6 Ways Retailers Are Using Messaging Apps for Marketing

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Popular consumer-facing apps like Viber, Kik, and WhatsApp, are pushing hard to become known as more than just messaging services, and one of the ways they’re doing that is by beefing up their social commerce capabilities. Social commerce combines the best parts of e-commerce and social media, and it’s become an area that multichannel retailers and enterprise leaders are eager to embrace.

Nearly half (47%) of consumers say they’ve purchased something because they saw it on social media, according to a survey by Sumo Heavy, a digital commerce strategy and development firm. Messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp, and others offer yet another avenue for retailers to use to get their products onto the screens of potential shoppers. These apps are also are flexible enough to allow for some creativity as retailers and brands craft their marketing campaigns.

Here are six examples of innovative ways that retailers are marketing to consumers through mobile messaging apps and services.

1. Showcasing products inside mobile messaging apps
When the messaging app Viber announced it was launching an “in-chat instant shopping” feature earlier this month, the Macy’s department store chain became one of the first retailers to jump onboard. Viber users can now click a “shopping” button to browse and share products from Macy’s from inside the Viber app. When they’re ready to make a purchase, Viber redirects customers back to the Macy’s website to complete the transaction. In a real world application, this might mean that someone chatting with a friend about her favorite perfume could see what’s available online, and send a product link to her friends to discuss further, all without having to leave the messaging app. Viber is planning to continue its instant shopping rollout by adding new retailers throughout the year.

2. Offering style advice to specific customer segments
Zulily has been a leader in the mobile messaging space since the company started sending receipts and shipping updates via Facebook Messenger in 2015. More recently, the online retailer has launched what it calls a “Fourth Trimester Closet Concierge” service for new moms. New mothers can message Zulily’s stylists in Facebook Messenger using the #BFFs hashtag or by visiting the company’s Facebook page, and stylists will respond with personalized product recommendations and other styling tips. Although this program is running for a limited time, it’s likely that Zulily will launch similar initiatives based on the results of this early campaign.

3. Making personalized product recommendations
Following early successes on Snapchat, the beauty retail chain Sephora has started to delve deeper into Kik Messenger, the instant messaging app that’s popular with teens. Sephora is using the app as a place to get to know its customers and offer personalized product recommendations. Shoppers who contact Sephora via the app are asked to take a short quiz. Sephora is then able to collect all kinds of data points about these consumers’ ages, favorite brands, and product types, and based on the results, the company can serve relevant content like product reviews and makeup application videos. Consumers can then shop directly without having to leave Kik’s app, which has been a hurdle for others mobile messaging apps entering the social shopping space.

4. Recommending new ways to use existing products
Most people already have a jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise sitting in their refrigerators, but Hellman’s Brazil ran an innovative marketing campaign aimed at giving consumers new ways to use basic ingredients. Hellman’s partnered with WhatsApp on a campaign that ran on the mobile messaging app for 10 days in 2014. During that time, people who entered their names and phone numbers on Hellman’s website were contacted by a chef through WhatsApp. Consumers could send photos of the food in their pantries via WhatsApp, and the Hellman’s chef would create a recipe based on those ingredients. All messaging with the consumer took place through the mobile messaging service. The interactive campaign gave Hellman’s a way to expand the number of ways people were using Hellman’s products without directly selling anything through an e-commerce website.

5. Getting the right messaging to an influential audience
The British-based shoe brand and retailer Clarks used WhatsApp as a platform to inform the “right type” of consumers about what makes their brand unique. Rather than promoting specific products, Clarks took a softer approach and pushed messages to people who signed up by adding a specific number to their WhatsApp contact list. These messages told a first-person story about the company’s Desert Boot “in the context of a series of cultural events.” The Clarks campaign was designed in a way that targeted consumers “looking for substance” in the brands they purchase, ideally in their mid-twenties or older, and working in creative industries. In looking at user data, Clarks was able to determine that these consumers would be easier to target on a messaging platform like WhatsApp than on traditional social media channels.

6. Giving shoppers a way to complete purchases via text
Most brands rely on consumer-facing mobile messaging apps for marketing campaigns, but Nordstrom took a different approach with its shop-by-text program. A year after the company created a way for consumers to text one-on-one with personal shoppers, it developed a way for shoppers to make purchases from salespeople using text messaging. Salespeople can send private text messages with descriptions or photos of products to customers who’ve opted-in to the TextStyle service. If a customer likes the item, then she can purchase it by replying “Buy” and entering a unique code. Purchases are completed and shipped directly using information from the customer’s existing Nordstrom.com account.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.