Fashion powerhouse SHEIN has come a long way since they were founded in 2008. Well known for their cheap clothing, SHEIN gained traction in 2020, where they saw an increase in sales by 250% compared to the year before.
So how did they achieve this huge success, and what can other businesses learn from them?
This guide explains SHEIN’s marketing strategy, and how you can replicate it.
We’ll be covering:
- The History of SHEIN
- SHEIN’s Website and App
- SHEIN’s Pay-Per-Click Ads
- SHEIN’s Social Media Strategy
In each section we’ll explain how you can replicate SHEIN’s marketing strategy for your own brand, even if you’re not a fashion retailer.
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The History of SHEIN
SHEIN is an online fast fashion retailer, founded in 2008 by Chris Xu. The company is most well known for their cheap clothing apparel as well as other items such as technology or home goods.
SHEIN is based in China but ships to 220 countries. As of 2022, SHEIN is the world’s largest fashion retailer, after a $100 billion funding round in April 2022
In 2011, SHEIN was focused on selling wedding dresses, with some women’s apparel on the side, functioning in a similar way to a drop shipping company.
Changing their strategy in 2014, SHEIN began to acquire their own supply-chain system, moving them away from the drop shipping model and towards being a fully integrated retailer. The company also purchased Romwe, another Chinese eCommerce retailer.
Let’s dive into the SHEIN digital marketing strategy and see what sets this clothing brand apart from other fast fashion retailers.
SHEIN’s Website and App
SHEIN has both a website and an app, and it appears that they are trying to drive desktop visitors towards the app by offering a 25% discount to app users. This strategy is working well, as the SHEIN app was the second most downloaded shopping app globally in 2021, and in May 2022 it became the most downloaded app in the USA.
High app downloads haven’t meant low traffic for the SHEIN website. According to Semrush* SHEIN is estimated to be getting 50 million visitors a month via organic search worldwide.
This might seem like a strange place to start – aren’t pop ups universally panned? Not if they are done right, and offer value to the visitor.
As soon as you land on the SHEIN website you’re immediately met with multiple discount vouchers that you can “collect” with one click and use across your order. This immediately positions SHEIN as a cheap fashion retailer while also giving the impression that they’re cheap because of the vouchers, rather than the products themselves being cheap.
When you close this first popup, you get another one offering further discounts if you register with the site. This is extremely clever as it gets visitors onto the SHEIN email list right away. They’re offering £3 off, free shipping on orders over £35 and free returns up to 60 days, all in return for the visitors email address, which they can then use for automated email campaigns and retargeting visitors with ads on other websites.
How does this look on the SHEIN app?
The first thing you are greeted with is a pop up asking you to turn on app notifications. SHEIN has included that you get exclusive vouchers and will be notified about the latest promotions, as well as order status updates and notified about daily check-in. The daily check-in is an interesting feature which we’ll cover further down this guide.
We are also greeted with the same pop ups as we saw on desktop, minus the £3 off email sign-up. This is likely because they have opted to focus on getting people to register for notifications rather than emails, and including both would be a bit excessive.
How can you use these same tactics in your marketing strategy?
Give people a reason to make an account with you or to join your mailing list.
If you can offer a discount in return for a mailing list sign up or account creation, that’s great. If not, create perceived value other than just “sign up to our newsletter for news”. You can offer an extended returns policy to those who make an account with you, or offer free shipping for a lower order value than those without an account.
If you have an app, offer people reasons to turn on notifications. Our phones are bombarded with notifications daily, and people are becoming more choosy as to which notifications they want to leave on. If you do send notifications, be careful not to overdo it. Testing notification frequency and monitoring how many people keep notifications switched on is a great way to find the ideal number for your business and customers.
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SHEIN has the main benefits of shopping with them in a benefits bar just below their menu, and the benefits here are directly related to their wider marketing strategy.
SHEIN have played heavily into the hype surrounding “shopping hauls” that are popular on social media. Because SHEIN products are cheap and often take a while to be shipped, customers like to put a large order all in one go rather than smaller orders that they’ll need to wait longer to receive.
Because of this, SHEIN offers free shipping on orders over £35 and free 60 day returns. They know that customers are likely to be spending an average of £35, as the items are cheaper, and by ordering more items that they might need to send back because they want to hit the £35 free delivery threshold.
This benefits bar also handles objections too. When typing “Is SHEIN” into Google, several of the results are asking about free returns and quality. By putting free returns in the benefits bar, they’re making it clear right away that they do offer free returns, with an extended return period as well, compared to many fashion retailers who only offer 30 days.
