Free People's Using You To Drive Sales

Free People's answer to social media, an online style-focused community known as FP Me, just turned one. In celebration of 30,000 pictures of Free People merchandise uploaded to the site by boho-loving shoppers, Free People is showing those customers just how valuable they are (cha-ching!) by temporarily shelving Karlie Kloss and Sasha Pivovarova in favor of their favorite FP Me users.

For the next two weeks, you'll be able to shop a specially curated section of the Free People site, called FP Me Takeover. There, instead of clicking on photos of models in fringe tops and dip-dyed jeans, you'll be clicking on photos of actual Free People customers wearing the same products.

The purpose of the takeover isn't just to honor various well-styled Free People fanatics; the numbers prove that user-generated content (UGC) like this really drives sales. According to Fashionista, when online items are paired with photos of users wearing those same items, there's a 42 percent improvement in "the same session conversion rate (i.e. someone buys something)." Read: you're more likely to buy those skinny jeans if you can see them looking fly on a model and on that girl next door.

As with most marketing that focuses on buzzwords like "real" and "authentic," the campaign isn't as radical as it initially sounds. The only model photo that gets replaced by a FP Me photo is the "lead image" — i.e., the initial image you'd click on when browsing an entire section of jeans. Once you arrive on the product page, you're back to the model shots. Additionally, the idea that all the FP Me Takeover photos are UGC is misleading. Free People actually shot some of these customer photos themselves, using their favorite FP Me girls, to get "current product shots." The rest of the photos were culled from the most popular FP Me images on the site. The models may be temporarily hidden, but the end result is still highly stylized and curated.

Though the marketing is slightly disingenuous, it's not surprising that Free People isn't ready to give up the reigns to a host of rabid FP fans with iPhones just yet. The brand has a powerful image going — it takes a lot of work to look so breezily effortless, you know — and they're smart to keep it tightly under control.

Image: Free People