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Online Shopping Returns: Everything Retailers Need to Know

Shopping online is now a mainstream activity. Ecommerce offers great choice and convenience – giving consumers the ability to shop from any device, whenever and wherever they want.

But alongside the surge in online shopping comes a much less desired activity for retailers: returns.

While many retail brands have seen increased sales as a result of online shopping, a significant amount of these sales are being affected by excessive returns.

In the U.S. alone, consumers returned $351 billion of all online and offline purchases last year. Online purchase return rates also tend to increase considerably during holiday periods.

The impact of this is profound. Excessive shopping returns can affect profit margins drastically, and often requires additional resources, such as staff and space, to manage the high volume of returns.

But just how common are online shopping returns? Why are consumers making them? And what can retailers do to reduce the rates of returns?

In a bespoke survey, we explored these questions with consumers in the U.S. and UK. Here’s what we found.

Online shopping returns are widespread.

Years ago, free shipping or returns were more of a nice-to-have. Nowadays, free shipping and easy or free returns are increasingly expected by consumers.

Our data shows that almost 3 in 5 people in the U.S. and UK have returned a product they purchased online in the past 12 months.

People aged between 25-44 are more likely to have returned a product to the seller in the past year. However, older generations are also returning products at a notable rate, with over 40% of people aged 45-64 doing so in the past year.

Information around online shopping returns is something that consumers actively seek.

Almost 80% of people in the U.S. and the UK check the returns policy on a retailer’s website before making a purchase.

This behavior is quite consistent across generations. This shows that online shopping returns is an issue that consumers carefully consider before they commit to buying a product, across all age brackets.

As a result, a well thought-out returns policy is a key part of a brand’s value proposition and essential in remaining competitive.

Online shopping returns are more prevalent than in-store returns.

Our data shows over half of online consumers are more likely to return a product they bought online than a product they bought in in-store.

This behavior is more common among younger audiences, and is likely partly due to online retailers’ generous delivery services and the ease with which consumers can return products online.

Returning a product in-store also tends to require more effort from consumers as they need to travel to the store and face the stress of queues. There’s also the potential embarrassment factor of making lots of in-store returns.

Generous delivery services play a significant role in the surge of online shopping returns. Our data shows that 70% of people in the U.S. and the UK pay for a free delivery subscription provided by online retailers, like Amazon Prime.

More people in the U.S. (74%) have a delivery subscription compared to the UK (51%).

This make sense considering how big ecommerce giants like Amazon are in the U.S. Amazon has entirely redefined the retail industry; free and easy returns and one-hour delivery options are part of its core offering to consumers.

However, it also increases the expectation on other retailers to keep up. And for smaller brands, maintaining free shipping and returns can be a significant challenge.

Online purchases outweigh returns – but men make returns more often.

Our data shows almost 60% of people purchase products online every 2 weeks or more.

When we asked online consumers how often they return the products they buy online the majority said they rarely do it.

While this seems like good news, it’s important to note returning products is relative to how often they’re purchased. And around 1 in 4 say they make online shopping returns “often” or “always”.

Notably, men return products more than women.

Men and women make purchases online just as often, but 35% of men say they return the product they buy online “often” or “always” compared to 16% of women. This helps break the stereotype that it’s women who are big shoppers, and reveals men as key drivers of online shopping returns.

The top three online product categories doomed to be returned are, unsurprisingly, clothing and shoes (56%) followed by electronics (42%) and accessories/watches/jewelry (30%).

What drives consumers to return products online?

We know the majority of people have returned products they bought online within the past 12 months and around 25% make online shopping returns quite regularly. But what’s causing this behavior?

Over half of online consumers returned a product because it was faulty or damaged, or the size/fit wasn’t right.

Retailers can help reduce faulty or damaged products reaching consumers by using good-quality packaging and partnering with reputable shipping companies.

Incorrect sizing and fit is a big problem for clothing brands in particular. The big drawback is that consumers can’t try on an item before making a purchase, and therefore don’t know if it’s right until they receive it.

