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How Can Retailers Leverage User Generated Content to Increase Sales?

If you’ve looked into marketing options and best practices for your retail business, you may have seen the term “user generated content” being tossed around quite a bit. For retailers and small businesses, leveraging user generated content is a great way to grow your marketing and sales for little, to no cost.

What is User Generated Content?

User generated content (UGC) is defined as any type of content including videos, photos, blogs, tweets, etc. that has been created and published by unpaid contributors. In the case of retail, this would be content created by your customers. This can range to Instagram photos of featuring your new line of summer wear, or Facebook Live video of your bath bomb dissolving to create the most relaxing bath time.

Now the question to ask is: Do user generated marketing campaigns actually work? The short answer is yes!

Improved Brand Engagement

New Consumer Buy-In

  • 86% of millennials say that UGC is a good indicator of the quality of a brand.

Increased Conversion with UGC

More Trustworthy Content

Organic vs. Driven UGC

Now that you know what user generated content is and have seen some statistics to back up the benefit of UGC campaigns, let’s talk about what it can do for your brand. Leveraging UGC on social media portrays that your brand is so likable, that people want to promote it themselves.

Sometimes UGC comes from different motives. Many brands will hold a photo contest in order to leverage user generated content, whereas others generate it more naturally.

For example, if you follow any millennial females on Instagram, you may have seen the famous red bathing suit post that “broke the Internet”. Sunny Clothing Co. saw the opportunity to make their Instagram post go viral by posting a photo of a woman in a red bathing suit with the caption telling their followers that they can get that same bathing suit for free by reposting the photo and tags Sunny Clothing Co.

For an SMB retailer, this is a genius way to organically boost your social media following and take advantage some free user-generated marketing. It was in fact so genius, that the company underestimated the success of the post. They ended up with so many responders that they had to put a limit on the number of red bathing suits they could give away.

Personalization and Contests

Coca-Cola, on the other hand, found a more subtle way to run their UGC campaign. Within the past year or so, you may have noticed that Coke began putting people’s names on their bottles.

You may have even found yourself searching through to find a Coke bottle with your own name on it.

So how is this campaign helping to create user generated content? We live in a digital age where everything and anything we do gets posted to Facebook, sent in a Snapchat, posted to Instagram, or even sent to a group chat on iMessage. And for some funny reason, people love finding their name on things!

With the combination of that and our obsessions with sharing our day-to-day tasks on social, Coke created a wildly successful UGC campaign.


How to Leverage UGC

Before you go off and launch your very own UGC campaign, there are first a few questions you will need to ask yourself. Do you want to drive the UGC? Do you have the budget to give away prizes for top posts? Will the content generated by your customers be consistent with your brand?

Creating Campaigns that Live On

It’s important to remember that leveraging user generated content can be as simple as using a social media monitoring tool to see when your customers are talking about your brand, or it can be as complex as starting an entire UGC campaign like Sunny Clothing Co. or Coca-Cola.

While Sunny Clothing Co.’s UGC campaign was very successful, it was also very short lived, as it was only a one-day contest. Coke, on the other hand, is going on their second summer of their “Share a Coke” campaign.

Elevating your Bottom Lines with UGC

It is important look at your goals and why you want to leverage UGC, and how your business can benefit from it.

If your business needs to increase brand awareness and trustworthiness or targets Millennials or GenZ, UGC is a good fit.

In fact, UGC content may drive more ROI and help you as an independent merchant than more traditional approaches.

UGC can work wonders increasing brand advocacy and resonating with your audience, while boosting those bottom line revenues and sales as a retailer. Try a UGC campaign for yourself, and grow word-of-mouth referrals and your retail business more authentically!


Brianna Moriarty is the Marketing Communications Associate for Star Micronics with a focus in content creation and social media marketing. She frequently writes content to help small businesses build their marketing strategy and social media presence. Outside of her writing, Brianna enjoys traveling, music, fitness, and lots of coffee. LinkedIn | Twitter

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How Instagram is Key for Your Small Business

With the advent of stories on Instagram, local retailers are finally realizing the potential of social media. There’s never been a better time to be seen and do Instagram right. Stories give retailers the opportunity to showcase and showroom in a way that was previously unavailable, not just their products but their brand culture and their in-store experiences.

If social media ever was a place for brand discovery, Instagram’s recent upgrades in the past few months represent a tidal wave of innovation that can benefit small businesses of all kinds. With clickable links likely arriving in 2017 or next year in 2018, this is the right time for local retailers to optimize their Instagram presence.

Create Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories allows independent retailers the ideal channel to leverage their brand and family run small business culture like never before, in a way that’s almost more immersive than video. With more metrics for business accounts on Instagram and more ways to boost and diversify content than ever before, Instagram leads the pack of social media channels now where brands can be experienced that promotes foot traffic, especially in rural U.S. locations.

Do Marketing Automation

With the uses of hashtags and tools such as Instagress, small business owners can fully target their key audiences and drive traffic to their website. Using marketing automation with authentic branding can do wonders for a new small business in terms of brand awareness and customer loyalty.

