Instagram brands will be key in the evolution of the IRL retail landscape

Article by Christina Larkin, founder of chapter

Highstreet shopsThe media seem to be revelling in the ‘death of the high street’ story, but it’s a total myth.

The high street is evolving and of course, it’s going through a tough time, but I believe it has a bright, interesting and diverse future. All of which are much needed!

There is a lot of innovation happening in physical retail and much of it is being driven by brands who started online. Large ‘D2C’ (direct to consumer) brands have started opening stores in prime footfall locations. Why? Because they have recognised that physical retail is a great marketing channel.

VC backed suitcase brand Away (founded by 2 females – yay) have reported that opening a physical space increases their online traffic in that city and region by 40%. Phenomenal.

Other reports have suggested the impact for online brands appearing IRL can be as great as 85% (British Land). This is huge and would require a lot of spend on Facebook or Google to achieve the same.

So as the challenge of changing algorithms makes it harder to reach and engage with your audience organically on Instagram, and as the cost of advertising online grows thanks to increasing competition, IRL retail is going to bounce back but in a completely new guise – as the go to marketing channel for brands both big and small.

While we’ve all recognised that social media has become the new sales channel, far fewer people have realised that the reverse is also happening. That physical retail is becoming the new marketing channel.

Physical retail provides content, interaction with the consumer and a space to run events that help brands engage with their customers and form a much deeper relationship than is ever possible through an online advert or blog post. In addition, it can deliver immediate sales. What other marketing channel can do all this?

Of course, there’s still a long way to go and retailers and brands have a lot to learn before they get it right. For example, no-one buys anything in February, so why are retailers trying to sell? And what should they do with that space instead?

One answer is brand building. Samsung recently opened a store that doesn’t sell anything in London. It’s a marketing move. We’ll see a lot more of this from brands. And I think small and even micro brands should be sitting up and taking notice. This is an opportunity for them to exploit as well.

For example, lingerie brand Lively in the US opened its first permanent bricks and mortar store in New York in 2018, two years after launching online. After doing a few pop-up trials they took the plunge and signed a lease for a permanent store. The rationale was to give their community the opportunity to interact with the brand as well as try the products out and convert followers into customers and advocates.

So while the brand was very much built on social media (new products are created based on feedback from its Instagram and Facebook communities), and social will continue to be at the core of the business, founder Michelle Cordeiro Grant has recognised the value that IRL retail brings her business and it’s fans.

For example, new products go live at their store a month before they officially launch online. This not only gives their community an incentive to visit the store, but also allows the Lively to get instant feedback on their new products.

While Instagram will continue to be the birthplace for exciting, innovative brands and designers, those who will perform best in this new decade will recognise the importance of IRL, and the way in which physical retail can be used to grow their business beyond the narrow focus of sales.

In addition, I believe the future of the high street is female. The vast majority of Instagram brands are female-owned, and they are creating interesting, innovative and ethical products. The reason so many legacy retailers are struggling is that they lack dynamism, aren’t thinking innovatively and aren’t moving fast enough on the ethical side of things. So, the High Street is crying out for the kind of brands that are proliferating on Instagram.

Given that the majority of consumer spending decisions are made by females, we should OWN the High Street. But currently, it’s a very male dominated space (many women work in retail, but not in the most senior positions). If the future of the high street is as a marketing channel for online brands, I believe an indirect consequence of this will be that it becomes more female and more democratic – and as a result, more interesting, inclusive and with community brought back to the centre of decision making.

Christina LarkinAbout the author

(, is a start-up business founded by Christina Larkin, on the principle that the high-street is CHANGING not dying and we all need to fall in line with that. On 8th November, for four weeks, she opened a hugely successful pop-up shop in the flagship retail space at Boxpark in Shoreditch, which saw a number of incredible businesses selling under one roof. The businesses all have three things in common: they are female owned and run, they are ethical and they are sustainable.

Before chapter, Christina spent 15 years in the world of strategy (business) consulting, working with multi-national FTSE 250 companies (primarily in the retail and FMCG sector and including the likes of Tesco and Selfridges), but her passion is now to help small, online only, female owned companies to use in-real-life selling as a marketing tool.

Tired of helping the big boys, Christina wanted to work with the far more interesting, diverse and ethical small brands she was discovering every day. Coupled with her passion for reimagining retail and supporting females, she came up with the concept for chapter. The vision? To help small online brands use physical retail as an effective marketing channel to grow their brand.

She loves to chat about Instagram businesses being the ones to watch, why it is more important than ever to support small businesses, the trends we are seeing in ethical shopping or just the changing shape of retail.

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