A serious cost driver for retailers is consumers buying from retailers while knowing in advance they’re likely to return the item.

17% of people buy different colors and sizes of the same item and the same amount of people tend to impulse buy knowing they’ll likely return the product.

Online retailers have made it so easy for people to return products that consumers are increasingly taking advantage of it.

To top it off, The National Retail Federation reported that fraudulent returns cost retailers as much as $15 billion in the U.S. in 2017. A common example of return fraud is when consumers buy an item, wear it and then return it to the seller.

Brands like Amazon are stamping down on consumers who they feel are making excessive online shopping returns and are closing users’ accounts. It’s likely other companies will follow suit.

What would make consumers return fewer products online?

We’ve found many features that could help consumers reduce the number of online shopping returns they make.

The top solutions are:

  • Detailed/accurate description of the sizing (48%)
  • Photos of the product (42%)
  • Detailed/accurate descriptions of the product (42%)

These are all features online retailers can easily implement, and integrating them could be a relatively straightforward way of discouraging online shopping returns before the purchase is made.

We’ve seen brands like Amazon are not immune to the problem of ceaseless returns.

Amazon has tried to anticipate clothing returns with Prime Wardrobe, a “try-before-you-buy” service through which consumers receive a variety of sizes and colors to try. They keep and pay for the items they want and send the rest back. 34% of consumers say trying before buying would help reduce their online shopping returns.

Our data also shows 35% of consumers say an app or technology that helps them determine the correct size before they purchase would also help reduce their returns rate.

A Japanese firm, Start Today, created a body-measurement suit called the “Zozosuit”. It’s a skin-tight, full-body suit covered in over 300 fiducial markers that’s used to measure people’s bodies. The company creates a 3D scan of consumer’s bodies, which it uses to recommend them the right size.

What does this mean for retailers moving forward?

Online shopping returns is part and parcel of doing business online, and consumers say free returns (56%) is a key feature that would motivate them to make a repeat purchase online.

Clearly, if brands don’t offer free returns, they risk being shunned by consumers. After all, the availability of free returns is a big incentive to buy, and there’s plenty of alternatives out there for consumers to choose from.

However, not all brands are willing, or have the financial capacity, to offer free returns. We already know Amazon has had a seismic effect on the retail industry, and the company often faces heavy criticism for its impact on small businesses.

Lately, Amazon has paid specific attention to smaller businesses. It recently announced Storefronts, a new section on Amazon’s marketplace where consumers can shop for products exclusively from small and medium-sized businesses.

This presents opportunities for small businesses to work with Amazon and make use of its extensive distribution channels and global exposure. Amazon will pick, package and ship the products and will also take care of customer service and returns.

The good news for brands is free returns isn’t the only motivator for consumers to make a repeat purchase online.

A quick and easy returns policy (46%) and good customer support (50%) are also key repeat purchase drivers.

A returns policy that is completely transparent and straightforward and an effective support service are both features retailers can use to make online shopping returns more manageable and less impactful.

Knowing Your Audience: How to Blend the What with the Why

Many agencies and brands focus solely on behavioral data and analytics to form a deep understanding of their consumers.

This is a mistake that’s leading to endless missed opportunities.

Coupling this information with rich data that investigates the motivations, attitudes and interests behind their actions removes the risks and means better marketing decisions are made.

Here’s how to do it and why.

Mapping the fragmented consumer journey.

The traditional consumer journey no longer exists.

It’s now splintered and fragmented across location, channels, devices and more. And despite rising pressure on brands to be present in the right place at the right time, consumers are harder to track accurately.

But not only that, consumers are now demanding a more personalized approach from brands, and are increasingly using ad-blocking software to control their online experience.

This is just one of the many reasons why a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t enough for brands to resonate and engage efficiently.

With deep insight, you can track the right footprints and be confident that you know exactly where to meet your consumers, and when.