In terms of social ROI, Instagram now has the most robust advertising, branding and marketing potential of any channel. While Pinterest remains impressive for Millennial women, Instagram far exceeds Facebook in terms of engagement. If Facebook is a landing page for your business, Instagram is the social media experience of your brand.

Instagram showed impressive growth in the second half of 2016, where since June of last year, user growth accelerated by 33% as the platform welcomed an additional 100 million users in just six months. Instagram stories and marketing automation remain the two most qualified ways for local retailers to stand out, in a world of immersive visual storytelling. Retailers who are not accomplishing both of these tasks to grow their following, are missing out.

If you are a beginner using Instagram stories, start here or here.

We use mobile coupons and leverage both digital receipts and offers on physical receipts to boost your business, register here to learn more.

Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter

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How Can Small Businesses Stand out on Social Media

Owning a small business can make it difficult to compete with the big brand names that everyone already knows. The advantage that SMB retailers have compared to “big-box” retailers is their opportunity to create an authentic and unique experience for each of their customers.

While you may feel like even on social media you’re being overshadowed by the big guys, here are a few ways to stand out, and how to do it.
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Start a Vlog

Video is taking over the way people consume information. A fun way for small businesses to showcase their products and expertise about their business is to start a vlog, a.k.a, a video blog. Video blogs can cover topics from a new clothing line you’ve just started carrying, to fashion tips, to a personal entry about the success of our small business.

Vlogs are also great for promoting events and one-time sales. Aside from that fact that online videos now account for more than 80% of Internet traffic, a vlog creates a better sense of authenticity than your standard blog. This gives you a better opportunity, not just to increase the foot traffic in your store, it allows you to create a community with your frequent shoppers.

How to do it:

The great thing about vlogging is that it doesn’t need to be filmed in a fancy production studio. All you really need to start a vlog is a smart phone and an idea of the type of content you want to share with your viewers.

A great starting point for a vlog is to film an overview of your business, what inspired you to start it, and a tour. This introduction is a perfect way to create loyal viewers and customers who are interested in learning more from your vlog. And if you’re camera shy, try asking a friend, employee, or business partner to take the lead with your creative input!

Run Seasonal Campaigns

For retailers, you may find yourself needing to update your store for every season. This is especially true for clothing stores. By creating seasonal campaigns, you are not only letting your audience know that you are all set for the upcoming season, but showing them that you know what will be trendy for the upcoming season.

Seasonal campaigns are beneficial because they allow you to get very visual in your social media posting – which is great since Facebook posts with images see 2.3 times more engagement than those without images, and as of June 2016, there are more than 500 million Instagram users.

How to do it:

In order to announce your brand new stock of inventory for the upcoming season, you’ll need to create a visually appealing seasonal campaign. There are a few ways to do this.

In addition to the aforementioned vlog, try creating some promotional videos to help promote the new inventory coming in. Capturing visuals of outdoor seasonal scenes will trigger your audience to visit your store for a new winter coat. In addition to video content, Instagram and Pinterest are the perfect platforms to look to when promoting a seasonal campaign.
According to Shopify, 93% of Pinterest users use the platform to plan their next purchase. Hootsuite found that 75% of Instagram users are taking action, such as visiting a website, after viewing an Instagram post. By visually promoting products that are appropriate to the season on platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, you’re much more likely to turn those “likes” into sales.

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Leverage User Generated Content

User generated content is a great way for small businesses to stand out on social media because it means that people are paying attention to and care about your business! By definition, user generated content includes any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasts, digital images, video, audio files, advertisements and other forms of media that were created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media websites.

Put in more simple terms – user generated content is content posted by your customers about your business. This can include anything from an Instagram user posting a photo of them wearing an item from your latest clothing line, to a shopper writing a blog article about your business. Not only does user generated content often result in free advertising, but it helps you reach a wider audience through your customers’ network.

How to do it:

I know what you’re thinking – how do I encourage my customers to create content about my product? There are a number of ways to push that content out of your shoppers. The easiest way to do this is simply to use social media to interact with their audiences. If someone tags you in a post, make sure to leave a comment! There are also a number of social media monitoring tools that will help you scan for posts that mention your business but don’t tag your page. Surprising one of your frequent shoppers with a comment on their Instagram photo is almost guaranteed to increase
customer loyalty and stand out to all of their followers.

If you’re looking to boost your user generated content, try hosting a contest. Photo contests are probably the most popular way to get see more user content. For example, if you are the owner of a fashion boutique, try holding a photo contest on Instagram asking people to pose with their latest store purchases. You can create a hashtag for users to post along with their photos; that way, you can easily track who is participating in your contest, and choose a winner! People will notice the hashtag and it will help you stand out to a wider audience than you initially started with.

Competing with large retailers doesn’t have to be a ton of work. Social media has allowed retailers to connect with their customers on a more personal level, and will continue to advance in favor of business owners. Sometimes all it takes to stand out is the initial interaction.

Brianna Moriarty is the Marketing Communications Associate for Star Micronics with a focus in content creation and social media marketing. She frequently writes content to help small businesses build their marketing strategy and social media presence. Outside of her writing, Brianna enjoys traveling, music, fitness, and lots of coffee. LinkedIn | Twitter

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Social Media Trends for Small Business

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMB) and specialty retailers are on the rise. Over the past year, there have been huge shifts in the retail industry with large, “big-box” retail stores closing and online or discount retailers growing stronger. In order to stay on top, these small businesses need to find new and unique ways to market their business and keep up with growing marketing strategies. Social media has proved to be one of the most effective marketing tools for small businesses. Here are four social media trends for small businesses to pay attention to.

