The eCommerce of Instagram: How Augmented Reality and Influencers Drive Virtual Sales

Once upon a time, American shopping malls were the ideal destination for a retail experience. According to a 2017 New York Times article, one new shopping mall had been built in the United States every year since the 1950s. The estimated peak of shopping malls fell around 1986. 

Since then, the decline of malls has become a hot topic of conversation with thousands of retail locations closing every year. While the actual cause of the mall decline is up for debate, the rising cost of renting retail space is a definite factor. The Mall of America is one of the largest retail shopping centers in the world and charges a base rent of $2,500-$9,000 per month–a price point that not many brands can afford. 

Retail Footfall Declines Dramatically

According to Business Insider, at least 19 brands have filed for bankruptcy or liquidation, with more closures anticipated before the end of the year. The list of closures includes once-notable names like Gymboree, Diesel and the 72-year-old chain Fred’s. 

Even Forever 21, the fast-fashion giant of the past few years, publicly filed for bankruptcy and announced the closure of numerous U.S. and international stores. This unexpected closure is attributed to a universal change in consumer tastes, using the rise and fall of Forever 21 as a figurehead of the movement.

As consumer shopping trends continue to change in an increasingly digital landscape, brands are looking for other ways to showcase their products and drive sales in a market that no longer includes brick and mortar locations. The answer is social media. Foot traffic is dying down at malls, but the increase in digital consumer traffic allows brands to shift their sales strategies towards online applications.

New Features Boost eCommerce on Social Media

On March 19, Instagram announced a new shopping feature called Checkout. This allows users to purchase products from brands and advertisers directly through Instagram without ever having to leave the app. This encourages point-and-click sales with consumers by minimizing the amount of steps taken to purchase an item. 

Although this service is being beta tested with fashion and beauty brands, Instagram anticipates it spreading to other major industries as well. Instagram Checkout revolutionizes what brands are able to do within a digital space and caters to the interconnected lifestyles of newer generations. With 2/3 of the world’s Internet users on social media, it makes sense that the next move for retailers would be to explore new avenues that consumers can test and try their products. 

However, while Instagram allows users to browse through stylized images of products and items, a key point of the mall experience is the ability to try on articles of clothing or styles of makeup. Brands and advertisers are being faced with a new question: how do you simulate the mall experience within a digital application? 

Augmented Reality Brings the Mall to Consumers

As technology continues to advance, so do the methods that brands and advertisers are using to connect with their audiences. The rise of virtual influencers contributed to virtual fashion models, virtual runway shows and other avenues to explore products or services–all while existing solely within digital formats. 

Virtual creations allowed brands to present their products in a highly curated and stylized way where consumers could view the vision of the artist as they intended for it to look. Social media platforms are taking it one step further, by introducing the use of augmented reality–the melding of human reality and a virtually-simulated experience.

Zara Uses AR to Increase Footfall

As early as 2018, retail brands like Zara introduced a new way to experience their stores: through augmented reality. Fast fashion stores have been declining in popularity due in part to rising commerce consciousness in Millennial and Gen Z consumers but also the introduction of an enhanced reality presented a unique way to drive foot traffic towards a physical store. 

Zara’s AR concept included seven-12 second clips of supermodels posing in Zara’s newest releases, while simultaneously allowing users to “shop the looks” presented in the augmented reality videos. This concept allowed users to purchase retail clothing not only in person at a store but also through an app, a strategy that has continued over into 2019. 

Instagram’s AR Offers Virtual “Try On”

In October, Instagram announced that they are letting consumers shop through augmented reality. Brands and advertisers will be allowed to put try-on features on their product pages, where consumers can use AR effects and augmented reality filters to test out items to best suit their stylistic preferences. 

Although cosmetics and eyewear brands are currently the only ones allowed to use this try-on feature, Instagram anticipates that it will eventually extend to all other major industries as well. 

Brands Capitalizing on Technological Advances

The addition of augmented reality to online shopping sounds bizarre, but other brands are embracing it fast. From trying on digital Gucci shoes to testing out Sherwin-Williams paint colors for your living room, augmented reality presents a new way for brands to interact with their consumers in a more direct, meaningful way. 

This presents a new world of opportunity for advertisers and influencers to make more creative partnerships that include augmented elements of virtual reality in their campaigns. With the anticipated success of AR try-ons in the digital market, how can brands capitalize on these technological advances in their marketing strategies?

Maria Lewczyk

Maria Lewczyk

Maria Lewczyk is the PR and Content Specialist at Sideqik. As a digital media maverick, Maria has years of experience in copywriting, publicity, social media, branding strategy, marketing and advertising. As a creative professional, Maria likes to use storytelling to help brands communicate their message and connect to people on a deeper level.

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