But you can’t just be in the right place at the right time – you have to provide the content and experience your target consumers expect.

Why? People have different reasons for doing different things. Our data proves it.

Identifying the what vs the why.

Traditional audience research focused primarily on demographic data that revealed key aspects of the people you’re targeting. This has evolved over time to meet increasing demand for answers that enable more accurate targeting.

Behavioral analytics then came on the scene to give marketers the answers they needed, when they were needed.

Despite the importance of knowing what they’re doing, the most revealing insights are born out of knowing why.

Picture this: A UK coffee brand is looking to reach fitness fanatics aged 16-24 promoting their new antioxidant blend.

To get started, they begin analyzing their behaviors to find out where they are, and what they do online. Here’s what they find out about them.

The What

  • Use Facebook more than any other social network
  • Use ad-blockers a lot
  • Follow their favorite brands on social
  • Regularly buy products online
  • Follow influencer blogs

These insights give them a good starting point, telling them which platforms to invest in and sparking ideas on what approaches to take.

But before the campaign can really take off, there’s a lot more to uncover, which means digging into their motivations and attitudes.

The Why

  • Like to use Facebook to research products they want to buy
  • Use ad-blockers to avoid annoying and irrelevant ads
  • Prefer to discover new brands through influencers than online ads
  • Follow brands that share interesting video content
  • Are motivated to make a purchase by free delivery and rewards
  • Like to follow fitness vloggers

Knowing its target consumers are more likely to discover brands through influencers and share a strong interest in vloggers, the team can be sure of the value in onboarding the right celebrities or micro-influencers.

It also indicates they would benefit from investing in Facebook more than other social platforms, but it would be much more beneficial to do so with entertaining video content, rather than promotional ads – the kind this audience actively blocks.

End result: a sturdy, promising campaign, launched via the right channels, that’s based on fact, not assumption.

Here’s a real-life example.

Insight in Practice: Blis

The Challenge

As a leading provider of location data, Blis is a brand that continues to grow.

Setting its sights on new markets further afield, the team needed access to reliable insights to help them understand the opportunities within.

“Understanding new markets was our biggest challenge”, says Alex Wright, Head of Insights at Blis. “Almost every European market will have their own independent data sources. And when you go further than this, a lot of the sources and data are inconsistent and you don’t know the origins.”

This lack of knowledge put barriers in place for the teams when it came to speaking to these prospective clients and solidifying their pitch.

The Action

In an effort to prove to existing and prospective clients they were willing to go above and beyond for them, they invested in GlobalWebIndex. This gave Blis ready access to deep consumer insight they simply couldn’t find elsewhere.

“Before GlobalWebIndex, we could infer why people were doing certain things from their actions, but this meant we relied on people buying into the common sense nature of human behavior. For example, that if you go to a five-a-side match, you must have an interest in football.

“We lacked the active, declarative data we needed to understand consumers’ motivations for doing these things.”

The Result

By being proactive and introducing an external data to complement their own, Blis has positioned itself as a business that offers a comprehensive solution, and far more than just location data.

Using insights it uncovered via GlobalWebIndex, the brand:

  • Created a unique proposition with a combination of location and audience data unavailable elsewhere.
  • Gained in-depth insight into previously untapped markets to target.
  • Strengthened client relationships by demonstrating their willingness to accommodate customer needs.

“This data has strengthened our relationships with our clients by showing them we’re willing to invest in additional sources to help us make more intelligent decisions on their behalf.”

Download the full case study here.

Understanding the why.

Reliable consumer data is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a crucial part of the puzzle for any marketer looking to compete.

And as consumer journeys become increasingly fragmented, the pressure is on brands to prove they not only know what their consumers are doing, but why.

This begins with one thing; robust, granular consumer data.

Because when you have access to the kind of data that effectively represents your target audience and presents their motivations alongside their behaviors, you know the why is within reach.


