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Retail on Paid Social in 2021: Watch out for these 6 trends predicted by Paid Social marketers

‘People love to buy but hate to be sold.’  

A mantra that all paid social marketers subscribe to, especially for retail.

Retailers, both online and offline, stand to gain the most from paid social.

Just take a look at Sprout social’s data that backs this up.

A robust social media presence coupled with a strong paid social strategy can cater to users at all stages in the marketing funnel.

What happened with retail on Paid Social in 2020?

Social Media advertising cost

Until 2019, social media impressions were increasing 20% year on year, but that changed in 2020. The ‘year of pandemic’ permanently altered consumer behavior and shopping patterns.

Since there was reduced competition till Q2, the CPM was lower, allowing some retailers to reach a broader audience cost-effectively.

But in line with previous years, brands spent more in Q3 and Q4. But, Q4 in 2020 saw an exceptional phenomenon.

“(The) worldwide ad spend increased by 50.3% compared to the holiday peak in Q4 2019," Yuval Ben-Itzhak, President, Socialbakers.


The answer is simple. Brands have finally understood that paid social is the best way to get themselves in front of their target audience.

And we see this continue in 2021.

What’s happening with Paid Social for retail in 2021?

According to Global Web Index, 24% of internet users clicked on a sponsored post or a paid ad on social media in February 2021.

Demographic stats

While hyper-personalization is understood in theory, it requires a deeper understanding of design, technology, and paid social for retail.

Creating these customized journeys for retail in-house can be challenging, especially when there are hundreds of products that need a dynamic creative and the target demographic is broad.

Besides, ad fatigue on Facebook is real.

The best way to tackle this is to harness the power of automation on paid social media platforms or rely on a paid social media marketing agency.

Take Facebook automotive dynamic ads, for example. In theory, an automotive company can plug in their inventory to Facebook and start running dynamic ads. But they can only get you so far. Handling a large inventory is problematic, and so is creating personalized ads in-house.

Car ad example

With Hunch, you’ll not only save time and effort creating ads, but you will also be able to run on auto-pilot knowing you’ve targeted the right audience.

But is targeting the right audience enough?

You also have to consider the overall social media experience - are your ads disruptive, or do they entertain the consumer?

As per the Mobile Marketing Agency (MMA), a weak social ad can stir up a negative emotional response in less than a second. They propose retailers create a first second strategy and attempt to capture user attention in the blink of an eye.

The association’s research also points to videos being far more effective and how the power of branding accelerates our cognitive process.

And, paid social media experts agree.

Retail on Paid Social in 2021: 9 Experts Chime In On Trends

I decided to tap into some of the best paid social media experts with experience in running retail ads to see what they think of the landscape, offer expert tips, and discuss the impact of the iOS 14 update.

Before we dive into that, check out Hunch’s original research on social advertising trends in 2020 and what to expect in 2021.

1. Video ads are taking center stage

Ashley Regan-Scherf at RCG Advertising, an Australian digital marketing agency, seconded MMA’s findings.

Between Snapchat Stories, TikTok Videos, Instagram Reels, and the not-so-popular YouTube shorts, every social media platform has experimented with short-form content.

And brands have begun to realize the power of these short videos.

Spikeball, Guess, and Elf Cosmetics are among the more prominent brands to leverage TikTok creatively.

Reels have begun to take off as well, but Instagram still does not provide insights for this feature.

2. Interactive ads are now the norm

Alex Magnin, who specializes in the business of consumer technology and digital media and Brett Downes, Creative Director/Founder at Haro Helpers, believe that interactive ads will help retailers’ ads on social stand out.

Advertisements that allow users to view a product from all angles or click on the product to get more information or access an interactive experience can help improve engagement and click rates.

When you enable a checkout experience on interactive content, this is termed as ‘live shopping’.

Instagram enables this with their ‘Checkout’ feature and allows users to buy products without leaving the app, creating a win-win situation for all parties.

Other features like ‘Shopping from Creators’ allow users to buy products directly from their favorite creator’s feed and ‘Live Shopping’ that enables users to make a purchase when a brand or influencer goes on Instagram Live.

They contribute to the whole ‘live shopping’ trend.

Retail giant Amazon also has its own version of ‘live shopping’ called Amazon Live, where hosts sell products in QVC style.

3. Review based videos are becoming more common

Stacy Caprio, Marketing at, explained how video-based ads, especially those that feature real people and customers, are gaining steam.

According to a Stackla survey, 79% of respondents said user-generated content in marketing impacts their purchase decisions.

