The Retailer’s Guide to E-commerce – Part 2: Social Media Marketing

In this week’s article, we focus on the world of social media marketing for retailers. We’ll look at some ways of rapidly building your audience when you're starting out, the use of paid advertising on social media and how to work with influencers.

social media marketing for retail

In part one of the retailer’s guide to e-commerce traffic, we looked at some of the fundamental elements of e-commerce and digital marketing. We looked at how to optimise your site so it can be found for relevant searches from your ideal customers, how to leverage the power of Google in search and shopping ads and how to build and manage a list of eager buyers through email marketing.

In this week’s article, we focus on the world of social media marketing for retail.

We’ll look at some ways of rapidly building your audience when you’re starting out, the use of paid advertising on social media and how to work with influencers.

It’s time to get social!

Social Media for Independent Retailers

smartphone with the instagram app open

It is fair to say that social media has changed the landscape of retail marketing forever as it gives a free platform to businesses to promote themselves.

Building a community on social media is still important but creating useful content which brings down barriers to sales is more important. Despite what you might think, it’s possible to be a perfectly successful e-commerce business without a blue tick on Instagram!

Social media presents the opportunity to:

  • tell more of your story
  • overcome uncertainty about what your store offers, what it looks like and what people should expect
  • reach new potential customers with the in-built endorsement that their friend already follows you
  • build trust by gathering positive reviews for your shop
  • overcome common objections from the shop floor by offering product demonstrations
  • educe returns with detailed fit guides, and
  • deal with customer queries at any time of the day or night.

However, channels like Facebook and Instagram will only show your content to some of your followers at no cost (estimates are currently between 2% and 5% of your followers). This article from social media scheduling tool Hootsuite does a good job of giving you the detail on how the algorithm works. But to summarise, the success of your efforts on social media will depend on your consistency, quality of content and importantly, your investment in social advertising.

Meta (the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp) rewards business pages that spend money on advertising. Advertisers who use a variety of ad objectives and aren’t always sending users off Facebook or Instagram to their e-commerce site will enjoy the greatest success.

Luckily, while costs have increased in recent years, social advertising is still highly cost-effective and just a couple of hundred pounds per month will dramatically increase your success in social media marketing.

Giveaways and social media

a smartphone screen with popular social media apps for retailers such as facebook

Giveaways can be a shortcut to building an audience but should be deployed sparingly and tactically to achieve set objectives as they can be harmful in the long run.

It’s important to remember that all social media platforms are learning machines and they learn what you teach it.

With giveaways, often people will ask for a like and follow or a ‘like and tag someone in the comments’ (both of which are actually against Facebook rules so should be avoided).

But those people following you in return for the chance of winning something, might not be your ideal audience and are less likely than your average follower to engage with your posts in the future. If the algorithm spots poor engagement it will start limiting the reach of your current and future posts.

Additionally, the ‘virality’ of giveaway posts means that people re-sharing and liking might be far out of your e-commerce site’s service area, so are essentially ‘wasted’ impressions.

Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Giveaways

Do use them sparingly – It’s ok to use giveaways, especially when you’re just starting on social media but limit their frequency as overreliance will cheapen your brand and harm your long term reach

Do Make the prize relevant – Giveaway something from your shop, something that you know your target audience will respond to and which marks out all competition entrants as potential future customers.

Don’t ask too much – There is a huge variety of possible ‘entry mechanics’ for a giveaway – the least commitment from users will normally be the most highly engaged with, so strike a balance between what you’re asking of users and the value of the prize. A simple ‘like this post’ to enter is the easiest and often most successful competition type. No one wants to have to follow three different accounts, like a post, tag a friend and re-share to their Insta stories and grid in return for a small prize.

Stick to the rules – it’s actually against Meta’s terms of service to require someone to follow a page or tag a friend to enter a competition. And if you use these specific terms in your post you’ll notice fewer impressions as the algorithm will work against you. So check out this article on Meta’s competition guidelines before you start using giveaways on social media.

