For a long time, Rachel M. had neither the time nor inclination to stay up-to-date on fashion trends. Always too busy with work and school to read magazines or actively seek out blog posts for inspiration, she resigned herself to be slightly out of touch. However, now that social media and style trends are more integrated, her interest in fashion has shifted.
“I’m finding it really fun to stay current with the latest looks…simply by going through my feed,” said the 27-year-old health care professional, referring to her Instagram account. “By following influencers, I’m automatically familiar with the current styles and how I can integrate them easily into my wardrobe.”
Many millennials, like Rachel, have found a new “passion for fashion” through social media. This growing population of potential followers has in turn inspired a whole new crop of influencers helping connect apparel brands to their networks though a rapidly growing three-year-old shopping discovery app.
No longer limited to just blogging, influencers have a variety of skills and come from many backgrounds and professions. Lydia C., a 24-year-old whose day job is in banking, discovered her affinity for content creation while running track and field in college. She began to post pictures and videos of herself on Instagram modeling performance apparel along with fashion, fitness and training advice. She now has tens of thousands of followers and, as a result, has attracted partnerships with athletic clothing brands, giving her some nice extra income.
In the old days—that is, five years ago–influencers needed to be bona fide fashion bloggers to secure sponsorships with brands and retailers, openly promoting the products and including links to retailer websites. Many had to negotiate their own commissions, a non-starter for busy millennials with day jobs who wanted to spend their free time pursuing their main interests, not doing deals.
Enter LIKEtoKNOW.it. The app, launched in 2014, provides a win-win-win for brands, influencers and consumers. It helps consumers buy items they see on social media posts by simply taking a screen shot. It also helps the influencers who use platforms like Instagram and Snapchat (that do not allow links) earn a commission on products they help sell. Finally, it helps brands who want to expand their market awareness in a targeted, cost-effective way.
How It Works
LIKEtoKNOW.it is simple: a blogger or influencer posts a photo of an outfit or shot in which he or she is using a specific product, then uploads the photo to the LTK app.
A follower who “likes” or takes a screenshot of the image will receive an email about where to buy the product. This engagement is critical for fostering the partnership between the retailers and LIKEtoKNOW.it, providing important feedback and metrics.
Because influencers can easily monetize their image content, they spend more time developing their style trends and ensuring that their posts are appropriate for the season and their followers. For followers, these posts at their fingertips make buying the items they see on their feeds easier than ever using LIKEtoKNOW.it.
How Does an Influencer Work with LTK?
LIKEtoKNOW.it does not accept just any blogger/influencer. One must first be accepted to RewardStyle, the parent company of LTK, to use the app. RewardStyle is an invitation-only end-to-end content monetization platform for digital influencers and brands created by Amber Venz Box, a Dallas-based personal shopper and blogger who saw the opportunity to match influencers, consumers and retailers/brands in a win-win-win proposition.
Since inception, the firm, which according to Crunchbase raised $15 million in Series A funding in 2015, a drop in the bucket compared to other tech commerce startups, has grown from a one-woman operation into a global network of 16,000 influencers generating over a billion dollars in cumulative sales for 4,000 retailers ranging from Walmart to Net-A-Porter, and 500,000 brand partners, from tiny startups to major names like Anthropologie.
Dallas blogger Amanda Miller of “The Miller Affect [sic.]” wrote a temporary online piece revealing the top-secret RewardStyle selection process. RewardStyle, according to Miller, receives 1,000 new applications weekly, and has over 10,000 content creators on board. Once accepted, those who want to use LIKEtoKNOW.it include hashtags to make the most commission from their posts, such as #ltkalert, #ltkunder50 (for products under 50 dollars), and #ltkunder100 (for products under 100 dollars). All products are linked to sites where users can find and purchase the products.
LTK influencers, some of whom reportedly make over $100K per year through the app, rely on the loyalty of their follower base, so they make it a point to display high quality items that will continue to please (and boost their metrics and commissions). The commissions influencers receive, which vary depending on a variety of factors, are paid by the affiliate retailers and brands, and administered by RewardStyle, after the latter takes a cut. Screenshotting and liking photos is a good indicator of purchase intent, which helps brands and retailers measure the shopping journey, or the steps between a consumer liking an item, surveying its price, material, sizing, and other aspects displayed online, and finally buying it.
How Is the Platform Helping Shoppers?
Mike K., a busy, 31-year-old architect who follows a half-dozen influencers on social media, said LIKEtoKNOW.it has made finding clothes for work and going out easier and more accessible. He appreciates that the guys he follows are real people, not models, allowing him a more realistic view of the clothing and, in the process, potentially reducing return rates. “I got sick of sending back things I purchased online because they didn’t look good on me. I like using LIKEtoKNOW.it because I follow influencers who are fit but not super skinny, who have a similar body type to mine.”
Consumers are voting with their wallet. Since its launch three years ago, the two million-plus shoppers using LIKEtoKNOW.it have purchased more than $350 million in merchandise using the app, further evidence of the disruptive impact that social media is having on apparel retailing.
Changing the Game
LTK is helping to fuel the boom of the Long Tail phenomenon, the growing market share enjoyed collectively by the hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny new brands cropping up and gaining loyalty from small targeted consumer microsegments. Working with RewardStyle and LTK, lesser-known brands can rise to the top due to as little as one Instagram post from a trusted influencer.
New York-based Simone, who started her fashion blog Simply by Simone four years ago while working in human resources for a large financial services company, said that in the two-and-a-half years since joining the RewardStyle network, she has been able to be more authentic and to take more risks: “My followers look to me for motivation and advice on how to live a stylish lifestyle, not as someone who is trying to sell them stuff. I also have to be open to new ideas, and having access to many small up-and-coming brands as well as the big ones really helps with that.”
LTK has the power to move the needle for larger-scale retailers as well. Pioneers like Nordstrom and Shopbop, who recognized early on the potential of such a platform to raise the stakes for both pricing and trends, have reportedly incorporated key learnings from their engagement with influencers into their marketing strategies. Even well-known retailers benefit from endorsement from trusted influencers. Although Instagram and other social media platforms serve up digital advertising that displays products on users’ feeds, many younger consumers are wary of such targeted advertising, and feel more comfortable choosing products from trusted influencers.
Laura P., 39, is a busy mom who likes to shop in physical stores and is starting to make more use of Instagram and Pinterest to find new looks. She feels that traditional retailers who want to attract her to their stores have really dropped the ball by focusing on fewer brands and bigger discounts rather than by helping her find products that fit her lifestyle needs. She believes that the old guard should make much bigger use of influencers and other real people as endorsers, stock newer brands and make shopping easier through apps. “LTK has really helped me expand the number of brands I trust and purchase, so wouldn’t it do the same for physical stores who want to instill that same level of confidence?”
Simone of Simply Simone, who sees evidence every day how many traditional retailers still don’t fully grasp the disruption currently underway, said: “Traditional retailers should be more open to creating a shopping experience. Not just a traditional come in, try on, leave. Something more interactive, like having iPads in store to pre-order new clothing from before it hits the Internet, or inviting influencers, local celebrities and stylists. We can order everything online now, so it’s about what entices me to get into a store.”