1. Video Content

Video content is taking over social media. If you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, you’ll find that more and more content is video content. Social media has become less about sharing daily life updates and more about sharing the most viral content you can find. Not only is more video content flooding Facebook, but 85% of these videos are being watched without sound. The human attention span is shrinking, and as a business owner or marketer, it is important to keep in mind that you only have a matter of seconds to grab your consumer’s attention. With that said, you also need to find ways to portray your marketing message with no sound.

In addition to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are widely known as platforms to promote video content. Since Instagram decided to expand its video time limit to 60 seconds compare to the previous 15 second limit, businesses are taking to “the gram” for more video marketing. Even more recently, Instagram has jumped on the live-streaming bandwagon by introducing Instagram Live.

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all the homes of the social media platforms with the most video content, and they all have one thing in common: live video streams. While Facebook allows users to live-stream, this content continues to exist on Facebook after the live stream ends. The concept of Instagram live is more similar to that of Snapchat where users can go live, but once the live stream ends, the video disappears.

For small businesses, this amazing new feature gives you the ability to see who is actively following you on social media rather than putting the content off until later. For retailers specifically, this is a strategic option for flash sales, one-time giveaways, etc. Like Instagram Live, Snapchat gives small businesses a way to see who is actively following them, and an opportunity to interact directly and personally with their followers. What better way to announce the restock of your most popular item or a one day sale for loyal shoppers than to send out a quick snap?

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2. Visual Storytelling

As mentioned, the average attention span is getting shorter, and marketers are looking for new and unique ways to grab their audience’s attention. Consumers are getting their information less through written blogs or eBooks and more through digital content such as photos and video. With the growth of visual-based social media platforms such as Instagram and Pintrest, businesses are now using visual content to build their brand by giving themselves a “brand look”. It has since then been found that branded images and GIFs are powerful pieces of content for small businesses.

Another benefit of using more visually compelling content is having the ability to cater to an individual audience. Being that small business often have a very specific focus, visual storytelling on social media will help these business appeal to their target market. A fashion boutique that sells clothing for young women will want a fashion-forward, trendy Instagram page, whereas a SMB retailer selling home décor may want to put more focus toward their Pinterest page.


3. Staying Local

Social media marketing has advanced incredibly over the last few years. One of the greatest features offered through social media marketing and advertising is the ability to target posts to a specific audience based on location. When you own a small business, your local community tends to be your best customers.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn will allow users to target paid ads to users in your specific area in order to increase the amount of local customers who are buying from you. In addition, there are platforms that allow you to communicate to your followers where you are by adding your location to your Instagram photos, pinning your location on Pintrest, or using geofilter on Snapchat.

While location-based marketing is key for small businesses, location-based listening on social media is extremely useful. Social Media Examiner provides a full list of social listening tools that allow businesses to listen to and engage with customer who are in close proximity to their brick and mortar store. Social listening allows small business owners to listen to their local community without them even knowing it. With this information, small businesses can hear feedback from current customers and find ways to expand their business to appeal to a larger market within their local community.


4. Go Organic

Social media marketing doesn’t require a large budget! Now more than ever is the time to take advantage of the millennial generation’s authentic mindset, and try stepping away from the paid social media ads. Small businesses tend to have small budgets and cannot invest all of their money into social media. Social Media Today has a simple solution for these businesses:
reduce, reuse, and recycle.

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Rather than constantly straining your brain for new content and ideas, create content that can be used in different ways across all of your social platforms. By doing this, you can get away with creating new content less often.


Make sure your content will not go stale too quickly. Work to create timeless content that you can reuse over and over again that will spark the interest of your followers every time.


While it is important to vary your content across different social media, you can find ways to recycle your content. This means creating one big idea that can be used differently, or that you can take pieces from to promote across separate platforms.

While owning or operating a small business can oftentimes be difficult, marketing your business doesn’t have to be. The first step is simply creating your social media accounts, and make sure to create tons of valuable and shareable content to keep you one step ahead of the competition.

Brianna Moriarty is the Marketing Communications Associate for Star Micronics with a focus on content creation and social media marketing. She frequently writes content to help small businesses build their marketing strategy and social media presence. Outside of her writing, Brianna enjoys traveling, music, fitness, and lots of coffee. LinkedIn | Twitter

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The QR Code’s Quiet Reemergence


The barcode was first scanned back in 1974 on a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum in Troy, Ohio and ever since, businesses have been using them in a variety of ways to help make processes more efficient and accurate. While they started off in retail, barcodes have permeated most other verticals as well. They’re a simple way of taking a physical object and turning into a traceable piece of data.

As barcodes became more commonplace, their usage evolved. A simple 1d barcode, while effective for many uses, had minimal capacity and thus continued to evolve. In 1987, the first 2d barcode was developed and leveraged various layers for a massive jump in capacity and capabilities. When comparing capacity in a common 1d and 2d barcode, 2d barcodes can often hold 100x more data. Even though 2d was an evolution in the standard, the two general types have their unique uses within the various verticals.

