Chriselle Lim and Leandra Medine


Influencers are the new sales associates. They’re driving more traffic and influencing more transactions at top retailers than ever — and there are statistics to prove it.

According to data from digital intelligence platform SimilarWeb, 24 percent of Nordstrom’s mobile web traffic for the month of August came from the referral channel, with influencer network RewardStyle accounting for 79 percent of those referrals. To put it simply, that means that four out of every five of nordstrom.com’s mobile web visits that came from referral traffic were driven by an influencer from the Dallas-based network. Overall, 42.6 percent of nordstrom.com’s traffic came from mobile during the period.

A quick search on SimilarWeb yields the following data for U.S. desktop traffic: 38.33 percent of Nordstrom.com’s referral traffic comes from RewardStyle, which has a roster of 20,000 influencers. For comparison, dealmoon.com and lyst.com are the second- and third-biggest referral traffic drivers, responsible for just 5.78 percent and 5.44 percent, respectively, of that traffic. RewardStyle’s influencers also fuel 34 percent of Revolve.com’s referral traffic, and at Net-a-porter, 30.83 percent of referral traffic comes from influencers on the network. At Amazon-owned Shopbop.com and Sephora.com, 24 percent and 21.94 percent, respectively, of referral traffic comes from RewardStyle.

In an interview Monday, Gitit Greenberg, senior director of marketing insights at SimilarWeb, called it “interesting” that one source — RewardStyle — is dominating such a large percentage of referral traffic. But she’s not surprised. Leveraging the power of influencers is crucial to brands’ and retailers’ digital strategies today, she said, citing a recent report the firm conducted on Adidas.

“Adidas is the fastest-growing apparel site in the U.S. currently, according to our data — and they have made a conscious decision to go away from sponsoring big sporting events and really put an emphasis on their digital strategy and influencers,” Greenberg said. “They launched co-branded partnerships with Kanye West, and our research shows that every time he releases a new model of the Yeezy boots, we see huge spikes for Adidas.com.”

Greenberg thinks influencers’ ability to drive traffic to these firms is “crucial” to their e-commerce businesses, pointing out that 13 to 18 percent of all U.S. desktop traffic for nordstrom.com, revolve.com, net-a-porter.com, shopbop.com and sephora.com comes from referrals. And as referenced above, the percentages are markedly higher for mobile web, especially in the case of Nordstrom.com.

“I knew we were a big piece of these companies’ businesses, but these numbers blew my mind. I asked them to go back and show me how they pull it,” Amber Venz Box, RewardStyle cofounder, told WWD when asked to comment on these findings. Venz Box, an influencer herself with 85,500 followers on Instagram, said the goal to monetize her own blog became the impetus for starting RewardStyle with husband Baxter Box in 2011.

She declined to disclose financials for any of the talent or brands her firm works with, but did reveal that, collectively, RewardStyle’s influencers are on track to propel over $1 billion in sales by year’s end. In July, a time when retail sales are notoriously weak, RewardStyle’s crop of influencers drove $26 million in retail sales in a 24-hour period, she said — the network’s single biggest sales day. (Both of these stats are inclusive of RewardStyle’s main affiliate business as well as Liketoknow.it, the service that launched in 2014 designed to help bloggers and brands monetize Instagram.)

“As physical stores are struggling, marketers are being pressed very hard to get provable, positive ROI on digital spend. It is more rationalized than ever before so marketers are looking at casting and tracking based on data. They have to prove beyond likes and comments and impressions that something was worth spending ‘X’ amount on,” Venz Box explained, calling budgets “more slushy” in previous years. “Brands come to us for rationalization, and brand spend from 2015 to 2016 was up 300 percent year over year with us.”

“We work with a large set of influencers and bloggers through multiple networks, including RewardStyle. The goal is to reach customers where they are choosing to get fashion inspiration and advice,” said a spokeswoman for Nordstrom when asked for comment.

Venz Box declined to discuss specific conversion data, but Greenberg was able to tie referral traffic to conversion. Looking at Adidas.com’s trends for October, November and December 2016 and the conversion rate of each month by marketing mix, Greenberg said the highest conversion came from referrals, following by direct traffic and organic search. For instance, December saw a conversion rate of a little over 7 percent from referrals, 4 percent from direct traffic and 2 percent from organic search. Interestingly, referrals are the third-largest traffic sources for the aforementioned domains, after direct traffic and organic search.