On the app, we see a couple of changes in the benefits bar, the main one being that the app discount has been replaced with “Check-in“.
The check-in system is a clever way to get users to open the app daily. By checking in each day, the user is rewarded with points that can go towards purchases. Not only are they being incentivised to open the app daily, they’re also going to be thinking about making a future purchase using the points they have accumulated.
This page also includes items of clothing tailored to the user’s search or purchase history. When it comes to encouraging users to make a purchase, SHEIN is willing to innovate and this is one of those ways. Considering their huge valuation, it’s likely these tactics are working well for them.
This type of customer engagement isn’t suited to a B2B business model, or a service based industry, but works excellently for eCommerce businesses.
How can you use a benefits bar on your own website or app?
Write down three of the benefits of shopping with you, or hiring your services, and include them in a benefits bar at the top of your website. Benefits bars are most commonly seen below the menu bar.
Consider your USPs, especially the ones that set you apart in your industry. If everyone offers free quotes, you could sweeten the deal by reinforcing that you offer no obligation quotes, to take the pressure off the customer down the line if they reject your services.
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Further down the homepage, we see that not only is SHEIN having an 80% off sale at the time of writing, they also have another section below this with more discount codes, and then below that they have more codes for new users.
At this point, we actually haven’t seen any clothing items.
If SHEIN was a new brand, this is not the strategy we’d suggest, but because of the way they have positioned themselves in the market, this strategy makes sense. SHEIN is the discount clothing brand, and they want to make that loud and clear.
This is the same on the app too – the above the fold section is taken up by discount codes unless you are logged in. In that case, the new user zone discounts are removed, which is the same on the website.
How can you apply this to your own website or app?
This is less about discount codes, and more about SHEIN being loud about their USP.
The mistake they have made here is making their entire above the fold section about discounts and sales, with no clothes in sight. Someone landing on the website for the first time, with limited knowledge of the brand, would likely become overwhelmed and bounce back to search.
The lesson here is that it’s good to make your USP obvious, but don’t let it overpower your homepage. If in doubt, ask someone if they can tell what you offer from your homepage. If they can’t, you need to rethink your website.
SHEIN has category pages and sub category pages.
The category pages are fairly standard – Women, Curve + Plus, Kids, Men, Beauty and Home.
At the time of writing, the Women, Curve + Plus, Kids and Men pages are all the same as the homepage above the fold, with the homepage defaulting to womenswear. Below the fold, we see variation in the sub categories.
This is surprising, as with this current promotion, a user may not realise at first glance that they’ve changed to a different category page. Even just changing the colours on the “summer sale” banner will indicate to the user that they are on a different category page.
The change between categories is more obvious on mobile, with the app using motion to “slide” across to the next category.
The pages looking the same is not as prominent on mobile and smaller screen sizes, but different screen sizes should be taken into consideration when making changes to the above the fold section of the website.
Sub Category Pages
SHEIN’s sub category pages can be accessed as a drop down menu, or from different parts of the category page. They use images to illustrate the subcategories further, promoting new lines and releases.
They also use the colour red to emphasise additional subcategories.
A downside here is that there are a lot of subcategories – they’ve even included categories for daily new releases. We already know that SHEIN encourages users to check-in daily on the app, so it’s possible that these same people also like to check out daily new releases too.
Let’s move onto SHEIN’s product pages. They’re fairly well optimised, but there’s certainly room for improvement. This experience is similar on both desktop and app, so we’ll stick to the desktop website for this section.
Let’s take a look at this popular dress from the Curve + Plus category.
It has multiple product photos, and they all look more like user generated content than studio shots, which can often be appealing to consumers.
The price of the item is hugely prominent, tying in with SHEIN’s goal of being an affordable fashion retailer. The name of the product is so small compared to the price that you barely notice it to start with.
The next area of the page that grabs your attention is the add to cart button – it’s designed to stand out on the page. You know exactly where to go if you want to make a purchase.
These are the three most attention grabbing parts of the page – the photos, the price and the add to cart button. We can predict that SHEIN has identified these three things as being most important to their customers.
Next we have different dress colours. A great design choice they’ve made here is to add the word “hot” to the colours that are selling well. This helps guide unsure customers towards a purchase, even if they can’t decide on a colour.
A downside here is that when you change the colour selection the colour of the dress does change, but the same photos are used. It’s a good bit of photo editing, but it could put off consumers who are concerned about SHEIN’s quality. They’d rather see actual photos of the product they will receive, rather than just seeing the colour of the image change.
