User-generated content (UGC) is coming to an online store near you. In 2014, one of the biggest trends will be retailers generating brand affinity and sales by incorporating UGC into the ecommerce experience in a meaningful way. Here are three reasons why UGC is hot.

1. It Celebrates Loyalty

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When talking about social, much has been made about courting influencers. But what about all those loyal consumers who have only modest followings on social? They’re a chorus waiting to be heard, and they’re tired of being ignored.

The problem once was that recognizing these fans in any public way was not particularly easy or authentic. UGC is changing that. Now, you can simply encourage fans to share their experience with you in pictures, and you can feature those pictures on the biggest stage you own: your website.

Urban Outfitters worked with Curalate to do just this, and the payoff was amazing. A fan with just over 100 followers shared a photo of herself in Urban clothing that was subsequently displayed in a prominent gallery that links off Urban’s homepage. The fan came back to Urban’s website, saw her image featured, and Instagrammed a screen shot of the gallery along with a caption calling Urban one of her favorite stores and proclaiming that she was “hyperventilating” because she was recognized by the company. You simply cannot buy brand love this deep.

2. It’s Creative and Inspirational

Product reviews can feel overly rational and lifeless. Why? Because product reviews essentially ask the reviewer to be critical.

UGC, on the other hand, is creative, expressive, inspirational, and fun. Everything reviews are not. Old-school product reviews reduced your brand to an arbitrary five-point rating. But you’re not a star rating. You’re a brand. You have a personality, a culture, and a style, and UGC lets your fans reinforce all that. Think about real people in the real world rocking your products. With funky angles, fun locations, and filters galore, a glorious celebration of your brand emerges. And when you feature these irreverent moments, you tell the world you enjoy letting your hair down. When big brands let loose, it’s not only unexpected, it’s cool.

3. You Can Use It to Generate Sales, Measure ROI

The pressure’s on to link social to sales to measure ROI. Bringing UGC on site is a clever way to drive revenue and demonstrate value. UGC provides opportunities for both discovery and social proof. Creative fan photos are intriguing and unusual; they stand out from the traditional catalog shots. As a result, people stay a while and explore. All the while, these browsers are seeing your products in context and visualizing their lives enhanced by your brand. And now that solutions exist to link these user-generated images to the products they reference, a click or hover on an image can result in a sale and therefore measurable ROI.

As the number of social channels continues to proliferate and the volume of images continues to rise, incorporating UGC into your ecommerce site centralizes engagement, provides you measurable ROI, and provides you an important way to celebrate your loyalists at social scale.

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For innovative brands, UGC won’t simply be a passive gallery of photos but an active attempt to break down the walls that separate social and ecommerce teams to drive corporate success and brand loyalty.

The result? Sales, measurable ROI, and the adoration of droves of fans. With stakes this high, you simply cannot afford to close your doors to this opportunity.