  1. Identify the answers you’re missing
  2. Analyze behaviors
  3. Explore motivations behind them
  4. Look into interests and attitudes
  5. Combine the two for richer insight
  6. Pull out the big truths

Campaign of the Month: One Number Different – YMCA of the USA

Lower income areas offer less opportunities for growth. This might be a somewhat obvious point to make, but often the power of a story lies in how you tell it.

For Droga5’s latest addition to a string of campaigns putting underprivileged communities in the spotlight, it’s a story about numbers.

Emphasizing the impact that one number – a single digit in a zip code – can have on a person’s life, here’s why we chose ‘One Number Different’ as our November campaign of the month.

The Insight

Kids born into a lower-income area code have less access to fresh food, quality education and job opportunities, meaning they have a much lower chance of getting ahead in life.

This was the insight that fuelled the creative campaign, focused on highlighting the inequality that exists across America.

Through a powerful 60-second spot directed by Spencer Creigh, it explains how one number can make all the difference.

Beverly Hills, for example, with a 90210 zip code, is reported to have a 95% graduation rate, while Compton, which has a 90220 zip code, has a graduation rate of just 59%.

The Message

“In America, the zip code you’re born into can determine your future.”

This is the key message the campaign puts forth – how something as simple as one number can spell completely different schools, jobs, dreams, problems, and in turn very different opportunities for the citizens of these neighborhoods.

The campaign goes on to explain that the Y is there to help kids from all backgrounds and zip codes to make a difference to their futures.

“One Number Different” highlights the disparity we see all across the country, sometimes in communities we serve that are just blocks apart,” said Valerie Barker Waller, SVP and chief marketing & communication officer for Y-USA.

“At the Y, we believe that the zip code you are born into should not determine your destiny or limit your potential, and want to showcase the impactful work we do in thousands of communities to close those gaps.”

Why it Worked

Supporting the TV ad, the campaign includes content spread across radio, digital and social media featuring real families who are members of the Y.

This powerful, but simple creative work is one of many from Droga5 that hones in on data to tell a hard-hitting story.

Tapping into the right emotions, it proves that a theory backed by insight can make a real difference – whether by simply starting a conversation, or by by changing the way we think.


Will 2018 be Social Media’s Most Influential Year for Festive Shopping?

2018 has been one of the biggest years for developments in the social media space so far, especially in the realms of ecommerce.

In the last few months alone — and just in time for the festive period — we’ve seen Instagram upscale and roll out its shopping capabilities with the ability to purchase via tags in Stories, and Pinterest has just made millions of Pins shoppable, with up-to-date pricing and information.

With this shift in focus, it’s no wonder social media’s role is no longer merely “social”.  

As the key platforms gain momentum in the ecommerce space, could this year’s festive shopping period be social media’s most influential so far?

As part of a bespoke study, we asked 2,200 internet users in the UK and U.S. questions around the role of social in purchasing behaviors this holiday season. Here’s what we found out.

Social media will play a role in gift purchasing this year.

3 in 10 strongly agree that social media will play a role in their gift purchases this holiday season.

This rose to almost 4 in 10 among millennials, which isn’t surprising given that use of social media is now universal among this generation.

With ‘to get ideas for when I next go shopping’ and ‘to get inspiration for gifts’ motivating just under 50% to follow brands on social media in the first place, it’s clear many are on the lookout for inspiration while browsing their feeds – good news for brands hoping to leverage their following to drive sales in the next few months.

When we asked consumers where social media content most influences their purchase decisions, food and drink emerged as the top category, followed closely by gifts for others, again showing how content can truly influence consumers’ gift-buying decisions.

Targeted ads are still most impactful to build awareness.

It’s not news that the digital ad space is crowded, or that ad-blocking is on the rise, with frustration driving the trend.

But when we asked consumers how they’ve discovered new brands or products on social media, direct targeted advertising from the brand emerges as the most impactful for all age groups, influencing at least 1 in 2 across the board. This traditional digital advertising tactic will already be a staple in festive strategies, but this only affirms its future success.

