Instagram fashion retailers

How Fashion and Retail Companies are Using Instagram to Drive Sales

August 21, 2019
Hugh Stephens

The key techniques for fashion and retail companies to drive sales through Instagram.

While Instagram has been around for a while, its recent developments mean that a whole new way to shop has been opened up – without ever leaving the app!

And its traditional function of presenting products in a succinct and appealing way is just as strong as ever. In fact, with over 500 million users a day, Instagram is THE go-to choice for fashion and retail brands to grow their following and sales.

Highly visual, creative and intuitive to followers’ needs and desires, many brands are using Instagram in ingenious ways. They are mixing their own posts with user-generated content to draw in new and existing customers.

So, what’s the secret behind Instagram success for fashion and retail brands? Let’s take a close-up look at the techniques behind some of Instagram’s best-known and up-and-coming stars.

Keeping it visual and fresh

The obvious appeal of Instagram is its visual impact. It’s all about the photos – after all, one of its founding aims was to have “a world connected by photos”.

Firstly, this means that having a continuous supply of professional photos to showcase products is essential to capturing imagination and sales. Pictures need to be clean, sharp and epitomise the spirit of the brand.

Queen of brands, Tiffany & Co, is a great example of a traditional brand flexing to meet the demands of a fresh, modern market through the medium of photography.

Tiffany & Co recently partnered with fresh photography talent Renell Medrano to bring an edgy new look to this heritage brand. In New York Fashion Week, Medrano captured couples wearing the Tiffany T True collection for use on its channels.

The result brings the brand bang up-to-date, depicting an intimate and candid look at love and relationships, as far removed from Tiffany’s traditional image as you can imagine.

Result? The brand has enjoyed exposure to a whole new, diverse audience.

(As an aside, in an interesting mix of combining tradition with modernism, Tiffany & Co use their signature “Tiffany blue” – their own special shade of robin egg blue that they’ve been using since the mid-nineteenth century - as a theme on their posts, making them distinctive and unique, and successfully melding the old and the new.)

Instagram stories on three different phones from Graphic Assets.

Instagram offers a fresh, visual platform for fashion retailers
Image credit: "Fashion Promo IG Stories Pack" by Graphic Assets is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Tapping in to user-generated content

For some brands, it’s as much about the professional images as the user-generated content (UGC) and candid angles that make a product relatable and desirable.

Tapping into user- and influencer-generated content by reposting and including followers’ posts in website feeds is an essential part of building brand loyalty.

Beauty brand Glossier describes itself as ‘a people-powered beauty ecosystem'. It certainly lives up to its claims, reposting user-generated content which includes memes, and pics of customers using its products. This makes it instantly relatable and gives the follower that cosy feeling that they’re part of an exclusive club.

Glossier also uses a signature colour for its packaging– in this case petal pink – that’s perfect for Instagram. With 2.2 million followers and revenue hitting over $100 million last year, it’s a winning formula.

San Francisco-based fashion brand Everlane is a winning example of mixing up its own curated content with UGC. Some posts depict followers wearing its items or simply travel pics that fit the brand’s ethos – open, global and ethical. With over 770,000 followers, it’s a winning strategy.

Celebrity endorsement

One of the most efficient ways to increase your followers and so drive up sales as a retail or fashion brand is to piggyback on to the power of celebrity.

Many fashion and retail brands lend themselves to adorning celebrities, who will happily partner up with a brand they love. A quick win for retail and fashion brands on Instagram is to repost celebrities wearing their items.

Big names such as Selena Gomez partnering up with brand giants – in Selena’s case, Adidas – can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the brand.

In fact, a post endorsed by Instagram queen Beyoncé would reportedly be worth $1,000,000...which suggests that the cost of hiring such a celebrity is likely to be huge.

Selena Gomez in retail advertisement.

Selena Gomez is an Instagram giant
Image credit: "1324337094568" by conceptx_design is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

But some smaller fashion brands have got lesser celebrities who epitomise their ethos on board to help boost their Insta profile. Far less costly and with a more solid air of authenticity, this is the way to go for smaller labels that are just starting out.

Bondi-based retailer Chosen The Label mixes up its Insta feed with professionally shot pics of models and photos of individuals who may not be celebrities, but are high profile in their own field – a skincare brand owner (Zoë Foster Blake), a digital creator (Michelle Bañares) – and the odd picture of celebrities (Drew Barrymore and Ruby Tuesday Matthews) who just so happen to be wearing their pieces.

It’s a genius strategy that combines excitement with authenticity, making the brand appealing to as wide a cross-section of the market as possible.

What about influencers?

Instagram influencers are becoming an alternative to celebrity endorsement. They could well be considered a more attractive choice as they instil feelings of authenticity and transparency that consumers expect right now.

The attraction of the influencer lies in the fact that they have created content themselves, are a more approachable image, are more likely to engage with audiences and more likely to be considered a trustworthy source of information and inspiration.

