J.Crew taps social audience with first Instagram sale

To drive sales of a new pair of pink sunglasses, J.Crew is taking a page out of sister brand Madewell’s playbook.

J.Crew’s first social media presale launches Tuesday, and with it, 50 pairs of the sunglasses will be released a week ahead of the official drop of the September 2016 collection. Through a link exclusively available on Instagram, J.Crew is offering the limited release to followers paying attention to the feed. Today, the retailer will post to Instagram Stories for the first time to tease the sale with photos of the sunglasses and messages to check back for more information. After the Stories teasers run, J.Crew will post an Instagram photo to its account with instructions on how to get one of the 50 pairs, selling for $128, through the photo and link to be shared on Tuesday.

The sale should get consumers to interact with the brand on a level beyond pushing discounts.

J.Crew, like its peers Banana Republic, Gap and Ann Taylor, have faced declining sales in recent quarters. In J.Crew’s most latest earnings report for the period ended April 30, the retailer saw a decrease of sales by 6 percent, to $480.7 million. The problem: customers are drifting toward the high- and low-end retailers; middle-of-the-road brands, J.Crew included, are getting squeezed out. At the same time, once-loyal customers of the brand have complained about decreasing product quality, and a constant cycle of discounted items has led to an unfortunate consumer habit: no one wants to buy anything at full price.

Meanwhile, J.Crew’s younger sister brand Madewell has seen continued growth — climbing 17 percent in the last quarter — and J.Crew is now taking cues from its social-led strategy. Madewell has deployed exclusive product releases for social media in the past, and most recently, with its Denim Every Day campaign, it turned to social media to announce a daily flux of new item drops.

This strategy is most frequently the forte of nimble, Internet-born brands, which J.Crew is decidedly not. Online skincare company Glossier uses Instagram as well as Snapchat to tease and launch new products, which help create a social-based community out of its engaged consumers.

With an Instagram-focused approach to a new release, J.Crew can start to move in that direction. Right now, J.Crew’s email and social media audiences differ between the two channels. A perk of the social presale: customers who visit and shop it through the Instagram link can be retargeted through email marketing.

“Offering a limited edition product to people on a channel like Instagram makes those followers feel special, because they’re getting something first,” said Jason Stein, CEO of social media agency Laundry Service. “These are the people who are actively subscribing and engaging with the brand, and appealing to them gives retailers access to valuable data.”

While a strategic Instagram Story product release may not solve all of J.Crew’s woes, it has a big following on the platform that’s currently untapped beyond its Like2Buy account, which lets customers shop items pictured in the feed through a link in the bio.

Get news and analysis about fashion, beauty and culture delivered to your inbox every morning.