The competition for the best Christmas ad in the UK – to be watched across media channels – has become fiercer in recent years, with consumers eagerly awaiting storytelling tactics from the biggest retailers on the British high street.

In 2017, John Lewis’s Christmas ad reached 20 million views on Facebook and YouTube within the first three days of release, for example, and the company’s 2018 ad reached millions online in its first 24 hours.

The strength of influencer marketing as a channel for spreading brand awareness also shines through, especially among millennials. 54% say they discover new brands or products through sponsored posts with deliberate promotion, 53% via recommendations on social media, and 41% through celebrity posts.

This reiterates the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work.

A mix of traditional social advertising, alongside word-of-mouth marketing and influencers, will be the best strategy to guarantee engagement this Christmas – all with the target audience in mind.

Marks & Spencers is one UK brand that’s hoping to succeed this Christmas with a cross-channel strategy. Aside from its yearly television spot, this year the brand has moved forward with a mobile-first mind, including shoppable Instagram posts and programmatic ads.

And this social strategy is going to be especially key for online only retailers who can’t rely on in-store discovery.

A third of social media posts are converting.

So, we know that social media acts as a point of discovery and inspiration, but where do consumers head next?

When we asked, it was the more traditional, one-stop shop experiences that consumers continue to favor after discovering brands/products on social media. As many as two thirds say they’ve completed a purchase on Amazon, while 4 in 10 prefer the physical store.

Click-throughs inserted into posts on social media, linking to the brand’s website or to products displayed, are a great way to close the loop on the consumer journey – and they’re a win-win for everyone.

They increase website traffic for brands, provide a return for the social platforms, and allow consumers to make impulse purchases. The ability to click through has proven to be a popular feature among consumers too:

A third of those discovering brands on social media say they’ve clicked through to purchase.

As the opportunities to buy products within social platforms are still limited, it certainly says a lot for the future of native social shopping that a third of those discovering brands on social media have made a purchase there. Facebook, in particular, has made headway with its shopping-enabled ads across its platforms.

Privacy concerns pose a barrier to social commerce.

The perceived security of this purchase method is a hurdle to overcome, though. Among those who say they wouldn’t be happy to buy directly on a social network, 30% don’t feel confident with the security of these purchases, and 25% are worried about what will happen to their private/payment data.

And with 20% saying they don’t see the value when there are other alternative places to buy online, it’s clear that proving the value of social media as a purchase channel is likely to be an ongoing challenge.

There’s no doubting the continuous importance of offline retail during the festive season, but as shopping becomes increasingly digital, social media is set to have a bigger impact than ever around this festive season. The key for brands is to build out a solid social strategy that capitalizes on social media’s growing commerce initiatives.

After all, we know social media can impact every stage of the purchase journey – from gift inspiration and discovery all the way through to completing a purchase – it’s just about connecting the dots.

5 Things that Give Independent Agencies a Competitive Edge (from the Experts)

Independent agencies pride themselves on being different. This point of difference is often what prompts the world’s leading brands to turn to them for creative and strategic expertise.

Despite the familiar obstacles of smaller budgets and fewer resources, indies have a lot of advantages over networked agencies.

At our latest Indie Roadshow event in New York, our panel of experts from independent agencies shared their insights into what this is.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Flexibility

Every business knows the value that lies in being flexible. It means leaving room for change and innovation, as and when the need arises.

For agencies, being able to adapt to the consumers they’re targeting at any given time is even more crucial, as consumer, market and industry trends continue to move faster.

“The best thing about working in an independent agency is there’s no red tape”, says Matt Klein, VP at Elite Marketing Group. “If I want changes made, I have one boss, I put my ideas in front of him and we decide how to move forward, versus a long process and having to stay in your lane.”

2. Creativity

Where does the best creative work come from? This is a common question for agencies as teams juggle several projects at once, consistently looking for the right story to tell with the most revealing insight.

