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Social commerce and the future of online shopping

illustration of a person pulling a shirt out of a shipping box

Social media has made consumers more connected to their favorite brands than ever before. They can be informed about the release of new products, share their favorite content, and even engage in instant messaging. 

But social media is fast evolving from just being somewhere to get inspiration for new purchases; platforms are aiming to capture the end-to-end shopping journey by becoming online stores in their own right. 

In short, we’re now entering the era of social commerce.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce, also known as social shopping, is an online selling strategy where businesses sell products or services directly through social media platforms. Rather than redirecting customers to an ecommerce website, social commerce enables brands to offer end-to-end browsing and purchasing functionality through the app itself.

In sum, social commerce offers digitally native retailers additional selling channels on social media sites where they already have a brand presence. So rather than having to spend large sums of money on paid ads to drive shoppers to your site, you can help them purchase products where they already are – browsing your social channels. 

This is a lot more common than you might think; according to a survey by Facebook, 81% of those surveyed said that they regularly used Facebook and Instagram to research products. By investing in social commerce, you’re much better positioned to offer a seamless customer experience.

What is the difference between social commerce and social media marketing?

Brands have been using social media to promote their offerings since these platforms first launched. 73% of marketers believe that social media marketing has been “somewhat effective” or “very effective” at targeting key demographics. 

But it’s important to note that a social commerce strategy is distinct from social media marketing, though there are some crossovers.

Like social commerce, social media marketing requires businesses to use enticing product photography and CTAs to engage social media users scrolling down their feed. It might also engage in influencer marketing to help spread the word to new audiences. However, this takes the form of paid ads or organic content that’s designed to drive traffic away from the platform to an external site where the sale takes place. 

In contrast, social commerce is designed to keep users within the app and facilitate the entire shopping journey from one location. In essence, social media has become the latest digital storefront.

Stats about social commerce

The phrase ‘social commerce’ is still unfamiliar to many retailers, but this rapidly emerging selling channel is one that everyone should be paying attention to. Retail sales from social commerce are set to be worth almost $80 billion dollars by 2025 – accounting for 5.2% of all U.S. ecommerce sales.

chart of retail sales between 2020 and 2025

Looking for more reasons to pay attention? Check out these stats:

  • 48% of internet users between the ages of 18-34 (millennials and Generation Z) have made a purchase through social media.
  • Nearly two-thirds of consumers would be more likely to buy products from a brand if they could shop entirely within a social platform.
  • 79% of people say social user-generated content has a big impact on their purchasing decisions.
  • 89% of social referral traffic to eCommerce sites comes from Facebook, 10.7% from Instagram, and 8.2% from Pinterest.

Social commerce is by no means a fringe offering that only appeals to the most tech-savvy shopper. As consumers expect more streamlined and accessible online shopping experiences, social media platforms are stepping into the void to offer brands a new channel for growth and conversions.

Why social commerce is a great addition to your online selling strategy

Consumers are accustomed to shopping online

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have never felt more at home shopping online. Even as vaccinations are rolling out and stores reopening, the ecommerce habit is proving to be extremely resilient. According to Statista, worldwide ecommerce sales are forecast to hit $6.3 billion by 2024.

And with many consumers now shopping online who wouldn’t have considered it in the past, this leaves a lot of room for your brand to expand its online presence beyond your ecommerce store. With 62% of shoppers following brands and retailers on social media, you have access to a vast untapped market.

It’s an extension of product discovery

Unboxing experiences have gone viral on social media sites due to their compelling presentation of popular or new products. Consumers enjoy the opportunity to be immersed in the culture of a brand they aren’t able to experience in person, while retailers get to spread brand awareness and increase engagement. 

But here’s the thing; a stellar piece of social media content doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. You might get plenty of eyeballs on your content, but you need a powerful CTA to turn lookers into buyers.

Imagine if customers could simply tap on the items you’re showcasing in your unboxing and be taken straight to your on-platform store. As well as being able to capitalize on impulse purchasing habits, you’re also creating a more seamless link between your brand persona and your product offerings.

In sum, social commerce enables your social channels to offer more than just product discovery opportunities. It transforms your feed into a vehicle that turns views and shares into purchases.

Creating streamlined purchasing journeys

One of the biggest weaknesses of traditional ecommerce marketing strategies is that they rely on customers being engaged enough to want to swap to another channel. This is where the majority of leads are lost. The average click-through rate for email marketing is just 2.69% – a fraction of those who might be interested in your product.

Why? Because consumers don’t like online shopping to be more complex than it needs to be. Sending them to a new and unfamiliar site is a major disruption to the shopping experience. But with social commerce, you can keep your customers in one place and avoid losing them between redirects from your Facebook page to your online store.

Mobile shopping is on the rise

We’re long past the era where online shoppers make a beeline straight to the desktop. Today’s consumers want to shop on the go. And it’s mobile commerce, or M-commerce, which is enabling them to do so. 

As global smartphone usage has increased, mobile ecommerce has become the go-to for younger consumers who are reliant on digital devices to search for information. In a time where attention spans are short and time is precious, mobile ecommerce presents an attractive solution; 76% of consumers choose to shop on mobile devices because it saves time.

However, not every mobile shopping experience is a positive one. A whopping 90% of consumers believe that mobile shopping can be improved. Common pain points include a lack of responsive design, difficulty browsing, and links being too difficult to click. 