The Beginning of the QR Code

Of all the various types of 2d barcodes, QR codes are one of the most popular. Invented in 1994 for use within the auto industry in Japan, QR codes came about due to a need for more storage within a singular barcode and also a requirement for speed. The Toyota plant leveraging this new code put them to use within their assembly line to track vehicle assembly. While this was the origin, the free license and published specs allowed anyone to use this new data storage development for whatever purpose they saw fit.


The chief benefits of the QR code were built around speed and storage capacity. Compared to a 1d barcode or other 2d barcodes, the QR code was able to be read at a much faster rate and with greater accuracy regardless of the angle. It was also able to store considerably more data. While a 1d barcode likely stores a number that correlates to a reference table in a larger system with specific details, a QR code can store those generic details plus specifics like serial number, origin, and anything else that could be uniquely needed. The storage comparison isn’t even close.

The other major benefit is that a QR code works on its own, without the need of system and database. For example, when you scan a barcode for bananas at the grocery store, that barcode just stands for a number and in the grocery store system, it correlates that number to bananas and a given price. A QR code works without the need for the grocery store system and the database. Anybody can scan a QR code and the inherent data will be displayed on whatever system is being used to identify it.

The Overused Downfall

As QR codes began to pick up speed, a major segment that tapped into their potential was the marketing/advertising space. Considering consumers can read these barcodes with a simple smartphone app meant marketers and advertisers now had a way to take a static piece of collateral and make it more dynamic and interactive. They could further the customer journey and provide more information in an enticing way.

In reality there were almost limitless possibilities. Think about the following examples:

  • Golf magazine puts a QR code on an advertisement which brings you to the website
  • Movie poster includes QR code to bring the consumer to a video of the trailer
  • Installation company adds QR code to their trucks bringing customers to a page with information on their services
  • Restaurant puts QR code on their window to share their menu and inside that points to a page for leaving reviews
  • A shipping company adds QR codes to packages to store the complete, end to end journey of a package

The list goes on and is only limited to a person’s imagination. The issue became, though, the relevancy of the additional information. Many times the QR code would take you a company’s main home page and provide little or no value. If you add that to the fact that consumer smartphones don’t have a native app to read them, you can understand how they never really got the traction despite their promise.

The QR Resurgence

All of the above may have spelled doom and gloom, but recently QR codes have been making somewhat of a comeback with developers finding new ways to leverage these data-rich codes. QR codes in general are making strides in both retail and social media. This time around, rather than relying on consumer adoption, their use is by the merchant/business with the aim of enhancing the consumer experience through efficiency and ease. Here are a few examples of what’s driving the QR comeback.

Social Media/Messaging Platforms (Kik, Snapchat, WeChat)

QR codes never hit home with consumers directly, but brands are starting to notice who to leverage them to within their ecosystem to make things more efficient. On the social media front, Snapchat, Kik, and WeChat specifically have been the catalyst to a QR comeback.

Snapchat leverages a feature called Snapcodes, which are essentially a personal QR code for your Snapchat account. This feature makes it easy to add contacts and post on other social media platforms to attract followers.

WeChat, a Chinese-based messaging service and general Swiss-army-knife-type app, uses QR codes in a variety of ways, from ordering at a restaurant to printing a photo or paying for goods. QR codes as a whole are very well received in Asia and WeChat has integrated them in various ways, again enabling efficiency and convenience for users.

Kik is another messaging platform and is somewhat of a hybrid of Snapchat’s and WeChat’s QR code model. The company provides QR use to connect users, groups and bots, as well as brands.

Pay Apps

We’ve seen a slew of Pay apps hit the market, from agnostic options like ApplePay and PayPal to proprietary wallets like WalMart Pay and Kohl’s Pay. In the proprietary world, QR codes are sometimes being leveraged in the checkout process. Walmart Pay specifically provides a QR code via their app upon checkout for the consumer to scan. The code identifies and links a consumer to the Walmart account and linked card, making payment seamless and easy.


QR codes have also found another interesting niche in the world of digital receipts. Star Micronics, and subsidiary Star Cloud Services, have leveraged the power of QR codes within their overall receipt value proposition to retailers. Their AllReceipts digital receipt and mobile coupon solution compliments your typical paper receipt and has the capability of adding a QR code for tracking or surveys. Furthermore, the company’s newest release, the micro receipt, simply prints a merchant’s logo and a QR code. That’s it! An eco-friendly solution that utilizes minimal paper yet provides maximum value.


One final addition to the list is AmazonGo. The potential line-killing solution leverages a QR code upon entry into a store to identify and match a consumer to their Amazon profile. From there, the magic starts to happen as items are picked up and automatically added to the customer’s “order”. It’s still in the early stages with limited information, but QR codes play a vital role here in tying everything back to a customer’s profile with little to no effort by the customer themselves.

The Future of QR Codes

The future of QR codes isn’t completely clear. What started off with much hype seemingly began to fizzle before taking off again. If there’s one way to make the prediction, it would be to base it on the social media/messaging platforms QR codes have seen recent success in. Messaging platforms specifically have been predicted to be the next evolution of apps, simplifying the experience and making it easier and faster for people to get what they want.