Using a content creator or influencer who has already built up a following and reputation for trustworthiness is a winning strategy for fashion and retail brands.

And perhaps the most useful selling point is that the influencer will already have a very targeted audience, and are considered experts worth following, as much for their knowledge as their authenticity.

It’s the power of word-of-mouth- but on a big scale.

It’s also about evolving with how the upcoming generation are making their choices and how and what they are consuming. With the advent of streaming services, current audiences no longer watch television. They favour blogs over magazines and playlists over radio.

So traditional forms of advertising will be completely lost on this demographic.

Take the example of Australian fashion blogger Elise Cook. Her stunning Instagram account showcases travel photography using a very clever and Insta-friendly palette of pastel pinks, blue and ivory, with a splash of burnt orange.

Visually stunning, with a mix of bohemian fashion, food, travel and lifestyle pics. She was the perfect choice for Sydney-based affordable but fun and feminine fashion brand Hello Molly.

Their Insta story collaboration featured Elise on a tour of South Australia, taking in vibrant markets, wineries and amusement parks, celebrating everything about summer fun and fashion.

This was the perfect marriage, with both “brands” perfectly matched and epitomising balmy summer days mooching around markets and sipping sun-ripened wine.

Small but aspiring Hello Molly was able to reach out to Elise’s 359,000 followers. In turn, the Australian blogger grew her followers by almost 10 per cent. Win-win!

Channelling the zeitgeist

But it’s not only about the big names. Instagram is a great leveller and is giving even the smallest brands the chance to grow their business and hit those hard-to-reach audiences.

Take the example of Thrumka, a Sydney-based independent fashion label specialising in print patterns, bags and homeware, and fiercely proud of its ethical credentials.

Based in a retail concept store in Newtown, Sydney, Thrumka knows how to work Instagram to capture the imagination of potential customers and drive them to make purchases online, but more so in person at the store and local markets.

With hashtags such as #shoplocal and #streetstyle, the brand taps into the current desire to make responsible and relatable purchasing decisions.

Meanwhile, its Instagram account cleverly intersperses fashion shots with moody pictures of abandoned industrial buildings, powerlines and nuclear power plants.

This showcases some of the inspiration behind its quirky designs, making them masters of balancing sales with non-sales content to really conjure up the ethos of the brand.


Instagram stories were made for the fashion industry. They’re a hit with audiences, with 500 million people using their power every day.

It’s reported that one in five business users who post stories receive a direct message as a result. They’ve certainly earned their position as one of the most efficient ways to up engagement and sales through social media channels.

Stories should be just what they say they are – the unfolding of a narrative, sometimes with an air of mystery, sometimes a simple information piece that tells the tale of how a product is made an encapsulating its brand ethos.

Instagram story thumbnails on app.

Hundreds of millions use Instagram stories every day
Image credit: "STRGNV2" by stroganovaphoto is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

The Italian shoe manufacturer M. Gemi posted a 15-second long story showing the journey from traditional handcrafting methods to the finished product, with the tagline “Crafted By Hand”.

This intimate but linear narrative helped convey to its audience the quality and care put into the creation of the product, in turn making them feel connected and informed about their purchasing choices.

Big fashion brands such as Calvin Klein understand the power of reaching out to audiences through Insta stories. At the 2018 Emmy Awards they showed a behind-the-scenes peek with “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown in full Klein regalia. This documentary-style story helped create a feeling of intimacy and exclusivity that the brand thrives on.

The main takeaway is that stories gives a brand the chance to offer its audience something a little bit exclusive. Maybe a chat with employees or someone involved in the production process. Perhaps a special or iconic place or process that makes their brand unique.

Stories can be informative too. Fashion lends itself to Instagram stories as brands can depict different products being put together to create an outfit or a variety of settings – the workplace, home or on a night out – where the items can be worn.

They’re also perfect for showing a whole catalogue of products in short, sharp bursts or even one single item from different viewpoints, creating interest and intrigue.

It’s about humanising social media, making it relatable and offering a little exclusivity and excitement to boot.

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Pushing product promotions

Exclusive promotions and sales were made for the immediacy of Instagram. Making exclusive announcements about new items and special offers means followers can feel they have a bit of a scoop when it comes to offers. 

Posting announcements advising of forthcoming promotions, sales or offers also means followers can plan ahead and get excited about products, purchasing as soon as they go live. The most successful retailers then find they sell out pretty quickly.

Advertisements and promotions from Graphic Assets

Instagram makes it easy to promote sales
Image credit: "Fashion Promo IG Stories Pack" by Graphic Assets is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Exclusives can be given to Instagram followers, making them feel they like are part of a special club. Another sneaky way to gain more followers is to run giveaways in exchange for follows.

There are a few variations of this strategy:

  • “like to win” contests where you just ask people to follow you and like a post for a chance to win
  • tagging a friend where followers comment and tag a friend to be in for a chance
  • posting a picture or selfie meaningful to your competition or brand
  • “share this post” style giveaways where anyone who shares and tags with the competition hashtag has a chance to win.