But often, the best creativity comes from unlikely places. For Dominic Poynter, Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5, this has nothing to do with how much resource you have at your disposal.

“Independent agencies are usually smaller and have fewer resources”, he says. “This can be a big advantage as it gives you more clarity of thought and encourages you to be more resourceful in how you think about developing insights and communicating as a team.

That kind of close-knit teamwork and having to be scrappy and creative in your process often leads to better results. Most of us will agree some of the best campaigns we’ve worked on are the ones with the smallest budgets which echoes this thought; the less you have, the more creative you get.”

3. Relationship-building

Winning and retaining new business is all about building relationships. For big agencies working with clients of all kinds across several different categories, this can be a struggle.

For independent agencies that are that bit smaller and more nimble, a key advantage for clients is the ability to work more face-to-face with the same people, offering that one-to-one approach they can’t always find.

“Business becomes more personal at an independent level”, says Helene Dick, Strategy Director at Barton F. Graf. “It becomes about the relationship with that client and that business. You get a different type of relationship, because you can make choices you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

“Business becomes more personal at an independent level.”

4. Passion

Every agency cares about growth – something that can only be achieved through nurturing and expanding your client base. But how much it means isn’t always the same.

For most independent agencies, it’s not about the biggest clients, it’s about all clients.

Their success isn’t just driven by need or a sense of duty, there’s a personal desire that plays an innate role in how they grow.

“With independent agencies, there’s the hunger factor, the passion”, says Matt. “We fight, claw and scratch for every piece of business we get. We value our clients to another level because we know we need to develop and grow that relationship and keep that business.”

5. The personal touch

Data and research is where most great ideas are born, but it doesn’t always start there. Often, data is used to prove or disprove our creative hunches, which can come from anywhere.

For most independent agencies, spending time with and listening to the clients is an essential step – not only for building that all-important relationship, but as a source of inspiration.

“Someone will say something to you at some point which is fantastically interesting”, says Dominic. “Our job is often to listen for that, take it and marry it with something else like a data point or an insight. I think that’s where the personal touch plays a big role in building that relationship with clients.”

Indie Agency Q&A

1. Describe your ideal client.

“Our agency prides itself in being able to find really good clients to partner with and doing incredibly good breakthrough work in categories you wouldn’t always see as “ideal”. I don’t think ideal candidates and categories really exist. Any client can be ideal once you have a good business problem to solve and an interesting creative opportunity.”

  • Dominic Poynter, Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5

2. Why is data and insight so crucial to success?

“To get to those unique insights, you really need to do the hard, groundwork to back up your hypotheses a million different ways. For Welch’s grape juice, for example, our target was Gen X men. There are millions of articles online about how millennials and Gen Z use the internet, but there about three on how Gen X do it. So to craft a media plan and figure out where we should place our message, we needed answers to where these guys were – reliable data and insight was the key to uncovering that.”

  • Helene Dick, Strategy Director at Barton F. Graf

3. Do consultancies pose a threat?

“Consultancies make money by finding a solution in an industry category, cookie-cutting an approach and selling it to different companies. That is fundamentally in opposition to how creativity and marketing works. One of the things we pride ourselves on in marketing is treating every business problem we encounter as a unique problem and something that needs to be approached with a unique solution. I don’t think consultancies work in the same way, so I don’t see them as a threat.”

  • Dominic Poynter, Group Communications Strategy Director at Droga5

4. Who are your favorite clients?

“I like clients with real problems – real, sticky business problems that need to be figured out and solved. Those are the clients who’ll be honest and willing to take ambitious, big, bold maneuvers. Those are the clients we tend to attract – those looking for that data, that insight or that avenue that hasn’t been brought to them yet.”

  • Helene Dick, Strategy Director at Barton F. Graf

Looking to the future

2019 is a year of opportunity for the indie agency. As brands continue to move core skills and expertise in-house, agencies are taking on more specialist roles.

For independent agencies offering more flexibility, drive, creative license and one-to-one solutions, built on the right foundation of research and insight, the possibilities are endless.