If that is true, QR codes could continue in their meteoric rise. As messaging platforms begin to be opened up to developers, QR codes are an inherent feature that will be leveraged as a piece of the overall value prop. Consumers might not ever be the ones interacting directly with QR codes, but maybe their niche is more for businesses and companies who want to make a particular process a little more efficient.

Jeremiah Shea is in Business Development at Ingram Micro, focusing on payments and enabling channel partners to provide holistic, transitional solutions to support EMV. Outside of his 9-5 though, he writes content for multiple publications and companies around such topics as retail technology, point of sale, payments, and more. LinkedIn  | Twitter

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Social Commerce Just Went Live

Retail brands and especially independent brick and mortar retailers know just how important having a good Instagram business profile is in 2016. Don’t look now, but it just got a touch more important. Instagram and Pinterest have made huge strides of late to increase their value proposition for shopping to occur directly on social media, “Scommerce”.
Increasingly, consumers use Facebook as a landing page for store info, but engage with their favorite stores on mobile, via Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat that show off the brand, products and culture in more visually appealing ways.
Instagram announced on their blog, that shopping is coming to Instagram. But what do they mean by this?

In fact, more than 84% of smartphone users in the US browse, research or compare products via a web browser or mobile app.

Instagram Shopping

You See What You Get

It will soon be easier on Instagram to learn about products in a photo.

  • Since 79% of purchases take longer than a day to make, Instagram can be seen as a great portal to product discovery.
  • A new “tap to view” icon at the bottom left of a photo will help brand followers to better engage with products.
  • They will be able to showcase up to five products and their prices.
  • Once a tag is selected a new detailed view of the product will open.
  • Then, if the consumer taps the Shop Now link from the product details view, they’ll go directly to that product on the business’ website, making it easier for them to buy the product they want.


Product Discovery on Instagram Just got a Huge Upgrade

Product discovery has been possible up till now with various 3rd party apps, but that Instagram now is enabling this natively is closing the loop with Pinterest, making Instagram the middle ground between Snapchat and Pinterest.
With Instagram stories, this signals the age of Scommerce and mobile commerce is one step closer. We always knew visual marketing would find a way to deliver ROI, and with the incredible progress Pinterest has made, Instagram is doing more than enough to keep up.

Boon for Brick and Mortar Retailers

While some are quite skeptical about Scommerce being the “last touch” for e-commerce buying, business profiles have been upgraded with stories and now significantly better product discovery. This provides more ROI for retailers to adopt and to invest more seriously in Instagram.

While not so many consumers would be lured to buy directly on social media channels like an “impulse buy”, physical retailers could get more store traffic if they use this new feature to their advantage as a preliminary step in product discovery, which appears to be where social media falls in the customer journey for the majority of purchases.

Retailers will soon be able to showcase up to five products in an Instagram post, giving a sense that an Instagram post now becomes a portal to fulfill our considerable retail curiosity. Imagine you are a brand and do an Influencer campaign, where a celebrity or person of influence has their products on or near them, the ROI of such a campaign just got a whole lot more meaningful! The same goes for UGC (user generated content) contests.

Instagram Testing

The new tools are being beta tested by 20 U.S. based retailers such as Kate Spade, Warby Parker and Jack Thread, where greater detailed product info will be showcased. The tap to view icon represents another layer of Instagram’s evolving interface.
This creates a sense that there is a future possibility of another level of advertising for product types via Instagram as the ROI of Facebook advertising begins to decrease with a constantly-tweaked algorithm.

Having a tap to view and shop now, embedded native buttons means the consumer can enjoy the journey or stop to take a closer look. This adds new meaning to the phrase “Click and Collect”.

Retailers and store owners know that Instagram is a powerful channel, however now that’s it’s not just fun and branding opens up new possibilities to blend authentic brand images with product specific offerings and promotions and a great way to appeal to younger consumers.
If search discovery is how customers use social media in their shopping journey, remember only 21% of purchases occur within one day, Instagram has listened, and these new tools boost Instagram’s inherent value as a product discovery channel. This both simplifies and magnifies how posts can target products and give a CTA (call to action) that’s more commercially viable for retailers.

Is It Too Good to be True?

Mobile continues to evolve, and so does Instagram. Do people really want to buy from Instagram, Pinterest or Snapchat? That remains to be seen, but if I can check out your products, it gives me a good reason to come to the store to take a closer look.
Instagram will bring a new kind of mobile “window shopping” experience to the customer journey and that can’t be a bad thing for small businesses and retailers. It will be up to SMB retailers to leverage this new tool in their storytelling, in creating a marketing and brand “spark” in consumers, to visit their stores or even buy directly via mobile. The secret sauce of the tap to view and shop now will be algorithms that personalize our mobile experience better.

By Michael Spencer, Copywriter and Brand Consultant for Star Cloud Services

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How to Use Instagram for Business to Boost Sales

Instagram is now more useful than ever for small businesses and retail brands to boost sales. Here is a video to set it up. Instagram’s new business tools have four key new features to mention:

  • A new more official Business profile on Instagram
  • These add phone and email links at the bottom
  • Business profiles have audience engagement and demographic insights built-in.
  • Finally, an easy way to promote content to targeted audiences.

