Influencers are now “influencing” holiday purchases more than ever.
E-commerce is fast becoming the primary sales channel for holiday shopping, with online sales starting earlier and earlier each year, and content creators are eager to get in on the shopping rush. For most, this started in the week leading up to Thanksgiving when sales roundups, both of the sponsored and organic variety, hit blogs, Instagram Stories or any other place influencers interact with their fan bases.
Consumers, primed to expect an onslaught of sales during this time, enter an annual holiday shopping mind-set that influencers are eager to tap into. They are aware of this shift in consumer behavior and prepared accordingly for sales-related posts on Black Friday (and increasingly on Thanksgiving Day as well) — optimizing their content specifically for the shopping event.
According to Amber Venz Box, cofounder of RewardStyle — a Dallas-based company that helps content creators monetize their content through affiliates — influencers included 51 percent more products in their posts in the seven days leading up to Black Friday than on an average week.
In addition to the main affiliate business, Venz Box said Liketoknow.it, a RewardStyle-owned service that allows bloggers and brands to monetize social media posts, saw an uptick in activity in preparation for the holiday. The most Liketoknow.it content to date was published the week preceding Black Friday, with 155,000 influencer posts containing the hashtag #LTKSalesAlert published this season.
“That’s all original imagery, it’s 155,000 original images posted containing holidays sales content,” Venz Box said, noting that this year, she saw brands, influencers and consumers engaging with retail-related holiday content earlier than in years past. “Wednesday was the day we really saw things start to change. It’s the breakout star and Thanksgiving was just incredible.”
Venz Box was able to back up that sentiment: The Liketoknow.it app saw a 220 percent spike in average daily sales on Thanksgiving Day versus a regular one. On Black Friday – a record setting day in terms of sales – there were three times as many clicks from influencer content to retailers’ sites compared to a regular day. Venz Box was unable to give a sales figure for Friday, but for context, the previous biggest sales day was $26 million in July.
This further proves how instrumental influencers have become to their followers’ shopping journeys, from recommendations all the way to conversion. Today, a favorite blogger recommending a coat or a pair of boots to buy carries more weight than any marketing e-mail, banner ad or promoted Instagram post. Additionally, this group has assumed the role of sales associate, with loyal followers now turning to Instagram for suggestions on what to buy on Black Friday. As a result, influencers have morphed into key sales drivers, with the holiday season a crucial time for many of their businesses. Already a healthy portion of many bloggers’ revenues comes from affiliate links and/or partnerships with retailers, but during the holiday season the sales they could drive increases exponentially.
“These are the new salespeople. People don’t find the salesperson in store useful and so they’re not willing to go spend face-to-face time with someone that they don’t consider an expert. That’s why you see this shift because the consumers’ salesperson is now an influencer whose life is similar to theirs but slightly more aspirational,” Venz Box said.
For content creators, it’s just giving their fan base what they want: guidance on where to get the best deals and what they should be buying. And for the followers, it’s suggestions and tips from the influencers that they’ve grown to trust, as well as keeping them in the know about anything fashion-, beauty- or lifestyle-related.
Bloggers with fan bases of 100,000 all the way to influencers with follower counts nearing one million all maintained that Thanksgiving weekend saw a spike in clicks and sales from affiliate links. In fact, customers were more keyed in to social media than even the content creators themselves expected.
Christine Andrew of Hello Fashion told WWD that her conversion rates, sales and traffic for the seven days ending Nov. 25 were markedly higher than the seven-day period one month prior. With final sales data for the holiday weekend still coming in, the 31-year-old blogger was able to confirm that during this period, so far, her conversion increased by 66 percent, sales by 104 percent and clicks by 25 percent.
“As the influencer space continues to grow, more people and brands that maybe haven’t worked with influencers are understanding the type of sales and traffic we can drive to any specific event, promotion or sale,” Andrew said, detailing her approach to holiday shopping-related content.
She explained that the strategy is a blend of sponsored and organic posts, starting with a series of sponsored, pre-Thanksgiving posts from Bebe, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s. Andrew reserves Black Friday for organic content.
“It’s been consistent to have sponsored content on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but I had a lot more asks for sponsored blog posts [this year], for sure,” Andrew said, noting that the biggest change year-over-year is the role Instagram Stories plays in all of this.