“This shows that people that are actually clicking on a link have a high buying intent because they saw a recommendation that they trust. It’s going to be a source that the consumer trusts. [Consumers think], ‘If I read this blog by this person I trust or I go to the site I know offers the best deals — I have trust.’ It’s like word of mouth,” Greenberg said.

Additional statistics provided by SimilarWeb showed that individual influencers are starting to become powerful traffic drivers in their own right — appearing in the top 20, and in some cases, top five of referral sources for leading retail destinations online.

For instance, a deeper dive into revolve.com’s web traffic data reveals that influencer Chriselle Lim’s site, Thechrisellefactor.com, is the fourth highest traffic driver to the e-commerce destination — which is reportedly on track to hit $1 billion in retail sales this year.

Lim is just one of three influencers — along with Leandra Medine’s manrepeller.com and Emily Schuman’s Cupcakesandcashmere.com — to have web sites that broke into the top 20 referral drivers for leading e-commerce destinations. Manrepeller.com is ranked 19th in Net-a-porter’s list of top referrers, and for Shopbop.com, cupcakesandcashmere.com is ranked 16th, right after Shopstyle.com. For legal reasons, Venz Box wasn’t allowed to name any individuals who work with RewardStyle, but Lim and Medine both appear in searches on the liketoknow.it app and Schuman does not. This confirms that Lim and Medine are both affiliated with RewardStyle, but their individual rankings reflect linking that occurred outside of RewardStyle’s affiliate services.

“I didn’t launch or grow Man Repeller with the intention of becoming a referrer. Our affiliate business is substantial, but not relative to our custom content business. The referral piece is really born out of genuine fandom,” Medine said.

She described herself as “true fashion fan and a real consumer through and through” — which is reflected in her site’s use of third-party commerce platforms.

“I don’t know that influencers are usurping organic search as much as we are complimenting or replacing it, because in many ways we serve the same purpose, right?” Medine continued. “It feels like more than anything, topping a list of influencer referrers is another testament to the power of authenticity.…It’s a genuine referral. Only the referral from the influencer is one that is man-made, for lack of a better word.”

In Lim’s case, a direct partnership with Revolve.com is responsible for the traffic she sends to the retailer from thechrisellefactor.com, said Vanessa Flaherty, Lim’s manager and partner and senior vice president of talent at Digital Brand Architects.

According to Flaherty, Lim’s posts and links from the blog alone have yielded 6.9 million impressions for Revolve.com this year, including a mix of editorial content and one sponsored trip with the brand to the Hamptons. Flaherty noted that Lim regularly sends 15,000 to 20,000 clicks per link to prestige beauty products from brands including La Prairie, Caudalie and Malin + Goetz.

Lim also shied away from discussing financials, but spoke to a pattern she’s noticed with her followers.

“In the beginning if I talked about something, it might not have had the highest conversion rate immediately — and that’s also because I talk about a lot of things. For them, they want to see if I’m actually using it and organically using it through stories and blog posts and YouTube,” Lim said. “Over time, when they see certain things — whether a dress or certain skin-care product, no matter how expensive it is, we see that conversion rates become very high after talking about certain products and integrating then into my lifestyle.”

Lim said she personally can predict if a product will get the click- or sell-through because she’s “connected” to her audience and prides herself on giving her honest opinion and admitting what she might not like about a certain beauty product or item of clothing.

Another thing Lim attributes her high click-through rates to is including “similar items” in her posts. She is very strict about the affordability component, and makes sure her team finds affordable items that “have to actually be very, very similar.”

“A lot of bloggers — if they can’t find a similar item…[they post one] but it has nothing to do with the original item. I spend a lot of time with my team looking into items that make that cut,” Lim added. “It’s not even about me wearing pieces specifically [because] that always drives traffic and sales, but things that I talk about that are similar — I do gain their trust from that.”

Correction: The original version of the story reported that 74 percent of Nordstrom’s mobile web traffic for the month of August came from the referral channel, with influencer network RewardStyle accounting for 79 percent of those referrals. After learning that the 74 percent statistic provided to WWD was incorrect, the story was updated to reflect the accurate 24 percent statistic.

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