The Content Crush - How Social Media Is Influencing Commerce, and What Retailers Can Do to Keep Up

Managing Editor
Rethink Retail

February 04, 2020

At one time in history, a time not long ago, primetime television spots and glossy print advertisements were the chief alpha points of customer acquisition. A 30 second commercial during ER or Seinfeld would instantly place a brand into the homes and minds of millions of viewers. A two-page spread in Marie Claire or Good Housekeeping could move inventory faster than the fall of Tower Records.

Then came the digital revolution

And as the world continues to become a more connected domain, an interesting—and perhaps paradoxical—side effect has emerged: the way we socialise, and even the way we view ourselves as individuals, has become more niche.

In result, new specialty brands are launching websites and cutting ribbons every day—all in an effort to fill whatever gluten-free soda-sized hole is left in the market. From Netflix to Nespresso, subscription boxes to Spotify, today’s consumers are now living in a world that is increasingly becoming more custom fit.

Fortunately, as social media continues to disrupt the way we communicate, it has also built complex, digital communities of people based on shared interests, values, location and demographics that can all be reached through a simple swipe of the finger.

Last month at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show, Rent the Runway’s Alicianne Rand and Facebook Messenger’s Asher Rapkin linked up with Instagram Shopping’s Product Lead, Layla Amjadi, and Amy Eschliman, Senior Vice President for Client Engagement at Sephora, to discuss the widening power of social commerce.

Originally launched in 2009 as a gown rental service for weddings and formals, Rent the Runway earned a $1 billion evaluation last year and has an estimated 100,000 active subscribers.The-Content-Crush-Secondary-Image-2400x2361-1.png

Rand, who serves as Rent the Runway’s Vice President of Growth Marketing, told attendees that 53 percent of RTR’s customers are introduced to the fashion rental company through a social post or word-of-mouth.

As evidenced by Rent the Runway’s success, social marketing—particularly through ambassador programs and user-generated content—is becoming a key marketing strategy for retailers and, depending on demographic, may be the most effective.

Recent studies indicate that traditional marketing tactics don’t work on millennial and Gen-Z consumers. Brought up in an era bombarded with information, consumers under the age of 40 are looking to their family, friends and peers to help them filter through the noise.

That’s why Rent the Runway is focusing its efforts on building a network of "hardcore super users," that, according to Rand, will help the company continue to gain testimonials and referrals (RTR currently has over 500,000 customer testimonials on their site), while also giving its most-loyal customers an opportunity to become a piece of the brand’s story.


As the role brick and mortar continues to evolve, retailers are increasingly using social media to connect digital users to their real-world stores.

Sephora’s partnership with Facebook Messenger is a great example of how brands can work with social platforms to provide a more seamless experience in their physical stores.

The beauty retailer has teamed up with Facebook Messenger to allow its customers to create in-store service bookings directly from their social media accounts—a move, Eschliman says, has helped Sephora to reduce its number of booking no-shows.

In beauty, people have to deal with the products in person—there’s no other way, Eschliman said. So, we needed to drive traffic into the stores.

Although they are retailers with two entirely different business models, Rent the Runway and Sephora have both benefitted tremendously from the powerful influence of social media. By engaging consumers on their own turf and by their own terms, these trail-blazing retailers are able to establish an authentic connection with their clients, thus earning the trust of the new, not-so-easily acquired generations.

Our community is everything to us, Rand said. We firmly believe that our ability to harness the power of our customers and amplify their voice — that is our growth strategy.


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