Retail Guide to Instagram: How 3 Brands Leverage the Platform to Grow Sales

Leverage Instagram for Retail | Shopify Retail blog

Welcome to the Instagram party.

It’s where we get daily fashion and beauty inspiration, selfies, awe-inducing travel pics, delicious #foodporn, images of celebrities in their natural habitat, and a whole lot more.

It’s the Instagram era, and we’re just living in it.

Once simply a photo-sharing tool featuring image-enhancing filters, Instagram is now considered a platform for brands and regular folks to share content, and interact with others.

According to L2’s Social Platforms briefing, Instagram “accounts for more than a third of brand interactions, in contrast to Facebook’s 6%.” Brands have adjusted their focus accordingly: While Instagram brand posts have steadily grown since 2013 to 118 million, those on Facebook have plummeted to 96 million.

Brandwatch reports that engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, 54 times higher than Pinterest, and 84 times higher than Twitter.

Instagram posts receive a total of 3.5 billion likes every day. And on an average day, 80 million photos are shared.

So, how do you get in on this action as a brand and boost your business?

Glad you asked. We’re breaking down the Instagram “how-tos,” based on industry best practices and the experiences of three successful retailers.

Who is Using Instagram?

According to SproutSocial, Instagram now boasts a community of over 300 million users. This group of highly engaged users breaks down as the following: 53% are 18 to 29 year olds, and 25% are 30 to 49 year olds. Instagram is competing with Snapchat to retain millennial eyeballs (especially evident with the more recent release of Instagram Stories this past August).

But clearly there are enough millennials to go around, splitting their time among both platforms: according to Hootsuite, Snapchat’s largest demographic is 18 to 24 year olds (making up 37% of its audience).

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8 Ways to Boost Your Business with Instagram

If you build it, they will come, right? If only it were that easy! But attracting the right followers to your Instagram account is possible with the right tactics in place.

Let’s get inspired with these three Shopify retailers who are currently setting the bar high with their Instagram accounts. Canadian children’s clothing retailer Mini Mioche (which also has two physical locations in Toronto), watch brand MVMT Watches, and gift, apparel, and stationery brand

1. “Content is King”

If you want to attract more Instagram followers, you need to post compelling content. This means high-quality, on-brand photos and captions that resonate and speak to your audience. When considering your captions, let your brand’s authentic voice be reflected in the copy.

Alyssa Kerbel, founder of Mini Mioche, explains: “Even though it can sometimes feel like just another thing on my ‘to-do list,’ it’s very important for me to be the one to curate the account and have it be my own voice. I recognize its importance as a major marketing tool for our brand.”

(Note: As a retail owner, you need to decide whether this is something you have time to manage on your own, or outsource once you scale your business.)

Lost in the right direction. #jointhemvmt (📷:@chrispoops)

A photo posted by MVMT Watches (@mvmtwatches) on

MVMT Watches co-founder Jake Kassan also offered insight about how his brand reached a total of 800,000 followers on Instagram (the sum of MVMT’s men’s and women’s accounts).

“Hate to be cliché, but content is king. We've found a great balance between product photos and lifestyle imagery. The content has produced a lot of the growth on its own. Our marketing team has done a great job creating a voice for the brand and distributing it primarily through Instagram. Both accounts emphasize what it means to be a part of the MVMT.”

Director of Social Media at, Christina Winkelmann, shares this brand’s secret sauce when it comes to mixing product and lifestyle imagery on its Instagram channel:

“Try to balance on-brand imagery versus product shots in your Instagram feed. No one wants to be sold to [all the time], so take a step back and look at the feed holistically.”

Winkelmann continues: “As of right now, with so much coming out in the next three months (no really, there are new products coming to the site every two weeks!), our main focus [at] is to establish our Instagram account as somewhat of a news outlet for everything You want to know what’s happening in the world of Just check Instagram. Everything from new products, events, and exclusives to fun things happening around LA, we want our girl to know that she can come to our Instagram account and get the most up-to-date information on what's happening with the brand.”

Balancing product shots with information on the brand and lifestyle imagery is key to curating a quality feed. As Kerbel of Mini Mioche says: “It’s not about quantity, but quality when it comes to posting (don’t just post for the sake of posting). Make sure your photos are high quality and test out different types of posts to see what your followers seem to respond best to.”

Wait, did someone say “testing”? Stay tuned: More on this in a bit.