Make your agency stand out and prove you’re the experts on your audience.

How Can Brands Engage Consumers through Messaging Apps?

Since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, it was known that they had been exploring monetization strategies, but what shape it would take was unclear.

Now, WhatsApp have announced that they will be integrating ads into the app’s new Status section, which offers a service similar to Instagram and Snapchat stories. This means ads will appear mixed in with friends’ stories.

9 in 10 internet users globally have used some kind of chat or messaging service within the past month.

It’s the second-most popular online activity, surpassed only by social networking. With billions of users and opportunities to capture attention, these platforms are obvious places for brands to direct their ad spend.

It remains to be seen whether messaging apps are natural platforms for brand content.

Even while sharing the majority of their users, messaging apps and social media are serving increasingly different purposes. As we’ve explored before, news and entertainment content have become more prominent across social media platforms, making these natural spaces for ads to occupy.

With 18% of all internet users outside China having used Instagram Stories in the past month, for instance, there’s clearly a large user base who are interested in ephemeral or short-formed content. Yet we still need to see how that translates into messaging services, and whether it will become commercialized.

How open are consumers to advertising on messaging apps?

Aside from the practicalities of choosing formats and placements, privacy has always been one of the main concerns around advertising on messaging apps. Effective advertising requires strategic targeting, which is done through collecting and analyzing granular consumer data.

Being able to scan conversations for keywords would mean extremely topical ads could be served, much like what Gmail had been doing until 2017 – yet powerful encryption has long been a selling point for messaging apps going back to the business community’s adoption of BlackBerry Messenger in the early 2000s.

Globally, 63% of internet users agree that they worry about how companies are using their data, which is also the case for 64% of people who have used a messaging service on their mobiles within the past month.

While that ratio isn’t unusually high and hasn’t put them off from using data-hungry social platforms, it’s key to recall the place that messaging apps occupy in users’ lives.

Across the world, people adjust their usage from platform to platform, based on the many different purposes they use social media for. Media researchers call this ‘scalable sociality’, and it’s key to understanding how different apps are used by these audiences.

Gmail faced resistance because it was gathering data from a space users thought of as private. Will there be a similar resistance to seeing ads appear in messaging spaces, even if they haven’t been targeted?

We’ve seen a movement whereby socializing increasingly takes place outside of social media platforms and onto messaging platforms – a somewhat anti-social shift for social media platforms.

The advertising landscape for messaging apps will be more challenging than it has been for social media.

Apart from WeChat, which has a regular feed, many messaging apps lack a central place where display ads or sponsored posts can be run. Stories and other richer media are add-ons to the basic function of the service.

Considering that messaging apps are used by people who in almost all cases are also being exposed to ads on social networks – who might specifically seek an ad-free space – there is a case for looking to other strategies than sponsored posts or in-app display ads. Facebook Messenger, for instance, displays brands as conversations, which might turn out to be a more natural fit for the model.

Messaging apps are being developed rapidly as well, from chatbots providing customer service and sales, to direct app-based messaging.

In many markets, especially those where feature phones have dominated, messaging services have often been used for relatively low-tech mass messaging campaigns. With almost 30% of internet users using some kind of ad-blocker on their mobile, it may not be desirable from a customer relations point of view, either.

The opportunity for engagement.

Messaging apps offer other means of engagement. Simple chatbots, re-contacts, mailing lists – combining many of the marketing and CRM functions that today exist on separate channels.

15% of those who block ads on their mobiles have interacted with a brand on a messaging service.

This is versus 10% of the general internet population, so there’s room for expansion.

Already, far more people have interacted with a brand on a messaging app than have followed a brand, viewed a Snapchat show, or even swiped up on any brand’s stories.

WeChat is the only channel where branded accounts have a strong uptake. For the rest, it seems content isn’t king – yet – and perhaps until the messaging apps and services rethink the consumer needs as well as usage.