Driving commerce through content

How Rent the Runway and Sephora use social media to sell products and communicate with customers beyond the transaction

A lively and well-attended panel discussion Sunday at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show on the rapidly evolving role of social media in retail was moderated by Alexis DeSalva Kahler, senior analyst, retail and ecommerce, for market research firm Mintel. Joining her were Layla Amjadi, product lead for Instagram Shopping; Amy Eschliman, senior vice president for client engagement at Sephora; Alicianne Rand, vice president of growth marketing at Rent the Runway; and Asher Rapkin, head of Messenger and emerging platforms, global business marketing, for Facebook.

“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.” Rent the Runway has “incredible word-of-mouth testimonials, and that comes to life in the form of a sense that our customers are part of something revolutionary. We’ll have something like 500,000 customer testimonials on the site at any given moment, and they are really unfiltered, raw and brutally honest.”

We make a concerted effort to make it easier to shop, and to make that transition from inspiration to maybe pushing a checkout button as easy as possible.

Amy Eschliman, Sephora

“How do you determine,” Kahler asked, “whether content is authentic?”

“I think our social media team has done an amazing job of delivering content to our community that they’re interested in,” Sephora’s Eschliman said. “And that sensitivity to customers does not preclude us from being more commerce-oriented. We make a concerted effort to make it easier to shop, and to make that transition from inspiration to maybe pushing a checkout button as easy as possible.”

Another component of social media marketing, at least for Rent the Runway, is the ability to find and foster sub-communities: There’s one group of women in broadcasting, who are under particular pressure to look good on a daily basis. Another group is made up of women who work for Goldman Sachs.

“I think the million-dollar question, for me and for all of us,” Kahler said, “is how does this all work?” The answer, not surprisingly, was, it varies. Panelists were unanimous in the necessity for social media in today’s retail world, and equally unanimous in agreeing that the whole scene is changing very rapidly.

For Sephora, a breakthrough was enabling community members to easily set up an in-store treatment or session online. “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.”

As to what’s next, it’s anybody’s guess. Communities, the consensus was, will be very important. They’ll also be more fractured and one-to-one. What’s certain is that social media will remain a central aspect of digital marketing — and commerce.

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