Tailor-made for you

The worlds of marketing and advertising have changed so much with the advent of social media. Nowadays, one size certainly doesn’t fit all. 

Localisation is one of the key factors here. Instagram uses the Facebook advertising system, enabling you to target ads to users in your location. This is especially valuable for fashion brands that still operate out of retail outlets, and not exclusively online. 

You can target the recipients of your ads not just according to their physical location, but based on their age, purchasing behaviour and interests.

Facebook Ads Manager will allow you to select advertising objectives such as brand awareness, reach or lead generation. It will also allow you to either create a new saved audience or use an existing custom audience, so this could be by location, age or gender.

You can even target people based on their interests, jobs or hobbies. It really is that targeted!

Handbag brand Dagne Dover built their custom audiences by searching customers’ profiles to find people who had an interest in travel, or were new mums or students. These ultra-targeted groups meant that the brand generated a return of 13 times their ad spend, with a 63% lower cost per click.

Brands can also target people who may have viewed a product but have not yet made a purchase, highlighting the same items. This translates into lower cost per ad-to-cart action and shows that being super specific really does pay dividends.

Tagging items and making posts shoppable

Recently-added functions mean that companies can now easily translate posts into sales by linking directly and quickly to items for purchase. This enables customers to buy without clicking away from Instagram.

The ability to tag products is at the core of making posts shoppable.

Tagging products in Instagram has got to be one of the most exciting developments for retailers, particularly fashion brands. Since they debuted in 2016, they have been rolled out to more and more relevant accounts. It just so happens that they were made for online fashion stores.

It allows you the retailer to add descriptions, product codes, and price tags to items depicted. Clicking through on the tags takes you to the website to make your purchase – easy!

Hovering over a post with a shoppable tag allows you to see details such as price and a description. Follow the black arrow to go directly to the website to find out more about the product and make your purchase.

It makes purchasing so much more streamlined and instantaneous.

What’s even more exciting is the ability to add shoppable tags to stories now. As we’ve seen, stories are powerful ways to draw potential customers into a scene that they can relate to. With the addition of tags, it makes it so much easier for customers to now simply tap and buy into the dream.

Of course, if you only have a few words available to add to your tag, you need to be concise, and your photography lean – showing your product off to its best advantage.

Australian brand Verge Girl has the shoppable tag covered, using a combination of pictures showing models and dummies wearing their products, some shot in studio others on location. It’s a winning formula, drawing the Insta user into their world and taking them direct to their shop.

Working to a schedule…

Some clever behind-the-scenes stuff comes into its own here. Scheduling with product tags is excellent for any self-respecting fashion retailer’s planning for their marketing strategy.

A go-to tool like Sked Social allows you to plan out and schedule Instagram stories and posts, including those with product tags, to capture your audience’s imagination. This tool really shines when you’re planning a sale or special promotion. For example, allowing the retailer to pre-prepare their marketing material well in advance of launch date.

To amplify your Instagram engagement and subsequent sales even more, use it in combination with Sked Link.

While Instagram only allows you one link in your bio, employing Sked Link allows you to share more than one link with your followers. That means you can connect followers to your blog, email, products and more from individual posts. And we all know that more opportunities to connect equals more sales.

It’s customisable, will match to your brand and what’s more, it’s free – so it’s a win all around then!

The final word…

Instagram is here to stay…and it’s a constantly evolving and innovating channel. 

This analysis has just touched on the major ways of upping sales on Instagram. There are many more innovations that have recently come online or are waiting in the wings.

Handpicked accounts can now create their own augmented reality filters for stories, offering a fun way to capture followers’ imaginations and build brand identity as the custom-made filters are shared and used.

Instagram story ads have become the natural progression from the popularity of the stories feature. With hundreds of millions of people viewing stories every day, there is surely a captive audience there.

As an example of the success of story ads, Gap achieved a 73 per cent higher click-through rate than its earlier Instagram campaigns by using story ads.

Talking of stories, we all know how effective they are at pulling in audiences. The downside is that they disappear after 24 hours. The Stories Highlights feature can now preserve a brand’s best stories, with them visible at the top of profiles to make it easy for followers to click back on and relive the narrative.

Keeping up with new ways to use Instagram is vital, and mixing up content is one way to do this. What about cinemagraphs? These are still images that include just a small amount of movement in them. They can be used really effectively in fashion and retail brands. 

The same goes for video platform IGTV, where brands can post longer videos – up to one hour. It's the perfect feature for telling a story about a particular product or collection, sharing videos from events (think fashion shows), interviews or basically any video that will capture your audience’s imagination and ultimately boost sales.

The world of Instagram is a constantly changing medium, the perfect platform for fashion and retail brands thanks to its intensely visual style and tools for quick purchases.

The challenge is to evolve in tandem with Instagram, keeping your content fresh, engaging and inventive. Stick to this formula, and you will be rewarded with increased follower numbers, higher sales and a loyal following that grows with your every success.


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