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Are Influencers the New Visual Merchandisers?

Retailers will need to utilize a mix of e-commerce and digital marketing principles to remain relevant in the post-COVID-19 era.




DURING THE PAST year, I, like (probably) all of you, have done my fair share of online shopping and have spent countless hours using search engines trying to find the right item. To be frank, I’m not all that impressed by the poor quality pictures, bad descriptions and outright waste of time it takes to finally land on “the” desired item. (And don’t get me started on shipping and the often-incorrect information supplied by the brands!)

For all the hype at NRF’s Big Show these past few years about e-commerce, it is clear to me that the in-store experience (when you can get into a store) is far superior.

Yet, I cannot help but believe the online world is not only here to stay, especially after the past year and seismic shifts in consumer behavior, but with an evolving twist that demands our attention. Influencers are about to become a big part of our world.

Vogue spoke of this phenomenon last year, stating, “Influencers are the retailers of the 2020s!” Many publications have focused on the marketing side only, but it’s clear in the soon-to-be post-COVID-19 world that social media influencers are here to stay, and they will play a significant role in a retailer’s overall experience strategy in the future.

So why the strong statement about the role of visual merchandising? Well, we know the impact of strong visuals is undeniably central to what is considered an exceptional consumer experience and “influence” to buy. The issue is that visual merchandisers are behind the scenes, not talking directly to the consumer in the preferred (digital) channels of the day.

I think the “next store” will be driven by retailers who bring visual merchandising to the forefront in their conversations in social and other digital media. While some may think of this as the next evolution of the “personal shopper,” I think it is much more. Much like a curator whose influence is aligned with your own shopping styles, these professionals know how to present merchandise in its best light – something that seems to elude the current generation of e-comm sites.

According to Chief Marketer, there are five ways in which influencers are transforming retail sales: by making online recommendations that generate trust; by conducting research and writing reviews that reshape the path to purchase; by engaging in authentic storytelling that resonates with the consumer; by sharing product experiences that come alive via visual platforms; and by using mobile to dramatically impact point-of-purchase sales.

I predict that brands, and even single stores on the High Street, will hire one or more influencers to shape the store experience, the merchandise offering and styling (in-store and online) to align and identify with the shopper who very likely may be miles away versus at the physical store looking at the windows and in-store displays. Retail is no longer about the lease line, but rather how your offer connects with target groups and enhances their self-image and overall needs.

I recently spoke to the founder of G&B Digital Management, a Los Angeles-based relationship management agency for digital content creators that’s expanding into online courses that teach people how to become influencers. Founder and President Kyle Hjelmeseth said the course is the result of what he sees as new needs from brands. He said he believes the day is coming when brands hire digital talent to take the work of visual merchandisers IRL into a new realm of online digital marketing and personality association with brands. That work might include hosting events, directing social media and, yes, influencing store visual merchandising to fit the context they’ve crafted to build followers and, most importantly, customers.

Influencer marketing firm Influence Central (another great resource to explore) found that in e-commerce reviews, 95 percent of women say they consider insights found online more helpful than input from a salesperson. Thus the power of influencer marketing coupled with a strong brand personality is a recipe for outright success in the 2020s.

Need more evidence? Business Insider reports that brands are set to spend up to $15 billion on the influencer market by 2022. In 2019 that figure was $8 billion.

It’s clear our industry is shifting, and the next store must utilize a new talent bank that drives us beyond the old paradigm. I say it’ll happen and is perhaps already overdue. The real upside is that influencers will move us back into dialogue with the most important audience of all – the consumer.

Brian Dyches is Principal of Los Angeles-based Ensemble, a partner outsourcing firm for global architects specializing in BIM, Architectural Production, Interior Design, Interactive Experience, Visualization and MetaUniverse.



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