2. Engagement is Key

Remember when Instagram announced this past spring that it was changing the way in-feed content would be displayed? Instagram introduced an algorithm, which meant that posts were no longer going to be served chronologically. It caused mass panic among bloggers and smaller brands.

Well, the new algorithm officially launched this summer — and we all survived.

Here is what it means for brands: You need to ensure high engagement with your content. The more engagement you generate (likes and comments), the more your posts will show up in your followers’ feeds. This is quite similar to Facebook’s algorithm (which makes sense, as Facebook is the social media mothership, after all.)

This means that brands need to drive engagement by having conversations with fans. Put the “social” in social media by responding to and acknowledging your followers’ comments.

TIP: Even a simple “emoji” response to a follower’s comment is a great way to engage. And will make them more likely to convert as a shopper and loyal fan.

Kassan from MVMT Watches explains further: “Make sure you create a dialogue with your customers, comment, respond to DMs, etc. The consumer really feels a personal relationship with your brand.”

Winkelmann of agrees. “Start interacting with your followers and ask them what they want to see. Interact with other like-minded brands. Get the conversations going.”

3. Measure Your Success (and Failures)

    High engagement per post and follower growth are the ultimate success metrics on Instagram. But to make sure you’re on the right track, it’s important to record when you’re #winning and when you experience an #epicfail.

    Creating reports and tracking your Instagram posts’ likes and comments can be as easy as manually taking note of engagement in a spreadsheet, along with recording the amount of new followers your account gained per week or per day (depending on how granular you want to be).

    There aren’t many free reporting tools available today (most of the free ones transitioned to “pay to play” versions), but if you’re looking for an easy way to help track your Instagram stats, try the free versions of Socialbakers and Squarelovin.

    (Of course, as a larger retailer you’ll want to invest in a reporting tool, which will offer you deep insights on how your content is performing. The aforementioned tools offer more in-depth, premium services, as do other popular platforms like Iconosquare and Dash Hudson; it’s a good idea to see which one is best suited to your needs and budget.)

    Winkelmann of suggests this as well: “Start tracking your progress. Everything is trial and error and [tracking] can help with that.”

    It’s great to try different things, as long as you measure the impact. So play around with your grid’s aesthetic and post new types of images, for example. Try out Instagram Stories if it helps create a new point-of-view for your brand without having to post that content in your more curated Instagram feed. Then measure to see if there's a direct correlation between posting Stories and a large increase in new followers.

    4. Partner With Influencers

    In order to get your brand out there and raise awareness, collaborate with influencers.

    Kerbel of Mini Mioche explains how an influencer strategy has worked for her brand:

    “We regularly partner with various ‘key influencers’ or bloggers that we feel are in line with the look and feel of our brand and have a significant following. By having them simply post photos of their kids in their Mini Mioche clothing, it not only results in amazing exposure for the brand, but it also gives the brand a certain amount of ‘street cred,’ so to speak.”

    While it's tough for Mini Mioche to measure the strategy's influence on sales, Kerbel is convinced these collaborations do move the needle. Kerbel continues: “One of the drawbacks of Instagram is that it is difficult to monitor its direct effect on online sales. What we do see however, is an increase in the number of followers we get when one of our influencers posts and tags us. And the more followers we get, the more our online sales continue to increase.”

    Working with influencers can either be free or paid — it depends on your budget and the amount of noise you want to make. If you find on-brand bloggers with Instagram followings that are high enough to make some buzz but low enough that they’re okay with not getting monetarily compensated, those can work well. Seek them out on Instagram and send them a direct message or email, introducing yourself and the brand.

    For more information on this strategy, check out our breakdown of micro-influencers.

    Or, if you have a bit more budget and want to scale your outreach, try a blogger discovery and outreach platform like Pitchbox or BuzzStream Discovery, or work with an Influencer agency that specializes in recruiting and managing influencers to partner with.

    5. Launch Contests

    Running contests is another way to increase your number of Instagram followers.

    Here are three popular contest entry methods:

    A: Ask people to post a photo featuring your product(s), using a specific hashtag (so that you can easily track all entries).

    B: Ask people to “Like” your brand’s Instagram account and “tag” a certain number of people on a post (tagging is one way to publicly share posts with friends).

    C: Ask people to “Like” your brand’s Instagram account and comment on a specific post.

    Mini Mioche runs monthly contests on Instagram.

