Retail Brands Make a Comeback Using Paid Social

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone was talking about the “Retail Apocalypse”. Household names like Toys ‘R Us disappeared, and others such as J.C Penny and Sears were reduced to shadows of their former selves. Even the likes of Macy’s, a symbol of the retail industry, announced a significant closing of stores.

In this post, we’ll cover the numerous reasons put forward for this “apocalypse”: one is the rise of e-commerce: including the rise of Direct-to-Consumer or “D2C” or “DTC” brands such as Casper mattresses, where consumers are able to access products directly from the brand; Social Commerce, which combines a social media element into the shopping experience; and a trend, which the pandemic accelerated, of doing more shopping online. Also making an impact are the likes of Amazon, Shopify, fast fashion brands such as Zara, an over-supply of malls, a move towards an experience economy, and a shrinking middle class.

And yet, despite all odds, there has been a resurgence in retail – could this be the greatest comeback ever?

In this post, we’ll investigate leading retailers’ paid social media strategies, what works, what drives positive (and negative) consumer sentiment, and how different brands are approaching this challenge.


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02.14.2021 - 05.14.2021

Creative Strategies

Stunning Visuals

Sephora’s posts regularly highlight bold colors. This post is a great example. 

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Adidas also showcased visuals that stand out.

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Savvy Social Media Usage

Here, Sephora encouraged a “tag a friend” to expand their post’s reach.

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Target also boxed smart, sharing posts such as this one which are highly shareable. 

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Nordstrom Instagram posts will often send users to their Stories, where shopping can be done more seamlessly. 

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Multiple shopping options

Here, Walmart highlights their curbside pickup option. 

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Walmart also shows off its no-minimum, free shipping option.

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Even Dollar Tree is promoting shopping through their online store.

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Non-typical models

MATCHESFASHION will often use non-typical images and models in their campaigns.

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Target also gained much praise from social media users for campaigns like these with comments like “Love this! I’ve been so happy to see fit women with stretch marks, differently abled bodies, etc in their ads. Representation and reality...thanks Target!”

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Kohl’s also used models that represented all people. 

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Gap too joins the movement away from super-skinny models.

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Leading Retail's Comeback

Retailers are getting much better at using social media to drive user actions throughout the funnel. From awareness to prompting a purchase decision, retailers are demonstrating a new social media savviness that can drive their ongoing comeback.

Winning strategies and key learnings expanded on in the full report include:

  • Ensure campaigns on social media are coordinated with in-store operations
  • Stunning visuals drive results
  • Using paid social media campaigns smartly can make all the difference
  • If used correctly digital campaigns can drive massive online sales
  • Connecting with the customer is paramount – for example, leading retailers are moving away from unrealistic models and towards more inclusive ones

Without the access to this data that BrandTotal provides, we would be unable to see most of these campaigns, the overall trends and the specifics of each brand. 

Want to unlock more research on how paid social is driving the retail comeback? Download the full report here.