The Complete Guide to User-Generated Content for E-commerce Growth

12 July 2022 • 8 min read

Consumer behavior is always evolving. With the rise of a new generation of shoppers, more customers choose to shop with brands they trust. How your business promotes this trust is key to winning new customers. Rather then hear directly from a business about how trustworthy they are, we want to hear from real people in real situations. The former is called marketing, the latter is called social proof or User-Generated Content (UGC for short).

Marketing comes with an inherent bias, but social proof is authentic, impartial, and much more valuable. E-commerce businesses should be doing everything they can to capture moments where real people speak about your business with UGC.

So, what is UGC? How does it benefit e-commerce? And what can you do to leverage UGC from your customers?

What Is User-Generated Content?

User-generated content is content that your customers have shared based on their experiences, interactions, or opinions with your business or product. It typically takes the form of social posts with images or videos or reviews on sites like Google, Trustpilot, etc.

UGC has grown in popularity with the rise of social commerce and social media channels like Instagram and TikTok. UGC is the realistic, reliable, and trustworthy content generated from customer experiences. These are the values that e-commerce businesses should strive to achieve with their content.

UGC plays a huge part of everyone’s online experience, from the obvious to the subliminal. Everyone is marketing products today, whether it’s intentional or not; and as Instagram emerged as a revenue-driving channel, e-commerce brands needs to find a way to integrate UGC with their current online strategy.

Why Is UGC Important?

Almost 80% of shoppers believe that user-generated content influences their buying decisions.

UGC is effectively letting your customers promote and market your products. For smaller businesses where regular marketing isn’t always possible, UGC can be invaluable.

Content created by your customers also boosts sales and increases customer retention.

UGC results in 29% higher web conversions than campaigns or websites without it.


Most marketers agree that UGC helps businesses add authenticity to their site along with building customer trust when they first land on a website.

UGC is also a way to introduce exciting and different visuals to your website. Branded images are nice, but they are uniform, biased, and inauthentic. UGC adds and element of surprise and authenticity to your site that will delight customers. It adds a real-life element to your business which is essential when connecting with customers.

One of the most-used forms of UGC, reviews and ratings, allow e-commerce business to get real content which speaks to your products, pricing, customer service, delivery quality, and more.

Now that you’re up to speed and what UGC is and why it works, let’s look at some practical ways you can use UGC to grow your business.

1. Display customer pictures and videos on your e-commerce website

There are lots of ways to display user-generated content on your e-commerce website.

One of the most intuitive ways to automatically show relevant UGC on your website is by adding an Instagram wall to your site which pulls in image either from a specific Instagram account or hashtag.

Here’s WebSell retailer Palmetto Speed Shop with an Instagram wall on their webstore which shows a selection of the latest posts shared with their specific UGC hashtag #palmettospeedshop.

This type of UGC is very effective for increasing conversion rates as customers can see the products in real-life situations.

If you’re selling furniture or decor, images like this can help answer questions like:

By implementing their unique UGC, Palmetto Speed Shop were able to increase conversion rates by 27%.

2. Promote reviews and ratings by real customers

Customer reviews and ratings are some of the oldest and most valuable forms of UGC. Reviews by real people give your business real credibility in the eyes of customers.

Reviews give qualitative insights about your brand, products, service, and more from real people. It’s the ultimate social proof for e-commerce businesses. You can then take these reviews (both good and bad) and display them on your site.

Here’s an example from Boards Direct:

3. Empower your customers to tell their stories

Customers will tell their stories about your brand, your products, or your services if you give them the tools and the platform to do it. Whether that’s a forum, survey, or comment/review area. There’s no downside to interacting with your customers.

While they can interact negatively with your business, ultimately user-generated content creates a win-win relationship between the brand and the customer. You can even ask your customers for their input on the future of your product, and giving this level of control back to your customers will allow you to create brand advocates.

Example Campaign: Lay’s “Do-us-a-Flavor” Campaign

In 2006, Lay’s was looking for new flavors for their chips. They asked people to submit ideas for a new chip flavor on their website, with the winner to receive $1 million. In 2014, they repeated the same campaign using Twitter and in 2016 using Snapchat. The campaign clearly worked for Lay’s as they went back to it 3 separate times!

When you create an effective UGC campaign that rewards customer engagement with your brand, you’ll start to see those shoppers turn into loyal brand advocates.

4. Leverage Instagram’s visual UGC

If you’re going to be encouraging your customers to engage with you as a brand, then they need to see that you’re active on the platform they’re using. For most businesses, Instagram will be the best platform to interact with your customers, and if you’re regularly posting content to that channel it will encourage your customers to do the same. And if they’re aware of your presence, they can tag you or post with a hashtag related to your business.

In 2022, over 2 billion people are active on Instagram every month, and the social media channel shows no signs of slowing down either. Remaining active on Instagram can also develop a culture for your business which exists outside the walls of your physical store. By associating your products with real-life situations, your brand can permeate into the lives of your customers, creating brand loyalty and trust.

Example Campaign: Starbucks’ #WhiteCupContest

In April 2014, Starbucks started the hashtag #WhiteCupContest on Instagram and asked their customers to submit their doodled white cup of art, with the chance to win a $300 gift card and their own design immortalized on the cup in a limited edition. Now it’s become a tradition every year and during the holiday season, Starbucks encourages its customers to be creative with the famous cups.

Did you know that WebSell stores can communicate directly with Instagram to ensure products in posts are tagged, meaning customers can shop directly from your Instagram account?

Now you can turn your Instagram account into an extension of your webstore! Find out more about this service here.

5. Incentivize your customers to create and submit user-generated content

We are far more likely to share, comment, and like videos over basic text pieces of content, so if there’s an opportunity to try and get videos made about your products, then take it.

The power of video is unquestionable, and it becomes even stronger if it’s generated directly by your users. One of the most popular ways people have been engaging with products via the medium of video is through unboxing or product review videos. One kid is even pulling in over $20 million a year for opening and playing with toys! So, it can mean big business not only for you but also for your customers.

One of the main draws for product review and unboxing videos for a business is the fact that the customer discovers the benefits of the product in real-time and in a real-life setting. Other customers can then immerse themselves in the experience that your product delivers which is more than a simple product listing or text-based review can offer.

It’s proven to increase conversion rates too and drive brand loyalty, as people trust peer reviews and ratings more than the reviews and ratings given by professionals.

Wrapping up

UGC is generally good for your brand if it is well managed, but you also need to keep one central tenet of this nature of customer engagement: You can’t control UGC.

Your users can leave negative comments on any medium so you need to have a resource dedicated to moderation and monitoring. From social networks to forums and blogs, negative interactions need a quick reply to mitigate and de-escalate the situation.

But don’t fear negativity. Even negative reviews can make a positive impact on your brand. They humanize your business and show that you won’t sugar-coat everything. Negative reviews show an honesty from your business.

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