Smart retailers are using visual mediums to capture shoppers in ways previously unavailable. For home furnishings retailers, social, mobile and online channels are converting browsers to shoppers for goods that were once best presented in a showroom.
Thanks to the visual nature of the medium, social is particularly effective for home furnishings retailers.
"Visual is certainly where social is going, and where it is right now," said Lauren Guerrieri, social media manager, Design Within Reach.
"We are a very visual species, our ancestors used to communicate about what was most important to them by drawing on the walls of caves. Today we pin and Instagram and reblog and share the things that are most important to us on social and images," said Apu Gupta, CEO and co-founder, Curalate, an analytics and marketing platform for images. "And now that everybody has a camera in their pocket, it has become incredibly easy for us to create and curate content that is highly visual and highly meaningful. Smart brands like DWR have really come to embrace that, to understand that their customer wants to speak that new language and that they need to speak that language in turn to stay relevant.
DWR was a pioneer in its time. When the company launched in the late 1990s, it was nearly impossible for the average consumer to find well-designed modern furnishings. In a landscape populated by Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel, the company stood out. Thanks, in part, to a print catalog that is still the basis for the retailer's visual strategy today.
"It starts with our catalog for us," Guerrieri said. "Our catalog is essentially this tangible look book and not everybody likes the idea of a catalog. Some people want to see our images in different formats. When I first started at DWR, we were not, you know, interactive with people as much on social and I realized that as soon as we started to really push those images out there, get feedback and then create a strategy around which images are interacted with the most."
It also helped when the retailer revived a customer favorite – the champagne chair contest.
Fans are tasked with creating a chair from the foil, cork, cage and wrap from the top of a champagne bottle. Back in the analog days, those chairs were carefully wrapped, boxed up and sent to the DWR offices.
But digital changed that.
DWR, working with Curalate, created a way to submit photos for the contest via Instagram, mobile phone or desktop. All 710 photos were displayed in a custom gallery on the campaign-landing page. Three contestants were awarded DWR gift cards.
And while the digital medium allowed for more entries, it also allowed DWR to grow its email list through the campaign entry form, then track and measure its reach and impact.
Roughly one million impressions were generated across Instagram via Design Within Reach related hashtags, an increase of 108 percent compared to just 18 days prior.
Design Within Reach's total Instagram follower count grew by 32 percent during the campaign, while engagement with DWR on the site jumped 238 percent.
The power of Pinterest
And then there's Pinterest. The site is fast becoming one of the most powerful marketing tools in retail. A single pin – where users identify an item they like -- signals a product is worth buying. It creates demand and continues to be discovered through search engines and shares.
On average, a Pinterest pin generates more than 10 "repins," according to Piquora Research. Pins are 100 times more viral than tweets and longer lasting. Research shows that more than half of all sales stemming from Pinterest happen roughly 2.5 months after the item is pinned.
"Pinterest has been a really awesome place for us to tell that visual story," said Guerrieri. "Not everybody likes the same look or the same aesthetic, so we give people our best and then they can take the pieces they like and make it a part of their collection. Pinterest is a fun platform because you're letting people curate, but you're allowing them to curate your coveted images. That's something we see a lot of value from."
There's a reach component for initiatives like the champagne chair contest that does not happen when it's sent in physically. So when it's sent in physically the only person that really ends up seeing it, for the most part, is the team at DWR. But when it's shared electronically, it also lives on Instagram, The fan who is submitting the image is also having their fans, or followers, engaging with that photo. So there's a compounding effect.
DWR generated more than a million impressions during the champagne chair contest, thanks to social media. "That's much, much harder to do when you're just physically sending it in the mail," Guerrieri said.
Connecting the digital to physical
In April 2013, DWR announced a store expansion program with plans to increase the company's retail footprint by more than 40,000 sq. ft. by the end of that year in three U.S. cities: Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The showrooms, or studios as the retailer calls them, are larger and feature vignettes.
It's not unlike those that shoppers can create on Pinterest, a nod perhaps to the way shoppers are increasingly interacting with product online.
It's about the data
DWR has partnered with Curalate to mine social media for the data created through the sharing of images. When people post relevant images, the technology gathers the photos and allows DWR to use them across media channels.
"With Curalate, we're able to see not only what's popular, but also what organic content is popular, and that's a huge thing for us," said Guerrieri. "Without those analytics you don't know."
An image on DWR's catalog cover may not resonate with all shoppers across platforms. Discovering what is resonating helps inform DWR's e-commerce and email marketing strategies.
On social media, as consumers start to use images to talk about what's most important to them, they get very specific, producing granular data, said Gupta. Not just that they like a certain chair, but that they like it in a specific color, in a certain room, placed at a specific angle. "It's that level of specificity that we help brands understand. Because with that information you can really go from being a social brand to being a social business."
Making that data accessible, and shareable across an organization leverages the power of social media beyond an image, a pin and a share.