Photo reviews are a big part of SHEIN, so it’s possible that SHEIN finds it more effective to edit their original photos, then let the reviewers show off the colours of their clothing when it arrives. SHEIN’s loyalty points model even rewards reviewers who include a photo.
Reviewers are also encouraged to include their personal measurements, as well as how they felt the overall fit was.
This dress alone has 2,618 reviews. You can sort by reviews with photos if you want to see how the clothes look in real life. You can also see reviewers asking readers to like their reviews so they can get more points to go towards more clothes.
Really, SHEIN has created the perfect review model. By encouraging users to leave reviews with points they can use to spend on more SHEIN products, they get lots of reviews for their products, lots of user generated content and the reviews handle common objections that SHEIN visitors have, such as the quality of the clothes.
The product descriptions are surprisingly short, but there’s certainly an argument for this. Why try and explain your product in an adjective-filled paragraph when you can show the product in photos and leave the reviewers to offer a more detailed description, with more photos?
Lastly, SHEIN has done a great job of optimising these pages to encourage visitors to spend more. They include a “Get The Look” section so that those who like this dress can add other products to their basket that will go well with it.
Not only that, when you click on these “Get The Look” products, a popup appears to get you to add the product to your basket then and there, without needing to leave the page. So if you want everything in the “Get The Look” section, you don’t need to go back and forth between pages.
The checkout process on SHEIN is fairly straightforward, but we’d like to spotlight one specific aspect.
SHEIN are so dedicated to their discount codes that they include the codes on the checkout page, so that if you missed them before you have the chance to use them. SHEIN doesn’t expect you to go hunting round the internet for a discount code, they put it right there in front of you.
How can you apply this to your own business?
Include reviews to show the integrity of your product or service, and if possible, incentivise your customers to leave a review. SHEIN offers points, but other companies offer different incentives. Secret Labs offer an extended warranty on their chairs if you share the product on social media. You could do something similar in return for a review.
Make the ideal path you want your visitors to take clear. SHEIN wants customers to look at the photos, look at the price then add the product to the basket. They do this by making the price larger than the other text and making the add to cart button a different colour to the rest of the page, helping it stand out.
If you sell a product in multiple colours or styles, highlight best sellers to your customers. This will not only encourage those who aren’t sure which colour to pick and want to be on trend, as well as those who don’t want to buy the colour everyone else is buying. Seems small, but if that’s what is important to your audience (picture a birthday party of kids who have all picked the same SHEIN dresses arguing over turning up in the same outfit – speaking from experience here), then these little additions to your product pages can make a huge difference.
If you offer different service packages, you can add a “popular” tag to those services. Let’s say you offer three levels of car detailing, a basic clean, a luxury clean and a deluxe clean. If the luxury clean is your most popular, or it makes you the most profit, then you can identify it as the most popular. Don’t try and use this trick just to promote your most expensive service though, as consumers will see straight through it.
SHEIN has a very well optimised website, which can be cluttered at times but is optimised to get bigger spends out of consumers. So how are they getting traffic to this website? Let’s dive into their PPC strategy, as well as their well established social media channels.
SHEIN’s Pay-Per-Click Ads
If you spend time on social media, it’s likely you would have seen an ad for SHEIN’s products.
They are everywhere.
What is PPC?
Pay-per-click ads, or PPC ads, are ads run on search engines, social media or websites which most commonly charge the advertiser a fee each time someone clicks the ad.
According to Semrush*, SHEIN is estimated to be spending over $3 million monthly on search ads worldwide. This spend is estimated to be netting them around 1.8 million monthly visitors.
Their search strategy is fairly straightforward – for the most part, they are advertising on their brand name, misspellings of their brand name, as well as competitor brand names. They also target generic clothes keywords, such as “graphic tees” and “summer dresses“.
The ad copy we have access to in Semrush for the keyword “shein” pushes one of their USPs right away – the daily new arrivals and changing stock.
Typing the same search term into Google we get a SHEIN search ad for the UK site. The headline includes “85% Off and Free Shipping“, letting potential customers know loud and clear that they have a sale on. They also use ad extensions to highlight popular pages and product ranges on their site, including “Plus Size Clothing” and “Kids Clothes“.
Some of the text used in the ad could be optimised better, as “Up to 85% Off Wait There’s More” isn’t the most inspiring headline. It’s likely that because of the size of the business, SHEIN are using smart ads which will take pre-written lines and serve them up to a customer based on their search history. This saves time but isn’t always the most effective.
How can you use search ads for your business?
Take a look at your target keywords and analyse the search results. If there are a lot of ads there, it could be worth running ads on that search term, depending on how competitive the space is.