    “Our customers simply post photos of their kids in their Mini Mioche clothing or accessories with the hashtag #liveinminimioche to automatically be entered to win a gift card to our online shop. This has proven to be an extremely cost-effective marketing strategy for us as it results in a large number of people sharing the brand with their own followers and some great photos (i.e. content), which we can use to re-post on our own feed," says Kerbel.

    Which leads us to…

    6. Leverage User-Generated Content

    Posting user-generated content is a great way to build brand love. “Regramming” a fan’s photo is not only a fun way to showcase authentic content, but it also “rewards” followers who appreciate the shout-out of getting featured in your feed. It’s the kind of validation fans love. According to Bazaarvoice, “64% of millennials and 53% of baby boomers want more options to share their opinions about brands, while other studies show consumers trust user-generated content more than all other forms of media.”

    Kassan of MVMT explains: “We just wanted to get our community involved. MVMT is more than just a watch, it’s a promise to our customers. We wanted to create something that our community of customers could stand behind. We landed with #JoinTheMVMT.”

    TIP: Create a hashtag that ties into your brand name.

    It's all in the details ✨ @barbara_ines (Shop link in bio)

    A photo posted by forever21 (@forever21) on

    Forever 21 is renowned for building an engaged community of millennial “brand ambassadors” who love posting their #ootd (a.k.a. “outfit of the day”) using the hashtag #F21xMe, in the hopes of being regrammed.

    7. Invest in Sponsored Posts

    In the fall of 2015, Instagram launched a “self-serve” ad platform, so that businesses of all sizes could benefit from using its business tools. With three ad formats available (single image, video, and carousel) and call-to-action buttons available on all three ad formats, you can count on higher direct-engagement rates. So, whether you’re prompting fans to “Shop Now” or “Learn More,” users are two-and-a-half times more likely to click on ads in Instagram than on any other social media platform.

    As a smaller retailer, it can be intimidating to try Sponsored Posts on Instagram, but the “self-serve” platform really helps tailor your campaign to your needs. According to Social Media Strategist and founder of True Rivalry Jason Portnoy, “You can experience some traction with even $200 per ad, making it more affordable than traditional print or radio advertising. And it’s easier to measure the ROI with Facebook and Instagram ads, since you can actually see who you're reaching, the conversion rate, the demographic, the age group, etc., making your ad spend justifiable and quantifiable. It’s also agile, so if an ad is not performing, you can adjust the variables or even turn it off altogether.”

    TIP: Remember that your caption and image also need to be strong to ensure better results.

    8. Consider Shoppable Instagram

    While it’s great to have call-to-action buttons within posts thanks to sponsored ads, many brands have made their feeds shoppable, which introduces a major revenue opportunity. uses Foursixty, which integrates seamlessly with Shopify and turns your Instagram feed into a shoppable gallery. Winkelmann explains: “We use Foursixty at and we’ve found that it’s a great way to increase and track Instagram revenue. By adding our custom Foursixty link to our Instagram profile, we can link products in our Instagram feed directly to their corresponding product pages. It takes followers (potential shoppers!) to a curated shopping feed that we have the ability to control and monitor, and is very user friendly. It’s fantastic and generates close to 40% of our trackable social media revenue.”

    It is an investment, but eventually, the additional revenue this channel brings in will likely more than pay for itself.

    Easy Tactics to Implement, ASAP:

    • Update your Instagram bio: Make sure your bio clearly states your brand’s mission and purpose.
    • Play around with Boomerang: This app is native to Instagram and allows you to create a GIF-like image which adds a dynamic touch to your posts that catches the attention of your followers.
    • Get inspired by other brands: Scroll through Instagram often and take note of what other brands, bloggers, and publications are doing. Just make sure to follow them on your personal account.
    • Stay up to date on tech news: Winkelmann of elaborates: “Instagram (and pretty much all other social platforms) are constantly evolving to match the needs of their consumers… Subscribe to all the online tech publications like Mashable, Gizmodo and Wired so you’re in the know on everything social media/tech related.”
    • Leverage trending days: Create an editorial calendar to guide your daily posts and create content for trending days like #NationalDonutDay and #NationalCatDay. This ensures your brand will be part of these conversations.

    To Recap

    Instagram has certainly opened up a world of opportunity for brands and a world of inspiration for users.

    Kassan from MVMT sums it up perfectly: “Instagram is a modern-day magazine. We can create buzz around product launches or just have amazing content that we're pushing.”

    We’ll “double tap” to that.