You can use Later, Buffer or Hootsuite to “schedule” your Instagram posts as well.

According to Instagram, nearly 50% of its users follow a business with nearly 60% of users saying they’ve learned about retail products on Instagram.

Instagram for Business Tools

What Else Can it Do?

Companies have been waiting a long time for the ability to have a business profile, and some small businesses still have regular Instagram profiles and have yet to make the switch.

Not everyone will qualify as a business on Instagram, however — only those who already have a Facebook Page for their business will be able to convert their account.

You can do so by going to options in the mobile Instagram app and clicking on Switch to Business Profile. Specific criteria are required for a business profile such as your Facebook for Business matching those criteria.

This will give you more bonus buttons which will make it easier for an Instagram user to connect with your busines

Contact button enables users to tap and pull the options to

  • Get Directions
  • Call or
  • Send an email.
  • Categories that help with search relevance.
  • Most importantly, a business profile signals users that your profile on Instagram belongs to a legitimate professional business.


Instagram Business Profile Insights

The business profile also provides account insights and analytics that can be useful to a retail store or brand. The reports are similar to the tried and true Facebook insights.

  • Post Engagement
  • Follower demographics

Knowing the gender, location and age of your followers on Instagram can easily provide you clues to your target audience,
The reasons to change your profile on Instagram to a business profile are really too good to pass up. Moreover, the insights let marketing know when is the best time to post on Instagram to reach your audience.

Retailers Need Analytics

As small businesses and independent retailers become more aware of analytics, Instagram now is a valuable tool that can relate improving targeting of their retail brand to their right audience.

Hacking the Values of your Customers

Knowing which posts, videos and images are the most popular helps retailers tailor their Instagram business profile to the lifestyle culture, vibe and values of their target audience.
Being able to convert a high performing post into an advertisement on mobile is key to better convert followers and this enables Instagram to become more monetizable and the value of the channel to better demonstrate value and ROI for even the smallest retailer.
Since target audiences can be saved for future reference, setting up a new ad becomes easier. Your retail brand can decide on the target audience and duration of the advertisement.

Instagram for SalesInstagram for Sales

With these tools in place, there is a major opportunity for small businesses and retail brands to leverage this new tool to create a more professional brand engagement on one of the most ubiquitous social media channels that is now used both by individuals and millions of brands.

Reaching Consumers where They Are

Much of the personal sharing that used to occur on Facebook now occurs on Instagram and Snapchat, so it’s much easier to reach consumers. A professional and attractive Instagram Business page can only help retain new customers, if they resonate with the authenticity and quality of the images, videos and branding.

Instagram for Brands is now Mainstream

With over 200,000 active advertisers on Instagram, it’s really clear that Instagram has gone mainstream as a channel for brands. Small businesses are discovering its potential with the successful launch of Instagram Stories, Instagram has over 500 million monthly active users.

Key Instagram Statistics
  • 20% of internet users are on Instagram
  • 89.4 million monthly active users inside the U.S.
  • 27.6% of U.S population are on Instagram
  • 80% of Instagram users are outside the U.S.
  • 91.07% of posts on Instagram are photos
  • 90% of Instagram users are under 35 years old


According to Forbes, in 2015, Instagram earned an
estimated $630 million in revenue. In 2016, it’s on track to earn $1.5 billion.

Evolution of the Mobile Ad

For small businesses and retail brands, the evolution of the ability to send seamless mobile advertisements to their customers and to their prospective customers and target audiences is extremely important.

Creating Ads is the New Normal

Since #hashtags can already be used to target posts, creating advertisements on Instagram is truly the next step in engaging with your target audience. It’s important for retail brands to gain expertise in creating advertisements that truly generate ROI for their business.
Since mobile sales will make up 24.4% of e commerce revenue by the end of 2017, social commerce, or buying directly from social channels is increasingly adding ROI to visual marketing profiles. Due to ever-increasing users and algorithms, reaching potential customers organically is a thing of the past.

Being Proactive, Engaging with your Target Customers

It’s no longer enough just to be on social media, it’s important to leverage it with the mentality of an agile marketer. For many independent retail brands, increasingly this is taking place on Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.
Here are additional ideas to boost sales with a Business profile.

Create Video Content

Create weekly video content (which you can re-post on Facebook and Twitter)

Translate your Unique Selling Proposition Visually

Create storytelling that’s unique. Differentiate your Instagram to increase word of mouth about your business.

Consider your Brand Advocates

Utilize UGC, or user-generated content, to increase trust, reciprocity and commitment via peer advocacy

Create Interactive Events

Create contests

Giving Back to the Community

Considering undertaking taking a corporate social responsibility (CSR) based awareness campaign

Influencer Marketing

Leverage brand influencers and local influencers to boost your retail small business to help increase the #buzz around your store and products.

Use More Hashtags to Build A Following

Use more hashtags #. Research the best ones to use on a regular basis, as they change with time.

According to Neil Patel, using 10 hashtags gets an average of 20 likes, while using 30 hashtags gets an average of 60 likes. However, if you do not have time just by using 11+ hashtags you are getting the sweet spot of engagement if you chose them right.

