Charlotte Russe Aims to Turn Pictures Into Profits

Instagram may simply be a mobile photo gallery to some. But for Charlotte Russe, the photo-sharing network provides a place to turn snaps into sales.

A clothing and accessories retailer, Charlotte Russe primarily targets females 15 to 25 years old. Research shows that this younger demographic makes up a significant portion of Instagram’s population. In fact, 37% of online adults 18 to 29 years old use Instagram, according to data released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project last January.

Kristen Strickler knew how engaged this segment could be from working as the global public relations and social media marketing manager for Forever 21—a fashion retailer that also targets young adults. So when she joined Charlotte Russe as the brand’s social media and public relations manager this past June, she planned to enhance its social media presence.

“My primary focus in starting has been really to amp up the social media program,” she says.

Shortly after joining, Strickler noticed an uplift in sales for a particular item that Charlotte Russe had posted on Instagram. Store employees also told her that customers were asking for items that they had seen in the retailer’s feed, and patrons left comments on Instagram photos inquiring where they could find the pictured product.

Recognizing a need for a seamless social shopping experience, Strickler began to experiment. She knew that Instagram didn’t allow users to include clickable links in images’ copy. Actually, the only place where users can include clickable links is in their profile information. So Strickler began including product ID numbers in the copy instead to help direct users to the items shown. She even tried geo-tagging posts with product ID numbers to present the information in a different way. Either way, both methods required customers to write down the ID number, go to charlotterusse.com, and type the number into the search bar.  

Despite these setbacks, Strickler continued to dive deeper into Charlotte Russe’s social strategy. By the end of the summer she had decided to implement Curalate’s Pinterest and Instagram analytics capabilities. During the customer sign-on process, she learned that the visual marketing platform provider was launching a solution that enables customers to shop products featured in brands’ Instagram feeds—a tool called Like2Buy. She decided to become a beta customer and rolled out the technology in less than a week. 

Like2Buy allows brands to aggregate all of their shoppable Instagram photos onto one central gallery page. Using Curalate’s platform, marketers can select which Instagram images they want to feature in their shopping gallery. They can then link each image on the gallery page to a corresponding product URL. This enables marketers to direct users to specific product pages once they click on those images. Marketers can even use Curalate’s platform to track metrics, such as number of visits and outbound clicks, to determine which images are performing the best. To help drive traffic to their Like2Buy pages, brands can simply post a link to the online gallery within their profile information on Instagram.

Not only does Charlotte Russe feature its own Instagram images on its Like2Buy page, but the retailer also showcases photos by customers and influencers. Relying on posts from outside sources helps cut down Charlotte Russe’s workload, Strickler says, especially considering that the women’s apparel company posts about three times a day. Plus, leveraging posts from influencers, such as blogger Hey! It’s Anna Banana!, makes Charlotte Russe seem like a fashion authority. In fact, seeing how other customers and influencers wear an item can sometimes answer customers’ styling questions, Strickler adds. User-generated content also helps the retailer connect with its customers by giving them their 15 minutes of fame and displaying its products in a way that’s more natural. Customers would much rather see pictures of Charlotte Russe’s clothes laid out on the floor than on a model, Strickler says.

“I think that it’s a relatability thing…. It’s just less advertising in your face and more organic and what [customers] would normally do,” she explains.

To help drive traffic to its Like2Buy page, Charlotte Russe promoted the online destination through email marketing and other social channels. Not only has Charlotte Russe generated thousands of unique visits to its Like2Buy gallery since launching, but the retailer has also experienced a high return rate. In fact, on an average day, 61% of users that clicked on Like2Buy did so more than once. What’s more, 60% of Like2Buy visitors clicked through to product pages—this resulted in more than 13,000 clicks to the brand’s website within the first six weeks.

From the perspective of Apu Gupta, Curalate’s CEO and cofounder, Like2Buy addresses two major challenges that retailers often face with social: demonstrating ROI and creating moments of discovery for e-commerce. In terms of linking social to ROI, brands can now generate measurable traffic to their product pages by associating their Like2Buy gallery images with corresponding URLs. As for generating discovery, Like2Buy puts all of a brand’s shoppable photos into one central place, including those that may have gotten buried in a feed over time—thus extending the life of a post, Gupta explains.

“Physical stores lend themselves to discovery,” he says. “You walk in, you look left, [and] there’s some objects there. You look right, [and] there’s some more stuff there. Maybe you weren’t thinking about those things, but you can discover. E-com doesn’t really have that, yet discovery is a big part of purchasing.”

Still, the platform isn’t perfect. For instance, linking an image featuring multiple items to the appropriate product page remains a challenge. An Instagram image displaying an outfit may feature several items, including jeans, a sweater, and a pair of high heels. A customer looking at the image may be interested in the sweater. But when that customer clicks on the picture, she’s whisked away to a product page for the high heels. Some brands are able to display multiple products simultaneously once a customer clicks through an image, Gupta says; however, this is dependent on that brand’s technology—not Curalate’s. “The multi-product scenario is an area that we want to work on,” he says. 

While there’s no magic formula for driving conversion through social, Gupta recommends educating customers on how to shop through Instagram; for instance, including a simple “shop our profile link” call-to-action in an image’s copy. He also discourages marketers from being “spammy”—such as by asking people to include their email address in an Instagram image’s comment section—and advises them to put their customers’ needs before their own.

“Brands have a tendency to think about themselves first,” he says. “They need to think about how their consumers behave, start thinking about how they can create initiatives that dovetail nicely with how their consumers think and behave, and then fit in with that thinking.”

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