Social commerce has the advantage of being perfectly optimized for mobile and designed to facilitate seamless shopping journeys. It’s a great way to leverage the power of M-commerce, without brands having to put in any design legwork.

Building social proof 

One of the biggest advantages of selling online is that the barriers to getting started are extremely low. A new brand can set up a website, add product pages, and begin selling within hours.

And that’s exactly the problem.

Consumers are understandably wary of buying from brands that don’t have a clear track record of happy customers. 95% of customers will consult online reviews before purchasing a product – a telling sign that social proof is the key to boosting conversions.

But incentivizing customers to share their thoughts requires a lot of ongoing work. It can be several months before brands can see the impact of their efforts.

One of the best things about social commerce is that social proof is built into the fabric of these platforms. Followers are already conditioned to behaviors such as liking, commenting, and sharing, which reassure potential customers that you’re a reputable vendor.

Which platforms are currently offering social commerce?

Facebook 

The social network giant was the earliest to begin experimenting with in-app shopping capabilities, starting with Facebook Marketplace back in 2007. Their first ‘Buy Button’ was launched in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2018 that Facebook Marketplace was expanded to allow brands to sell on the platform directly.

Facebook was the fastest to capitalize on the shift to ecommerce caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook has utilized the checkout functionality first developed for Instagram to create Facebook Shops, a dedicated space for brands to showcase product collections, offer personalized recommendations, and even conduct sales via Facebook messenger.

screenshots of facebook shops on mobile

Given Facebook’s massive influence, it’s quite possible that the platform could become a viable competitor to Amazon. As the world recovers from the pandemic, time will tell whether Facebook Shops will become a lasting addition to consumers’ online shopping toolkit.

Instagram

As a platform driven by visuals, it’s hardly surprising that Instagram fits neatly with the demands of social commerce. Just last month, Instagram’s CEO made the striking confession that “we’re no longer a photo-sharing app.” 

As social media becomes a more crowded marketplace, Instagram is trying to consolidate where it has the biggest competitive advantage; socially engaged shopping journeys.

The platform first introduced a ‘Shop Now’ button back in 2015 and has continuously added new commerce features, including product tagging and ecommerce integration with the likes of Shopify and Bigcommerce. Their official Instagram Shopping functionality went live in 2018, allowing merchants to build an in-platform store showcasing their products.

screenshots of instagram shopping on mobile

Brands that already have a strong Instagram presence are well-positioned to capitalize on the platform’s shift away from content sharing. The latest addition to Instagram’s social commerce offering is in-video shopping for the Instagram Reels feature, likely an effort to compete with TikTok.

Twitter

Twitter has long been a bit of an outlier than it comes to social media platforms. Where the likes of Facebook and Instagram have achieved strong profitability, Twitter has struggled to find its place as something more than an outlet for people’s errant thoughts. 

As a micro-blogging platform that’s predominantly text-based, Twitter hasn’t managed to make an easy transition into social commerce. It briefly experimented with a ‘Buy Now’ button back in 2014, before later removing it due to lukewarm reviews.

screenshots of twitter shopping on mobile

However, recent developments show that Twitter may be circling back to social commerce. They’re currently testing a Shop Module with a small number of beta users in the U.S. that involves shoppable profiles. Twitter has also partnered with some of the highest-performing brands on the platform to help them refine the feature.

“​​Stay tuned. Though we are in very early explorations, we’re excited about the potential of shopping on Twitter and eager to learn more as we go.” Bruce Falck, Product Lead.

For Twitter, social commerce is absolutely in a state of ‘watch this space’. So – watch this space!

Pinterest

Like Instagram, Pinterest has had a head start in social commerce. But Pinterest has the advantage of offering brands a much less saturated platform; more than one billion people use Instagram each month, versus just 442 million people on Pinterest

Pinterest first introduced so-called ‘buyable’ pins in 2015, where brands could add a version of a ‘Buy Now’ button. This was followed up by a shopping cart feature in 2016, enabling customers to buy multiple products at once in the manner of a regular ecommerce site.

screenshots of shopping on pinterest

But they’ve recently taken the next step in becoming a true social commerce platform with the new Shopping List feature. Starting in June, users are able to save pins to a wish list that will also display price changes, shipping costs, and customer reviews. This ability to compare products and pricing has enabled Pinterest to take the next step in enabling streamlined shopping journeys for its users.

TikTok

One of the newest entrants onto the social media scene with a predominantly Gen Z audience, TikTok has been quick to identify the potential of social commerce in their video-sharing format. They recently formed a partnership with the Publicis Groupe to launch a ‘Community Commerce’ feature that will assist brands who are interested in testing demand for upcoming products.

screenshots of shopping on tiktok

Given the already high interest that TikTok creators have in showing off their latest purchases, it’s clear that social commerce is a strong cultural fit. Hashtags such as #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt are a prime example of how the platform can leverage the power of social selling to set social commerce trends. 

As shopping becomes increasingly digital, the point of sale has become a moving target. Consumers want to engage with retailers on their own terms – and that means utilizing their own profiles to reach brands in the online spaces where they feel the most comfortable.

Social commerce presents a mostly untapped avenue for both emerging and established brands to be exactly where their customers want them to be. As demand grows for effortless shopping across channels, social media is the ultimate funnel to turn all of those lookers into loyal customers.

For more about social commerce strategy, check out our upcoming post!

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