Target a Variety of Hashtags

Do include hashtags that relate to your brand, location and product categories along with some hashtags# trending in your target audience. Choose some popular and some less popular hashtags, so your posts will be more visible both in terms of eyeballs and long-tail.

Adopt the Smiley Face

Use emojis, stories and post on contemporary memes to gain more traffic.

Interact with Customers

Interacting with every comment, liking and commenting on posts is always a good practice for a small business as it demonstrates you are genuine and generous with your time to the public.

Adopt Non-Traditional Affiliates

Consider hiring YouTube natives in your community to help you create engaging video content that highlights your brand and products.
Many small businesses will be located in places where there are not “influencers” to partner with, so consider non-traditional options. When doing this consider a few things:

Affiliate marketing in the future is all about the quality of referrals rather than the quantity.
Using brand advocacy to increase brand awareness, loyalty and sales through their affiliate programs is gaining traction.
Identify the influencer network in your space, competitor tactics, PR best practices in your industry and the values of your customer base and replicate them on your Instagram for Business profile.

Last Words

Sales is no longer just about selling, but authentic branding. Using high-resolution quality imagery can go a long way to leverage Instagram to tell the story of your retail brand with such appeal, with such class and with such sophistication that your brand can gain a loyal following and help you sell more.

Putting your instagram URL on your Engage NOW function inside your Star Cloud Services is a really good idea!

By Michael Spencer, Copywriter and Brand Consultant for Star Cloud Services

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What Instagram Stories Means for Retail

What are Instagram Stories? More than Just a Slideshow

Instagram Stories is a feature ‘borrowed’ from Snapchat that allows users to share videos or multiple photos in an album or slideshow-like format to tell a brand “story.” Stories disappear after 24 hours, just like on Snapchat. Your audience cannot “like” or comment on a story.

A Window to your Brand’s Creativity

As Instagram is providing increasing value to businesses and retailers to interact with their customers via arguably the most attractive and engaging video marketing channel, Instagram stories represents a significant feature for retail brands of all types.

How Does a Selfie App Remain Relevant?

Retailers may not realize it, but Instagram stories are elevating real-time branding to another level. While there is a significant trend for people to share video content on Snapchat-like apps instead of Instagram, a “selfie” app that represents an older trend, Instagram still has far more users and is more mainstream for brands to engage their customers and advertise on.

Instagram is More Accessible than Snapchat

Instagram has always been more accessible than Snapchat due to a more “dumbed down ” interface, and while its penetration is more global, with a slightly older demographic than Snapchat, as of 2016 Instagram users represent a more useful audience for restaurants, retail stores and cafes in general.

Instagram adds Stories

There are some major similarities between Snapchat stories and the copycat Instagram stories that was implemented in August 2016:

instagram 2As far as engaging with your customers on Instagram for brands, Instagram stories represents a pretty major update.
Instagram stories seen as a banner at the top of the social feed (see the image below) , is now the dominant form of creative sharing and represents a new top-of-the-funnel layer to your Instagram branding.

instagram 3
Why Instagram Stories is Relevant to Brands

While Snapchat Stories provides more options and customization, it’s looking like Instagram stories is a success. as of a few weeks after launch. Retail brands should leverage this for the following reasons:

  • Reach and nurture your audience better than ever while using Instagram Stories. A Nike Story generates 12x the engagement on Instagram vs. Snapchat.
  • Provides a new creative way to convert visitors into customers
  • Allows followers a more intimate perspective on the brand, impacting brand loyalty and retention.
  • Upload content directly (instead of having to craft a post). This can save time.
  • Add text, drawings and creativity (doodling!). This makes it easier to differentiate your brand’s impact.
  • Leverage the moment and memes to grab attention. Better inbound lead generation if you can create authentic stories.
  • Create or follow events with amazing highlights using stories.
  • Create fast-speed content on featured products and promotions using stories.

If you are not sure how to use Instagram stories check here.

By Michael Spencer, Copywriter and Brand Consultant for Star Cloud Services

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How Retailers Can Leverage Email Marketing to Improve Sales

Independent retailers still have a great opportunity for return business by the correct use of Email marketing.

In an era of omnichannel retail, reaching your customer and reminding them of your value matters. Email can be used to engage with your customers, driving traffic to your website and increasing brand loyalty and visits to your store or restaurant.

Adding Value to the Customer Journey

Building high-value relationships with your customers takes time, and it takes reaching them effectively on different channels, all with your own brand’s natural tone. The best email marketing inspires, educates and helps your customers.

Each sentence should be crafted to create rapport, each image should delight, and give personality to your brand, while helping people identify with your products.

According to Shopify, the ROI of email marketing is around 3,800% for small and medium sized businesses.

Acquiring new customers, retaining them and attracting them to seasonal events back to the store, Email can play a major role in all of these, as well as keeping customers in the loop about special events, promotions, your brand’s story and time-limited deals, contests, and much more.
Email is also a great way to spread your brand’s organic reach with minimal investment of your time and money.