If you’re going to be competing with massive household names, it could be a challenge and potentially a waste of time and money. If there are no ads, this could mean that the keyword isn’t profitable.
Take a look at the search volume for your search terms and use that as a guide too – if the term is getting millions of views then it will be highly competitive and it will be a challenge for smaller businesses to win the ad spots from the big brands. If the search volume is really low, it might not be worth running ads on that term if no one will see them.
If you’re a smaller business, we’d suggest writing each individual search ad rather than letting Google auto generate them to ensure those who see your ads are getting the best experience.
Finally, add your USPs into your ad – give people a reason to click on your ad over the other ads and organic search results.
Social Media Advertising
Looking up SHEIN on the Meta Ad Library, which shows us ads from Facebook and Instagram, we can see that SHEIN is currently running around 540 ads across these two platforms.
To put that into perspective, online fashion company Boohoo is currently running around 22 ads on Facebook and Instagram.
As SHEIN has so many different products, and are adding new products daily, they need to be running a lot of ads to cover everything. The oldest ads they are still running date back to April 2022, so we can see that they change their ads frequently. It’s important to note that two of their old ads still reference spring, so it could be that these ads were left running by accident.
SHEIN are running multiple ads with the nearly the same ad creative – where it differs is in the text and call to action. The first two ads in the image above have a different first image and a slight difference in the copy. One links to the SHEIN desktop site and one links to the mobile site. The third ad has the same imagery as the second, but different text. This one looks like it should link to the mobile app, as it uses the CTA of “install now”, but it also links to the mobile site.
Scrolling through a selection of their other ads, the images change but the text stays very similar. It’s surprising to see that the copy, and in fact the imagery on most of these ads doesn’t mention the discounts. Some ads include it in the imagery, but a majority don’t. With what we’ve seen from SHEIN’s messaging, we definitely expected them to include discount codes in their ads as well as promoting sales.
From their ads, we also can’t tell who they are aimed at, other than “people who wear dresses” or “people who wear gym wear“, and even then that’s only from looking at the imagery used. The copy doesn’t include phrases that allude to a certain audience, like “10% off your first purchase” for those new to SHEIN.
The ads are all quite generic, and this is possibly because they are running so many. By running this many ads, you don’t have time to craft them to suit an audience – instead they are likely generated from different lines and images that SHEIN have added to their ad database.
What can we learn from this?
Less can sometimes be more. Crafting a targeted ad which uses terminology related to your audience, and which relates to the product imagery, is likely to be more effective than letting Facebook randomly generate them for you. Although this way of running ads will save you time, and can be effective if you’re running ads on a massive scale, it’s less effective for smaller ad campaigns.
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SHEIN’s Social Media Strategy
SHEIN is a social media powerhouse. Across five platforms they have over 61.5 million followers.
Followers: 25.3 million
SHEIN uses their Instagram exclusively for product shots. A majority of these are user generated content, although they do share flat lay images of their products and outfit inspiration too.
The engagement on their posts is about average for a fashion brand- they have an engagement rate of around 0.3% according to SocialBlade, with their last six posts getting between 6,000 and 11,000 likes. They don’t get many comments and a large amount of their comments are inappropriate spam.
We’d love to see SHEIN innovate more on their Instagram feed, mixing up the shots of similar looking women and somewhat generic product shots with more creative photoshoots showcasing more diverse models.
From these images you also don’t get an idea of the USPs – that the clothes are cheap and there are always plenty of discount codes on offer.
Their Instagram Reels however nail this. They reshare customer videos showing off SHEIN hauls, a bigger variety of body types and fashion inspiration. They’re really played into the SHEIN “haul culture” here and it’s paid off well – their last 6 videos received between 23,000 and 107,000 likes.
SHEIN’s Twitter takes a very different approach to their Instagram account. This account is focused more on company news and recruitment than anything else. The clothes take a back seat – they’re featured in the posts but they’re not the main focus.
Sophistication takes inspiration from street style cutouts, straps, and crops in our SHEIN X designer MAY ‘G’s new collection! Through SHEIN X, designers like MAY ‘G are empowered to share their work with the world. Explore their designs here: https://t.co/P0rpqMtxEq pic.twitter.com/YqTanbEh40
— SHEIN News (@SHEIN_News) July 5, 2022
Recent posts include information about one of their designers, and a job post from SHEIN Türkiye.