Influencer Marketing

an instagram influencer with a sillly hat sips her flat white on the steps of a public square

If you run a fashion store you’ll no doubt already be well aware of the world of online influencers. But an influencer exists for every type of retail shop.

A bit of online research will quickly reveal people posting popular content in your niche.

How to choose the right influencer to work with:

  • Consistency – the first thing is to look for people who post good quality content consistently
  • Audience relevance – They might have a million followers on Tiktok but if your audience is professionals aged 50+ they are unlikely to be a good fit for promoting your shop. Have a look through the comments on their posts and ask yourself if you can see those people shopping with you.
  • Content Relevance – do their posts relate to your product? Do they use products such as yours in their videos or photos? Do you see their followers asking questions about what products they use? Fitness influencers have huge follower numbers but many of those followers are just there to ogle – if you’re not offering products in the fitness world, they are unlikely to be a good match.
  • Engagement – Do their posts receive positive reactions from followers? They might have a million followers but when they post does anybody like comment, re-share? A high follower-low engagement ratio can be a warning sign that this account has bought fake followers or is just bad at what they do!

a group of young women take a selfie surrounded by their retail purchases

Don’t dismiss influencers with small follower numbers. Micro-influencers are more likely to have good levels of engagement with their posts, less promoted content and are usually more approachable and less expensive to use to promote your store.

What constitutes a micro-influencer will depend on that person’s level of notoriety in your target area. If you’re targeting the UK nationally, a micro-influencer might have 50-100k followers. If you’re targeting just your region and a specific niche, a micro-influencer could be someone with just 5k followers if they are highly engaged and local to you.

How to work with influencers

Be prepared to pay – Some influencers may consider working with an exceptionally well-regarded brand for no charge to increase their level of exposure or in return for gifted products. However, the vast majority of reasonably sized influencers want to be paid for the time and energy they put into creating content.
Appreciate their work – being an influencer or ‘content creator,’ is a full-time job for many and as such, they want fair payment for what they do.
Understand the value – the trade-off is not only exposing your brand to a relevant audience, it is an endorsement from an influential and trusted person AND some professionally produced content.
Collaborate – People follow this creator for their particular style, taste level and personality. If you insist on writing a script or text to accompany a post and start art directing their photography, it will not only annoy the influencer but it will damage their credibility with their audience.
Get to know them – Follow a selection of influencers in your niche for at least a month to get a sense of their content style and how much brand work they typically do. Like, comment and engage with them during this first month. If they respond positively, approach them directly via DM and ask if they are open to collaborating with your shop.
Be nice – Higher level influencers will likely be upfront straight away about whether they require payment or if they’re open to working with you in return for a gifted product. If they do ask for payment and you don’t have the budget, politely defer but leave the door open to creating a personal relationship with them. Invite them to an in-store event with no obligation for them to post anything. Making them a friend of your shop can pay dividends in the longer term.


Launching an e-commerce website is no longer the arduous, high investment task it once was. With a few clicks, using a simple self-serve platform such as Shopify, most retailers can launch a simple online shop themselves.

However, creating a site is only the first step in your multichannel journey.

woman holds credit card as she shops online

E-commerce can be highly profitable and presents independent retailers with an opportunity to become national or even international retailers. The trick is to invest again in getting people to your website, ensuring they are the right people and finally, that your site is designed to make it as easy as possible for them to buy from you.

If you’ve recently started your e-commerce business here are four steps to take today:

  1. Get comfortable with Google Analytics and analyse how people find your site, what keywords they use to get there, what social platforms they link from and where your areas of strength and weakness are.
  2. Integrate your EPOS system with your e-commerce system and your accounts system to reduce the workload of running your multichannel business
  3. Start advertising on social media – simply boosting your posts is an easy start but using Meta’s ad manager opens up more precise targeting options when you’re comfortable to progress. You can even have a sneak peek at what ads your competitors are using.
  4. Use a keyword research tool such as Ubersuggest to analyse your competitor’ sites to understand the pages and keywords which are bringing them the most traffic. Then plan to improve upon their content to beat them on the search results page.

Missed part one of this guide? Read it now to find out about email marketing, SEO and Google ads for retailers.

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