales while giving your customers a more authentic shopping experience.
4. Upgrade Your Website Design
50 milliseconds — that’s how long it takes for users to form an opinion of your website based on its visual appeal. A modern web design is key to your website’s engagement return rate, and including UGC in an aesthetically pleasing fashion plays a significant role in this. This is where gallery designs and content curation come into play; being able to select which posts to feature on your site gives you the power to shape the overall visuals and themes of your users’ experience.
Catalina Island Company promotes its Descanso Beach Club dining experience with a bright collection of customer content in an interactive gallery. These images both add vibrance to the page and get site visitors thinking about vacation.
5. Build a Brand Community with Social Media
Your brand simply cannot afford to overlook social media in the current digital age. 29% of people use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to conduct product research, and the pandemic has accelerated social media usage as it is a great way to stay connected to others while at home.
But just posting about your products or services isn’t enough to garner attention. You need to get creative to really stand out. Create more engaging experiences with your audience through social media contests, a technique that not only makes customers feel embraced by your brand but can also generate an abundance of UGC for marketing purposes
One example comes from Zappos. The company launched the #ImNotABox campaign, which encouraged users to reuse their shoeboxes and share their creations on social media.
Think about your own products or services and how you can get your followers involved. Kickstarting successful social media contests often begins with a hashtag unique to your brand that users can include in their posts. This way, you’re able to reshare and celebrate content from your brand community, giving you more content and giving your brand a more authentic and connected feel.
Don’t just focus solely on social media though. Consider working with influencers or affiliates to create deeper social connections with your brand.
6. Add Value Beyond the Sale
The ongoing pandemic has not only created uncertainty for many businesses, but also for customers who may not know when and if they can get their orders fulfilled. Brands need to connect with customers to keep them purchasing or engaged, even when they’re out of stock. The best way to do that is by creating a community affiliated with your brand, accomplished by social media contests and other interactive UGC campaigns.
Beyond just sales, Kirkland’s created a kitchen gallery for their fans to share different recipes and tips for cooking during shelter-in-place orders. Fans can also vote on their favorite dishes, making the online experience feel genuine.
UGC doesn’t just mean customers posing with your product to directly increase your revenue; building a group of diverse customers who can interact with each other and your brand produces a real connection. This connection is what drives loyal customers and brand success in the long run.
7. Listen to What Your Customers Are Saying
The most successful companies are those that utilize the voice of the customer (VOC) techniques — research methods that capture what customers are saying about a brand. Customer-generated product content leader TurnTo works with Pixlee to combine these voices with visual content, putting all the tools in your brand’s toolbox to represent your fanbase in all dimensions.
The voice of the customer not only speaks to other prospective buyers but also the brand itself. Ratings and reviews can go beyond offering insight for other customers; they can also inform future product design and brand strategies. Listening to your customers gives you valuable insight that you can use to create better content and deliver engaging online experiences.
Bringing the in-store experience online is more important as consumers around the world stay sedentary due to the pandemic. The good news is there are countless ways you can do this, from implementing live chat to offering product recommendations and utilizing AR. Above all, harnessing your brand’s UGC can promote authenticity and trust with your community while also driving sales.
About the Author: Ezekiel has a special affinity with numbers and patterns, on top of being a natural at PR. This gives him the edge when it comes to SEO analytics and advertising strategy.