Whether we care to admit or not, we’ve all taken one or been forced to take one. I’m talking about selfies. Selfies are digital self-portraits that began to really take off when smart phones became equipped with the forward-facing camera. The photos themselves haven’t radically changed retail or downtowns – believe me, people were taking self-portraits even when they had film cameras. However, when the digital self-portraits are uploaded to social media platforms and tagged and shared by users across the world, that’s when it starts to have an impact on the brand and identity of a retailer or an entire downtown.

Greetings from Austin Mural, TX. Photo: Yelp

 

The selfie is now a common tool that people – young and old – use to share their individual experiences with others and to self-brand. The marketing power of the selfie cannot be understated. A HTC survey in 2013 of more than 2,000 mobile phone users in the UK found that about 51% of the UK had taken a selfie, creating about 35 million photos every month. Although a greater share of those aged 18-24 had taken a selfie, almost a third of those aged 65 and older had also taken one, indicating that the selfie can work on a wide range of customer segments.
Just to understand the magnitude of selfie-taking, we took a look at the number of selfies taken on Instagram.

 

Sure, selfies are often criticized for being associated with vanity or narcissism but selfies are often the first and last step a customer takes in their purchasing journey. Selfies provide inspiration for those seeking to make purchases and selfies provide validation for those who have already bought products – it’s a near instant feedback loop for customers. Selfies have indeed increased sharing of product information and resulted in more educated and conscious consumers. Today, customers search for authentic peer recommendations for a range of products and even for travel decisions so information shared on social media has in many ways surpassed the influence of magazines and newspapers. A 2016 TopDeck Travel Survey in 2016 found that in choosing where to travel, 76% of Millennials surveyed said that friends’ recommendations…and social media came far ahead of travel-agent advice.
How are retailers making use of selfies?
Retailers in a wide range of categories have used selfies as a leverage to raise brand and product awareness, and also boost in-store traffic.
1. Drug stores/ Beauty
Interactive mirrors placed in UK drug store, Superdrug Beauty Studio, allow customers to experiment with hair colors virtually and take selfies after getting hair or make-up done. This helps the store’s customers to share the quality of services being offered in-store while also providing free marketing. To make the sharing of the selfie easier, the store features iPads that enable customers to send the selfie to Facebook or Twitter with the official campaign hashtag, #TreatYourSelfie.
2. Apparel
Many apparel stores from Victoria’s Secret to French Connection and Ted Baker have used selfies as part of their marketing campaigns. These stores encourage shoppers to take photos in-store by creating a perfect backdrop or setting for taking selfies. These include special installations, interactive selfie booths and attractive storefront displays. The stores then encourage shoppers to share the selfies on their personal Twitter and Instagram profiles using official campaign hashtags by providing incentives like free gifts for anyone that uploads the photo to social media or by displaying the selfies on a public screen or storefront window.
By displaying the selfies publicly, passersby became very engaged with the store. They were able to vote for favorite selfies using hand sensors and were then more likely to walk into the store.

 

3. Food
Even with food, selfies can happen. The phenomenon known as foodstagramming is the act of taking photos of one’s food and posting them on social media. Restaurants are certainly taking advantage of it because it can be free advertising (depending on the photographer’s comments!).
How can downtowns use selfies?
Speaking of food, this week is Restaurant Week across New York City and sure enough many business improvement districts are using food selfies as a way to raise awareness of the district events and drive greater traffic to the restaurants in these areas post-event. Grand Street BID in Brooklyn, for example, is offering foodstagrammersa chance to win $50 to their favorite Grand Street Restaurant if they upload a picture of their Restaurant Week meal with the hashtag #DineOnGrand and tag the BID in the photos.

Beyond food selfies, commercial districts can also use iconic art and signage and interactive sculptures to encourage selfies by visitors and to reinforce their identities. In the past, we’ve featured the I Amsterdam sign as one example of a way that signage can drive popular images posted on social media. Many other downtowns have driven high visitation rates with iconic selfie spots. Here are some examples:

In Austin, murals across the city have become destinations in themselves and visitors are taking selfies in front of them and sharing images on social media with hashtags #Austin #ATX
In San Diego, the gateway signage to the Gaslamp Quarter has also become very iconic as a selfie spot for visitors to the area.
Creating a selfie moment in your downtown, like in a retail store, can do wonders in attracting more visitors and customers. The rapid sharing and outsourcing of opinions amongst consumers today can either make or break your downtown so make sure you provide positive moments for visitors to snap a quick and pretty selfie.
How to create a successful selfie moment downtown
 
First, remember to create a backdrop for the selfie to happen. This means good lighting, mirrors and attractive or significant art. Holiday lighting displays are often great backdrops, as are large sculptures, murals and gateway signs. The backdrop should also reflect the identity and brand of the downtown in order for the retweets and sharing of social media posts to be fully effective in driving interest and traffic to your downtown.
Second, make uploading the selfie easy. While stores and retailers can easily provide ipads and devices to customers, downtowns should instead think about providing free public wifi. From personal experience, I’m always more likely to upload and share content when I can easily get online. If I’m not able to instantly upload images after taking them, I’m likely to forget doing so later.
Third, provide incentives for visitors to take the selfies. With some visitors, you’ll need to nudge. Offer a chance to win a shopping trip or discounts at downtown stores if someone takes a selfie in the area and uploads it to social media. Featuring selfies taken downtown on outdoor advertisements and interactive platforms may also nudge some visitors to take photos. It’s always fun to see a photo you’ve taken up on a public platform!

Finally, make sure you aggregate the selfies and build your downtown brand through a common hashtag or downtown social media account that visitors can tag in their posts. This can help you drive traffic to your downtown website or even directly downtown! Make sure everyone on social media ‘liking’ or ‘retweeting’ posts is able to connect the selfie to your downtown.