Emoji eCommerce Has Arrived

July 17th was #WorldEmojiDay, and we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate the impact of this emerging form of communication on retail brands and their evolving relationships with consumers.

Emojis have come a long way since their late-90s debut. Today, there are more than 3,000 emojis in the Unicode Standard, including hundreds of possible variations intended to improve inclusivity and enhance peer-to-peer communication.

With more than five billion emojis being sent per day on platforms like Facebook Messenger, brands are beginning to experiment with emojis to improve the customer experience and to further engage with their audience on a more emotive level.

Here are three notable ways that emerging technologies are enabling a whole new form of visual interaction between online brands and consumers.

Organic Search

Emoji-based search queries can yield different results than their text-based equivalents. To illustrate this point, check out the two search engine result pages (SERPs) below – one for the query  “⛷ gear” and the other for its text equivalent, “ski gear“.

emoji ecommerce query
Emoji-based eCommerce query

In the emoji-based query, Amazon, Skis.com, and Evo enjoy organic positions 1-3 respectively; however, in the text-based equivalent, Amazon cedes the top position to Evo and REI replaces Skis.com.

non emoji ecommerce query
Standard text query

Ranking for emoji eCommerce queries should follow the same approach as its text equivalent: try adding them to page titles, meta tags, top-level domains, and to the page content itself. Google won’t display emojis if they aren’t relevant – even if the page title or metas contain one – but they will display emojis in the SERPs if the query contains or references an emoji. Marketers who are unable to make these changes to their websites directly can use social media profiles as a surrogate.

Even in-app search engines (such as Yelp) also allow users to search using just emojis, though unlike the more sophisticated search engines, results appear to be based on a static set of rules that associate certain emojis with their text-equivalent keywords.

Brand Association

Although most brands strive to be present in the places where their customers reside, only the truly exceptional can harmonize both message and medium to create a quality brand experience. With respect to emojis, social channels are a preferred medium because they allow brands to take advantage of the large library of characters to create engaging content as a means of instant communication and brand association.

Tweets like the one below illustrate the principle behind the use of emojis on social media for instant brand association, even when the product itself can’t be described in a single emoji. Here, Kikkoman’s clever imagery associates the brand’s product with the foods (🍣) that its customers consume with it.

Emojis can even be used to forge brand associations where no such relationship was previously established. The most famous example are Twitter’s version of branded emojis, called hashflags, which allow businesses to temporarily associate a custom emoji-like pictograph with their normal hashtag campaigns. Coca-Cola was the first brand to purchase a hashflag ( via AdWeek), and despite the steep investment (north of $1 million), several brands have since followed suit with this flavor of ’emoji eCommerce’.

Enhanced Targeting

In 2016, Twitter released emoji targeting for Twitter Ads. This allows brands to add emoji in addition to text equivalents as keyword targeting criteria – so, if you’re a footwear apparel retailer, you can use Twitter to display an ad to people who use emojis like 👠 or 👟.

These criteria can also be used for more advanced heuristics. For example, in 2017 Toyota used emojis to predict a person’s mood before serving them with one of 83 possible video advertisements. Practically speaking, smaller brands might not be equipped to produce creative at that volume, but there is theoretical evidence to support the notion of serving (or withholding) certain ads based on a predicted customer disposition.


Emoji have become a powerful – if not preferred in some cases – mode of communication for millions of people. Our analysis of the implications of emoji on eCommerce marketing is oversimplified, but there is now some precedent for embracing emojis in mainstream communications with your customers. These visual representations of ideas, items, emotions, and activities are instantly-recognizable and offer early adopters with the leverage to enhance or otherwise augment search visibility, brand recognition, and even targeted advertising campaigns.