Retailers Are Increasingly Using Real People’s Social Pics

Goodbye SoHo, hello Main Street

Headshot of Christopher Heine

E-commerce players have long relied on willowy models and high-end studios for their product photos, taking a page from glossy print catalogs.

But e-retailers are increasingly switching out those slick product pics for snapshots of regular folks endorsing brands on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. The move allows marketers to create a vibe that’s more Main Street than SoHo.

“Instead of someone who is 5-feet 11-inches and perfect, it’s somebody who looks more like you,” noted Liz Eswein, co-founder of social marketing startup The Mobile Media Lab.

Urban Outfitters, Rebecca Minkoff, Under Armour, and are beta-testing a platform from Curalate called Fanreel, which helps brands manage hashtagged photos on social channels and post them to their e-commerce properties (consumers must sign off on copyrighted material). After selecting a user-generated photo, brands can also link the image—appearing on, say, Instagram—to their e-commerce product pages.

In the last few weeks, has seen an engagement rate of 30 percent for the Web gallery—stacked with more than 50 bridal events—that it has dedicated to the user-generated content (UGC).

In the coming weeks, Urban Outfitters plans to take it up a notch. “We’ll put the photos on our product pages,” said Moira Gregonis, senior marketing manager at Urban Outfitters. “Social-generated images are creeping up on all of our marketing channels. That’s where our customers are.”

Fanreel also offers analytics that intrigue Gregonis, whose brand counts 912,000 Instagram followers. “With all we are doing on Instagram, we sometimes wonder what we’re getting back,” she explained. “For the first time, we can collect metrics that show people hashtagging photos of this product or that product.”

Other fashion retailers, such as NastyGal and Dannijo, are adorning their sites with consumer-snapped photos while utilizing Olapic’s software.

“The user-generated content we pull [with the software] increases conversion rates,” said Mary Mentz, e-commerce strategist for Dannijo. “Our customers are six times more likely to purchase with [the social pictures] on our product pages.”

It’s no coincidence that each of the aforementioned players caters to social-addicted teens and twentysomethings. But social images may not be just for brands focusing on young demos.

For instance, Mini Cooper is redesigning its site, which will be lovingly bedecked with social-generated photos, with an assist from digital firms Beam Interactive and Widen, which specialize in storing UGC.

“It’s great to have real-life photos,” said Michael Gilday, Beam’s multimedia lead for Mini Cooper. “It’s like a gold mine.”

But even with early results showing big promise, whether social images are a sales bonanza for batches of e-commerce players probably remains to be seen.

“I was skeptical at first,” said Alan Dessy, CEO of “But it’s good content that lets customers see our products in their future.”

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.