4. Online is the future, even for physical retail

Charlie Worrall at Imaginaire said, "One of the most interesting things about the paid social space at the money is that so many businesses are using it to get back on their feet. Retailers realized a while ago that online sales is the future of their business. Those that didn't already know this have realized it in the wake of COVID and the pandemic.”

Brick and mortar stores are toying with the idea of social commerce.

Instead of learning about a brand on social and then going to their website or store, social commerce allows a consumer to complete the entire lifecycle from lead to customer on the same app.

Instead of creating physical catalogs, brands now leverage digital catalogs on social media to help consumers make purchases fast.

Anthropologie, a lifestyle brand, dropped a digital catalog on Pinterest called AnthroLiving.

The catalog allows consumers to window shop and pin products to make an immediate purchase or save it for later.

According to Global Web Index, 13% of users report that a ‘buy’ button might increase the likelihood of becoming a customer through social.

But mastering social media for traditional retailers is not a piece of cake.

5. Dynamic creatives and testing are needed to win

Emma Sottosanti, Digital Advertising Strategist at Cosmitto, a Pittsburgh-based digital marketing agency, agrees, “To improve the ROI of paid social media ads, you must test, test, test.

”Whether you’re testing different formats, audiences, copy, creative, or strategies, you can always learn more about what your target audience responds best to by challenging your own work. ”

Split testing one or all aspects of your campaign requires dynamic creatives. These ads can be updated in real-time depending on the predefined rules you set.

Since it is difficult to produce different creatives for each aspect manually, you can leverage a platform like Hunch that can increase your performance by 30% through the use of dynamic and automated ads.

6. Renewed interest in Influencer marketing

As per the Social Baker’s Social Media Trends Report Q4 2020, there was a 17.6% drop in influencers using the hashtag #ad. While brands didn’t stop working with influencers altogether, they turned away from niche influencers and micro-influencers.

Harrison Weinhold at Capital Media Labs believes that “Each platform has captured very specific cohorts. Instagram has captured millennials, TikTok has captured Gen Z, Facebook has captured Gen X and the Boomers, and Youtube has captured a specific subset of engaged users that skews younger but is more fragmented based on content.”

Thus, ad content has to be tailored not only for each platform but also appeal to the audience.

With the death of the cookie and the new iOS 14 impact (which we’ll get to in a minute), brands are likely to pursue influencer marketing to a greater extent.

The impact of iOS 14 rollout on Facebook Ads

The iOS 14.5 update will impact Facebook in a way like never before. The way Facebook processes conversion events from the Facebook pixel and other tools will drastically change. All apps will be required to display a prompt to the user that asks them for permission to start tracking them outside of Facebook.

The impact can be summarized in three sentences:

  1. This will affect the amount of data collected since anyone that opts out will not be tracked, resulting in inaccurate conversion reporting.
  2. Without the correct data, remarketing is also not going to be as effective.
  3. Paid social marketers will not be zero in on their target audience due to a lack of substantial data.

Eduardo at Digitadu recommended a neat workaround, “Collect leads on the Facebook app when running a paid campaign and then reuse it for retargeting.”

You can tackle the upcoming update to create campaigns that exclude iOS 14 devices or create campaigns that are not focused on conversion.

Wrapping Up: Expert tips you can try for retail on paid social

The pool of paid social media marketers also offered some tips that you can use -

  1. Use a mobile-first approach - Emma at Cosmitto.
  2. Diversify your channels - Cale Loken, CEO at Madison Consulting
  3. Move on from covid content - Harrison Weinhold, Capital Media Labs

Overall, all the experts seem to agree on one thing.

To taste success with retail ads on social, you need to know your audience at a deeper level, sniff around the platforms where your audience hangs out and have a comprehensive strategy for testing and personalization.

Ready to leverage paid social for retail? Learn more about how dynamic creatives work or book a free strategy call with Hunch to conquer automated ads.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How is social media used in retail?

A retail social media strategy allows retailers to increase online and in-store sales, build 1:1 relationships with their customers, increase brand awareness and increase repeat purchases.

2. How do you get retail customers online?

Content marketing, sponsorships, subscriptions, organic and paid social combined can help retailers acquire customers online.

3. Why is paid social important?

Paid social media is an excellent way to improve brand recall. This recognition helps keep consumers warm until they are ready to make a purchase.

4. How does social media affect retail businesses?

Social media, when used effectively, can help retail businesses build a brand. It is also the preferred way for users to communicate their displeasure or delight almost instantaneously.

5. How do online businesses use social media?

Most online businesses use social media as another touchpoint in their marketing funnel, but it has also become a way to acquire customers faster, with social commerce rising