Retailer Lush UK dropped a bathbomb in April when it closed its social channels to instead drive customers to its website or scented stores. Data obtained by The Drum claims its social traffic only dropped by 4.8% year-on-year since ditching owned channels.
Nonetheless, the strategy still has to survive the baptism by snow that is its vital festive sales window.
In April, Lush said it was ‘switching up social’. In the six months since it hasn't posted to its 569,000 Instagram followers, the 423,143 on Facebook (complete with chatbot which still 'replies within a day') or the 202,000 on Twitter - followings many brands would covet.
Questions emerged at the time: was this simply cost-cutting? What did it say about the role of social media in retail? Was Lush simply failing to convert social traffic into sales?
It came months after the retailer made a £4m loss in the year leading to 30 June 2018. It blamed high overheads and vowed to look at ‘productivity’ costs and drive efficiencies in the business.
Then in April, it announced: “Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly. We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed.”
Lush UK.com Performance
According to data from Similarweb, year-on-year average monthly traffic to Lush.co.uk dropped 7.2% from 712,000 from April-August between 2018/19. Correlation doesn't equal causation but visits did drop after social was shuttered.
But, there was a dramatic increase in site engagement. Average time on page rose 10.6% to five minutes 32 seconds. Furthermore, pages per visit rose by a quarter to 7.47.
The ethical and purpose-based outlet reinvested in other channels like paid search and influencer marketing around the hashtag #lushcommunity, which according to Instagram has seen more than 171,976 posts.
Before the closure Tubular Labs told The Drum that in 2018, Lush's Facebook and Instagram channels garnered more than 10m video views – steady growth showed it was resonating with consumers. However, only 6% of its fans and followers were seeing its content in their newsfeed. Dropping its first-party channels has only dropped its traffic by 4.8%. Individual stores have elected to continue some accounts at a hyperlocal and intimate level, meanwhile, international accounts continue to engage a broad global audience.
Since the site veered away from social, there's been an emphasis on organic search strategies. Comparing January-March to April-August 2019, organic search was up 2.6%.
The top 10 organic keywords sending traffic to the site are also heavily branded: lush, lush uk, lush jobs, lush cosmetics, lush shampoo bar, lush careers, lush bath bombs, lush spa, lush deodorant, and lush henna.
It is clear that the Lush website is dependent upon festive traffic. Each December, website footfall almost trebles. This hands-off approach to social will be the real test.
Oliver Booker, head of social UK at Reprise, said: “While Lush is getting a lot of daily mentions on Instagram from influencers, store pages and staff members – this is around 180 mentions a day, which does represent a lot of engagement with its audience – however it is difficult to tell if this actually grows its customer base or if it is just talking within a vacuum to customers who already engage with it.
"All other channels do now seem silent so I can imagine that will have an impact on them. As, although Instagram has a captive 18-35 audience, other demos will suffer."
He said that Google Trend noted a reduction in searches for the brand, although this cannot be attributed to social alone.
"Facebook and Instagram advertising is a very good way of feeding your customer base, and they now don’t have the options to do this. I feel that year on year it will see a weaker Q4 because of its lack of investment in social advertising, regardless of the organic influence on Instagram.
"The Christmas period will be a make or break to prove that moving away from social advertising has made a difference."
Already in October, sites like Cosmopolitan are talking up Lush's new ‘fabulously festive’ collection.
It will hope to shift these products by the bathload come Christmas, otherwise, it may have to switch up social again.