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It's no secret that Instagram, the popular photo-sharing app that now boasts more than 150 million users, is taking the retail and fashion worlds by storm. In fact, research has shown the platform to be 15 times more engaging than Facebook, and it has achieved the highest year-over-year growth (66 percent) when compared to the top 10 mobile apps. 

In this post, I'll be looking at the top five most popular retailers on Instagram based on Nitrogram's top 50 retailers list, which ranks brands based on their audience numbers as well as the number of posts containing their hashtag. In doing so, I'll hope to distill what they're doing right so you, as a smaller retailer, or even pop-up shop entrepreneur, can start to put the same strategies to work in your business. 

1. Target: Engage the Right Influencers

Associating yourself with celebrities and tastemakers maybe an old trick out of the brand promotion playbook, but when applied to Instagram, it can be a powerful engagement strategy. Not only do you get the attention of that influencer's audience but you also get to position and associate your brand alongside theirs. Hence why companies like Target are keen on it, demonstrated by a recent and exclusive artist partnership with Shakira.

However, you might be thinking as a small retailer, where in the world are you going to get the budget to get Shakira to endorse you? Luckily, you don't have to, especially given the rise of everyday celebrities who've managed to carve a spot for themselves on Instagram by purposefully sharing, commenting, and engaging around a given niche like fashion, beauty, athletics and more.

For example, Target also has a spin-off account on Instagram which ironically has more followers than it's corporate account by the name of "targetdoesitagain", where it partners with fashion blogger Jen Ascot Heart to take followers in its change rooms showcasing its products in stores and styles procured by the all-powerful selfie. To learn more about finding influencers on Instagram, check out this article.

To get started, have a look at this inforgraphic showcasing the top influencers for categories like travel, food, fitness, and home/DIY. Hopefully, this will get you inspired to start searching for and finding relevant influencers when it comes to your particular brand and get you reaching out to them for a mutually-beneficial and promotional partnership. 

2: Harrods: Take Followers to the Runway

This world famous luxury department store, Harrods, knows how to engage its audience by giving their almost 350,000 followers what feels like a VIP backstage pass into the world of high fashion. What does that translate to in terms of they type of posts they put up on Instagram? Let's just say following their accounts feels akin to having a first row seat to the hottest fashion shows imaginable. 

Granting behind the scenes access is great for engagement and it doesn't have to be your brand on stage at Fashion Week. Instead it could be a glimpse into the work culture or ambiance of your store. Heck, you can even build suspense by showcasing the newest shipment of your products arriving. So go ahead and share more than just product photos, give your followers an insight into who you are as a brand and everything that goes along with that.

3: Nordstrom: Tap Into the Cultural Zeitgeist 

There's nothing like getting noticed for finding a creative way to plug your brand and product in alongside an event, happening, or cultural phenomena that's trending or on the tips of everyone's lips. For example, leading up to and on Superbowl Sunday, Nordstrom did a great job of capitalizing on the cultural significance of the event while finding a way to plug their products and their brand along the way. 

I'm not saying you have to do a post parodying the latest Miley Cyrus scandal, which could be a good tactic, but take note of what's popular using tools like Google Trends or Twitter Trends – or ask the next teenager who walks into your store :)   

4: Whole Foods: Show Your True Colors

When it comes to bearing your brand's flag and being proud of your values and what you stand for as a company, no one does a better job of showing it on Instagram than Whole Foods. The company that turned the grocery industry on its head with its chain of locally sourced and a wide range of organic food offerings while maintaining the highest ethical standards. This has also given them a way to connect with their Instagram followers on a different level.

By showcasing their work through its Whole Planet Foundation, the company has struck a nerve on top of its brilliant display of deliciousness and freshness encapsulated in photographs. Take a look to see what I mean. 

Though you may not have your own nonprofit foundation arm providing micro-loans to women in developing countries, your brand does have a personality, values, and reason for it's existence. Why not show them off in creative ways with Instagram to build deeper relationships and further engagement with your audience?  

5: Topman: Delight with Flash Sales

In between sharing beautiful photos of their products on models, celebrities, and in store displays, Topman throws in occasional posts announcing a flash sale or special promotion happening exclusively online or in store for a limited period of time. Now that's what I call surprising and delighting your customers, while taking advantage of the scarcity principle and luring them in to make a purchase. Not only are followers going to like and comment on their regular Instagram posts, they'll also be glued to their feed for the next sale that could be here today and gone tomorrow.

With that, there's nothing stopping you from doing the same with your audience. This brings a double advantage if you happen to be selling both online and offline in that you could do flash sales exclusive to your online store to drive traffic to your site or exclusively at your retail location to drive local foot traffic to your store.

The sky is the limit, however, use this tactic sparingly, and the last thing you want is for your audience to desensitize it to promotional or sales related posts. Pair this with the other tactics to woo your audience on Instagram for a winning combination.

There you have it, a few of the secrets from some of the effective retailers on Instagram ready for you to steal and put to work for your own small business. 

Be sure to let us know what works best for you as an Instagram strategy when it comes to driving sales in the comments below.

P.S. Selling offline or looking to get into physical retail? We've got you covered with Shopify POS


About The Author

Humayun Khan is a Content Crafter at Shopify. He writes for the Shopify Blog covering social media, retail trends and ecommerce strategy. He is also the author of The Ultimate Guide to Business Plans.  Connect with him on  Twitter.