Retail businesses drive more sales through Email Marketing 2

Email is a high Return on Investment for Retailers & Small Businesses

For every $1 dollar you spend, you gain about $40 on your return; that’s a ratio many retailers need to tap into. With targeting, automation and proper personalization and segmentation of your list, your Email performance is what you put into it.

Seasonal Campaigns

It’s important to signal your loyal customers about your next event or promotion and what products you are offering during this time.
Emails can be integrated or part of your loyalty rewards program and work along with other channels. Some customers may prefer to receive offers on SMS, while others will prefer to stay up to date on your brand via social media.
Retailers should have a seasonal calendar with different campaigns they will send throughout the retail calendar; this will help ensure that you are actively communicating with, reaching out to and keeping customers up to date.

Acquiring Emails and Phone Numbers of Customers

Giving customers the choice to give as much personal info as they would like and by specifically asking them if they prefer to receive Email or SMS communications is important.
With Millennials growing up texting, some may prefer to receive a text message than an Email. Open rates and click-through rates also tend to be substantially higher via SMS.

Typically, a customer is giving you this information to benefit from your loyalty rewards program in addition to receiving promotions. Good basic information to acquire would be:


Email or Phone Number

Postal Code

Frequency of messages they prefer

Channel of preference: Email or SMS

Create an Incentive for Customers to Sign Up

Pairing your Email marketing with your loyalty program makes sense because typically you’ll want to offer your customers something in return for giving you their personal information.

  • Ask for Email at time of purchase/Opt-in customers to Loyalty Program
  • Have a non-intrusive pop-up on your website to acquire Emails
  • Offer access to loyalty points, tiers and other benefits of your loyalty rewards program.
  • Discount offer on next purchase.
  • Raffles (chance to win x,y,z).
  • Mail List Checkbox at Ecommerce Checkout (if applicable).
  • Hold contests on your most popular social media channels to acquire Email addresses by inspiring user generated content (UGC).
  • Offer discounts on friend referrals of Email sign ups.
Create Emails for Mobile Devices

Since over 50% of Emails are checked on mobile devices, make sure your Emails look as good as possible on the following clients with the most attractive subject lines. Once you’ve gotten their attention, conversions still typically take place on desktop computers.

retail loyalty 3

Apparel retail customers in particular, at 62.5% opening Emails on a smartphone, according to Marketing Land, tend to be younger and more mobile native and since a majority of them view Emails on their smartphones, implementing SMS marketing would be a greater priority for those customers.

Since the majority of Emails in 2016 are first opened on mobile devices, they should be highly scan able with offers that “jump out” at the audience. Highly polished images, “can’t miss” special offers, with a sense of anticipation and urgency, links to videos and blogs, etc.

What to do with a Customer Email List
  • Grow it and patiently nurture it.
  • Let those who aren’t interested self-select (unsubscribe).
  • Don’t bombard your customers with the same message or too frequent messages.
  • Segment your list while targeting and personalizing messages with special offers as much as possible.


Choosing the Right Email Service Provider (ESP)

There are literally hundreds and thousands of ESPs on the market, choose one that is easy to use with the highest reviews that is affordable to your retail or restaurant business.

While MailChimp is often cited, it is not necessarily the best for your small business. Some top contenders might include:

  1. SendInBlue
  2. Campaign Monitor
  3. Constant Contact
  4. Zoho Campaigns
  5. AWeber
  6. iContact
  7. GetResponse
Writing Awesome Emails
  • Create copy that’s personable, laid-back and actionable.
  • Study the Emails of brands like you want to become.
  • Test, A/B test and try different subject lines to different segments of your audience.
  • Make sure your images have embedded text in them.
  • Leverage gratitude and being thankful to customers.
  • Add a tone of excitement, urgency and anticipation.
  • Think of the first impression and feelings the message elicits.
  • According to HubSpot, 65% of users prefer messages with mostly images.
  • Provide useful relevant information that’s helpful and not simply sales-centric.


Compete with Yourself

While it’s useful to know industry benchmarks, there are many variables governing why your open rates and click through rates (CTR) may be higher or lower.
It’s important to monitor these analytics, but not obsess over them and to improve on your own campaign performances and measure whether they lead to greater sales or in-store visits.

retail loyalty 4

Depending on the kind of small business you are, having over 20% open rates and 2.5% click rates is a good benchmark to measure the success of your Email campaigns. Anything higher than these means you are likely doing a good job and have responsive customers.

Why Start Email Marketing Now for your Small Business

While store owners and SMB retail brands are typically quite busy, the benefits far outweigh the costs of implementing Email marketing and improving customer engagement with your products and services.
If you still aren’t sure, here’s why you should do it:

  • Helps build credibility, trust and engagement for your brand and business.
  • Email Marketing is a preferred lead generation channel for Marketers.
  • Email is easily trackable with sophisticated analytics and automation features.
  • Email campaigns are relatively easy to implement.
  • Email can boost Ecommerce sales and in-store traffic to seasonal shopping events.
  • Helps build a loyal customer base to boost sales and lead to higher lifetime customer value.



And of course, when you are unable to gain an email address at the point if sale, be sure to use AllReceipts digital receipting service to allow you to have a communication pipe in the future using engage NOW!

By Michael Spencer, Copywriter and Brand Consultant for Star Cloud Services

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