The Supply Side: Big retail uses influencers to help grow social commerce

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,112 views 

The future for social media platform TikTok may be cloudy, but that has not kept Walmart and Amazon from seeking to grow their brands via influencers and content creators on the controversial platform linked to China and other social media sites.

Walmart announced in October the beta test for Walmart Creator. The one-stop portal allows content creators to earn commissions by touting products purchased from the Bentonville-based retail giant.

“We know our customers are inspired by the content and stories they see from their favorite influencers in their social feeds every day,” said William White, chief marketing officer, Walmart U.S. “This next step in our strategy will help fuel inspiration for our customers by connecting their favorite creators directly with our brand and the brands they love at Walmart.”

Content creators like DevanOnDeck have signed on to Walmart  Creator. In a recent TikTok post, He noted the fashion bargains he purchased at Walmart. He also explained how easy it is to be a creator and earn money through the clicks his post sends directly to the retailer’s site. With 3.8 million followers, his full-time job has become being a fashion influencer who also shares posts on Instagram and YouTube.

Walmart Creator is just one opportunity for content creators who may have a handful of followers or a mass audience like DevanOnDeck. The retailer continues to expand its creator base via sign-up online Walmart said creators could access thousands of products and earn revenue while earning commissions on sales they refer with no limit. Users of the platform can share product links to any social platform or group of their choice, receive product recommendations based on interests and affinities and collect valuable performance data to help grow their community and following.

“Walmart is always testing and learning in new channels, including shoppable live streams, to better serve customers by meeting them when and how they want to shop. Walmart Creator represents another expansion into this space, further enabling shoppers to shorten the distance between inspiration and purchase,” White said.

Marketing industry watchers project the creator economy to be worth $104.2 billion this year as more consumers jump on this earning bandwagon.

Sarah Henry, vice president of content, influencer, and commerce at Walmart, said the retailer intends to “shorten the distance between content and purchase.” Henry said the Walmart Creator platform is designed to nurture relationships with anyone who can tell stories with an audience. Content creators can also reach customers where they spend time, create moments of discovery and inspiration and save steps along the path to purchase.

Henry said Walmart is also using technology to reduce steps during the shopping experience that features recipes with links to the ingredients on for delivery or in-store pickup. Last year, Walmart launched TalkShopLive, which has partnerships with celebrities such as Rachel Ray and Drew Barrymore to host eight live-streaming shopping experiences for products at Walmart.

Walmart takes a full-funnel approach, incorporating many channels into its campaign mix. The retailer held 30 live-stream events in 2022 and now works with over 10,000 influencers, affiliates and content creators. The “real power of the strategy is the always-on storytelling capabilities,” Henry said.

Retail market watchers applaud Walmart’s efforts to own the intersection between social commerce and its creators. A recent podcast on Marketplace Tech featured the growth of the retail sales method. Jesus Alvarado, one of the podcasters, said more consumers are seeing the earnings potential of being content creators.

Sal Farzin said he quit his corporate desk job last year to become a full-time content creator. He has 2.9 million followers on TikTok as SimplySalFinds and mainly reviews products from Amazon he purchases for home, technology and overall lifestyle. Farzin said he started the practice during the pandemic, but his following quickly grew after he joined Amazon’s Influencer program. Last year, he said the creator gig earned him a six-figure income.

A University of South Florida professor, Kelli Burns, is a creative economy researcher. Burns said the days of influencers being rich, famous or beautiful are over as the retailers like Amazon and Walmart seek everyday folks who can influence peers and followers. Burns also warns that with more consumers jumping into this earnings game, content could become stale or less creative.

Social media has also been hit or miss recently, with platforms like Facebook losing favor with younger generations who favor Snapchat or Instagram. While TikTok and YouTube have exploded globally, other platforms like Google Buzz, FriendFeed and Vine have all died. Hardly anyone remembers MySpace, a significant competitor to Facebook in the early days.

“Kudos to Walmart for trying this. Will it stick? I’m not sure. I see a reckoning where retailers will rationalize these special projects against their core value proposition and ROI,” said Gary Sankary, retail strategist and former Target executive.

He said Amazon had exited several areas, such as their personal shopper program Amazon Fresh because of losses.

“Will this one have legs? I don’t know, but I caution against getting too far away from one’s core business, and supporting a social network doesn’t really feel like the Walmart brand,” Sankary warned.

TikTok faces intense scrutiny from U.S. government officials threatening to ban the Chinese-owned social media platform. Canada and the United Kingdom have recently prohibited the app usage in their countries over fears that user data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government. Officials also fear the app could be weaponized by China and used to spread misinformation. Other retail insiders also warn that there’s a long way from content creation to a profitable revenue stream.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.