“[Instagram Stories] really allows people to not make their content seem as ‘sale-sy.’ I was in Montana on a family vacation and I could post my travel things or this coat I’m wearing out in the mountains [and let followers know] it’s 20 percent off today only,” Andrew said of the more casual, ephemeral nature of the platform’s Story function, where posts disappear after 24 hours.
Overall, Andrew has found that, for her, the outerwear category is perennially the most clicked and purchased during the holiday season.
She added: “I could do five Stories of things on sale and go back to my regular life. Instagram Stories allows us to organically say what’s on sale so easily — and also not kill your main feed where photos are permanent. A picture of me in the mountains in my coat and scarf got more clicks than my [static] Instagram posts.”
Grace Atwood of Brooklyn-based blog The Stripe agreed.
And while Atwood has 101,000 Instagram followers and Andrew has 985,000, they have both found that the “swipe up” feature on Instagram Stories (which allows one to directly link out) has been a game-changer with respect to clicks and conversion.
“It’s funny because I spend so much time putting together these thoughtfully constructed gift guides and blog posts and while they drive significant traffic and revenue, I am seeing that I can screenshot a product, utilize the ‘swipe up’ feature and drive over 1,000 clicks for a single product without doing much work,” she said.
On average, Atwood saw triple the clicks to products she linked to over the holiday weekend, versus a non-holiday weekend. And none of this was a result of sponsored content.
Atwood maintained that while she ran sponsored content on her blog in the days leading up to Black Friday last week, her holiday sales posts are all organic and contain products she’s suggesting of her own volition. She uses affiliate links when possible to monetize (and will still “highlight a handful of small businesses I love without using affiliate links”), she explained, but is not paid by any of the brands or retailers featured in these holiday posts.
Atwood sent out an e-mail to her list with her Black Friday sales roundup at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving in preparation for some post-dinner shopping and the rush the following morning.
“This year I actually saw a lot of brands asking to ‘buy’ links in Black Friday, Cyber Monday and gift guide posts. This feels shady to me…[because] how do you properly disclose when it’s just one or two ‘bought’ links versus a full sponsored post? So I always say no to inquiries of that nature,” Atwood said. “Besides, I know my readers and their favorite retailers pretty well [and] I’d rather just bring them the brands they know and love and monetize using affiliates.”
Hallie Wilson, a microinfluencer with 54,000 followers on Instagram, takes a different approach to holiday shopping altogether.
Instead of “simply spamming readers” with sale codes and deadlines, she prefers to provide followers with “helpful, usable” insights. Wilson said she listens to questions followers are asking and the holiday shopping dilemmas they may have and tailors content on her blog, Among Other Things, to that. Examples of content she’s published either during or for Cyber Week range from how to get price adjustments (on an item that you just bought that is now on sale) to educating readers on how, when and where to save on big-ticket items.
“From entertaining and gift guides to budgeting and sale-navigating, it remains to be more so about building trust and being an approachable, genuine resource through content creation and social media versus just seeing commissions,” Wilson said. “Of course, that’s important too — it’s my livelihood and a lucrative one around this time of year given consumers’ online shopping habits. I just try to be up front with readers about disclosing the money-making aspect of what I’m sharing/writing about, too.”
The digital space has also transformed Black Friday, once an American shopping holiday, into a global event.
London-based Sarah Philippa, who cofounded fashion and lifestyle blog We Are Twinset with best friend Sarah Ellis, maintained that Black Friday is “huge” in the U.K. Philippa said the two spent the couple of days before Black Friday “prepping and getting our edits together to share with our readers.”
“A lot of the offers were actually running in the days before Black Friday as well,” Philippa said, noting that she saw a “large spike” in conversion for on-sale products linked to during this time. “There’s also more traction this weekend and for Cyber Monday where there are more sales and offers and more codes and discounts.”
RewardStyle had data to support this. Of the top 20 brands and retailers for the week leading up to and including Black Friday, nine were based outside of the U.S.
“Whereas this was once an American-only holiday just a few years ago, we saw more international brands, influencers and consumers engaging,” Venz Box said, pointing out that many of the top sellers for the holiday week were headquartered in the U.K., Germany, Canada and China.