Calling all fashion buyers! Looking for your next opportunity? Our new opening could be your next career move! We are looking for professional, talented fashion buyers to join our team based in Türkiye. Check out the job description and grow your career with us! pic.twitter.com/n9Oiy19DpF
— SHEIN News (@SHEIN_News) June 28, 2022
Their engagement level isn’t very high – it’s around 0.01% based on the engagement on their last 5 posts compared to their follow count. The industry average for fashion brands is 0.04%.
At first glance, we expected this to be because a smaller audience who were invested in the more corporate side of SHEIN were interacting with meaningful comments, but it turns out the comments are mostly made up of customers asking where their orders are.
It looks like SHEIN has decided to take an alternate route with their Twitter account, which is refreshing to see, but it’s possible the audience isn’t there. It’s also possible that SHEIN started this Twitter account with a different approach, and now they’re not engaging their existing followers by switching to this corporate angle.
SHEIN has nothing to lose by taking this approach on Twitter. They have a large number of followers across other platforms. We can’t know for sure, but it could be that Twitter has resulted in some fantastic hires in the past and they want to ensure they keep getting the best people on their teams around the world.
Followers: 26.9 million
SHEIN’s Facebook content is very similar to their Instagram content. They share a lot of user generated content and model shots of their clothing. Their engagement is around 0.03% (based on the engagement on their last 5 posts compared to their follow count). This is low compared to the industry average of 0.07%
We’ve also got a classic case of Facebook spam comments here, and SHEIN isn’t deleting them.
There are also several unhappy customers complaining in the comments. SHEIN does reply to most of these comments though, which is good to see.
SHEIN could certainly boost their engagement on Facebook by sharing more interactive posts such as asking fans to comment their favourite product out of several items or asking them to react to vote on a poll. Facebook is the ideal place to get interaction from fans.
They could treat this page as more of a community space, rather than just a copy of Instagram. If they encourage SHEIN fans to make recommendations to other users in the comments and have conversations about the brand, they could easily generate sales organically without too much effort.
SHEIN have certainly found their place on TikTok. Their brand appeals to Gen Z consumers who want to be on trend but don’t have lots of expendable income. According to VidIQ, SHEIN has an engagement rate of 4% on TikTok, with the industry average being 1.45%.
The SHEIN TikTok account may not be their biggest account, but it’s getting the most engagement of any of their accounts.
They play into the haul culture of SHEIN by sharing their customer’s haul videos. As a result, they fit onto the TikTok For You Page feed nicely – you wouldn’t know right away that this content was from the official SHEIN account, or that it’s a promotion.
The SHEIN hashtag has over 30 billion views, and the sheinhaul hashtag has over 5 billion views, going further to prove their popularity on the app.
Social media is a huge part of the SHEIN marketing strategy, and we expect that they will continue to grow and refine this strategy.
What can we learn from SHEIN’s social media strategy?
SHEIN, for the most part, has figured out which audiences they want to cater to on each platform.
Instagram is for beautiful product shots.
Twitter is for corporate posts.
TikTok is for user generated content and massive hauls of clothes.
They could be doing more with Facebook to set it apart from Instagram, but they are posting different images there.
You can replicate their strategy by identifying the audiences you want to engage with, and then choosing your social media platforms based on this. If you want to speak to a more corporate audience, LinkedIn and Twitter are a good fit. If you want to share beautiful imagery, Instagram is the place you want to go.
Key Learnings and Takeaways from SHEIN’s marketing strategy
SHEIN are masters of the eCommerce website. They know how to bring their customers back on a regular basis, and how to get them to spend more, whether that’s through discounts, free shipping over £35 or other tactics.
They have taken ownership of the “fashion haul” trend, encouraging their customers to spend more, share their haul online, and in turn inspire other shoppers to do the same.
Here are some key takeaways from SHEIN’s digital marketing strategy that you can use for your own business.
- Give people a reason to make an account with you or to join your mailing list
- Use a benefits bar on your website
- Offer rewards to those who visit your website daily or leave thorough reviews
- Run PPC ads on your competitor’s brand names and your own brand name (if others are running ads on your brand name)
- Include your USPs in your PPC ads
- Target different audiences on different platforms
- Go all in on current trends that could benefit your business
You don’t need to try out all these strategies at once, and not all of them will fit your business. Decide which strategies you want to prioritise and start from there.
What To Read Next
- Learn how Fintech company Wise made a stance against big banks with their marketing strategy.
- Convert your traffic into sales by optimising your website’s sales funnel.
- Use these six quick questions to identify your target audience, and use this to tailor your social media strategy towards those people.
*Some links within this article are affiliate links which Exposure Ninja receives a fee for promoting (these links are not sponsored). Exposure Ninja only promotes services we already use within our marketing stack.