Over the years, both social media and ecommerce have changed and shaped the way we live our lives. Whether it’s messaging and interacting with friends, or discovering a new brand to have them ship something straight to our door, it’s undeniable that these digital experiences are just a normal part of everyday life. Increasingly, social media and ecommerce are blending and forming not just omnichannel experiences, but a more instant, engaging concept we now call “social commerce”.
What is social commerce?
Simply defined, social commerce is the process of selling products or services directly through social media. The customer journey is oftentimes entirely completed from discovery all the way to checkout without leaving the platform in question. For instance, a user may be browsing on Instagram, see your brand, browse your products and then complete checkout all without leaving the app.
It’s popularity and potential is growing, as buyer expectations and behaviors are increasingly influenced by how they spend their time on social media. Social commerce creates a smooth, easy purchasing experience where the products, messaging, and presentation are all perfectly suited to the platform they choose to spend time on. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have recently updated their social commerce capabilities, with Instagram going so far as to announce they’ll be focussing on shopping as a priority for the platform going forward. Other popular platforms like TikTok also recently announced a partnership with Shopify to provide a more robust social commerce experience.
This isn’t a new trend, in fact social commerce has long been a major part of daily life in several Asian countries. In China, social media platform WeChat is the country’s primary platform with over a billion users, and is used for everything from messaging friends, to ordering food and groceries, and even booking flights. Other social media platforms are then playing catch up, recognizing this huge opportunity to become not just a small part of someone’s day but an essential part of their daily life.
Why your brand should care about it
Removes friction in the buying process
Consider a typical buyer path when going through traditional journeys from social media to ecommerce checkout. They need to click on your profile, then your site’s link, then navigate through to whatever product it is they saw, and then add to bag and checkout. In many cases, this journey is made longer where some social platforms open the link in-app and the user needs to open it in their browser to navigate through the site properly. Many brands use tools such as Linktree, and this creates a further step for the user. Then let’s say for example the user adds items to their cart using your store on the in-app browser but wants to complete the purchase in Chrome. Oftentimes, the cart won’t transfer between browsers, meaning the user has to then go through your catalog and find the products again.
This path is long, and at times frustrating. There are plenty of points of friction in that journey where you have a high potential for losing that customer. What social commerce does is bring your store and checkout to the social media platform itself. The journey then becomes click on profile, click to social media storefront, purchase. You’re not only removing a lot of potentially frustrating steps, you’re bringing your brand to where they are in that moment they want to make a purchase.
Makes your brand more interactive
When developing a digital marketing strategy, there is often a separation between social media and your ecommerce site. You’re looking for ways to get customers off social media and onto your website. Even with an omnichannel approach, there is still going to be a lack of interactivity on your site compared to social media as it’s inherently more interactive than your ecommerce store.
Social commerce then makes your brand, products, and storefront more interactive to your target audience. They can engage with your products and brand in the same space as the content you create to attract them. If you post about a product on TikTok, your audience can immediately go and check it out on your storefront there as well as making a purchase.
It’s where Millennials and Gen Z buyers want to shop
If your product is targeting Millennials and Gen Z, then social commerce should be part of your strategy. When it comes to discovery, 54% of Millennials and 58% of Gen Z think that social media is a better place to find new brands than search engines. Further along in the customer journey, 55% of those aged 18-24 and 48% aged 25-34 say they’ve made a purchase through social media.
These age groups form the majority of social media user bases, in particular those with growing social commerce capabilities. 47% of TikTok’s US user base is under the age of 30, and 62% of Instagram’s global user base is between the ages of 18 to 34. Social commerce adoption is expected only to continue growing in years to come, therefore if trends with this age group continue then it will quickly become a major space for ecommerce brands.
Brings your products to where your customers spend their time
The majority of our time online is spent using our smartphones, accounting for 70% of total digital media time in the US. Mobile is already key for ecommerce, with 59% of consumers saying that being able to shop on mobile is a key factor in deciding who to shop with and mobile expected to account for 72% of global ecommerce sales by the end of 2021.
This is especially noteworthy as social media is predominantly used on mobile devices and more than half our time online is spent on social media. By developing a social commerce strategy, brands can bring their store experience and products to where their customers actually spend the majority of their time. Instead of trying to acquire them through other channels and direct them back to their site, merchants can instead take the entire customer journey right to the platforms their customers love to browse.
Puts your brand in line with global ecommerce leaders
Social commerce isn’t simply an up-and-coming trend, it’s already a serious part of business development plans for world leading ecommerce brands. If we look to our peers in Asia, social commerce is already a huge part of daily life for many people living in China and other east Asian countries.
Around the world, many companies are putting major investment in social commerce. In one Statista survey, 9 in 10 US businesses agreed that they were increasingly moving their efforts towards social commerce, with 73% saying they were already selling through social media. If what happened with WeChat is anything to go by, it won’t be long before social commerce becomes a normal part of daily life for many consumers. Therefore if you want to get ahead, your brand needs to get up to speed now to take advantage of this opportunity.
Where is social commerce happening?
With so many social media platforms and marketplaces, it’s hard to keep up with what’s happening on each platform. We’re going to take a look at the major players in the social commerce space, to compare how each platform is approaching this growing market opportunity.
Facebook takes two approaches to incorporating ecommerce into its platform natively - Marketplace, and Shops. Marketplace is a peer-to-peer style market similar to Craigslist or eBay, whereas Shops is strictly for businesses to run a DTC storefront.
Shopify is one of Facebook’s partner platforms, giving merchants the ability to sync their inventory to their Facebook storefront.
With the announcement that Instagram in the future will move away from photo sharing and more toward shopping, it’s clear that leadership at the company and its parent - Facebook - are expecting big things from social commerce. Instagram Shopping is linked to your Facebook Shop, so you need to have that set up before getting started on Instagram.
By nature of the type of content that’s typically posted on Instagram many brands prefer this platform for their social commerce over Facebook, as its very visually led content lends better to showcasing products and offers more creativity to its businesses. It also has a built-in shop browsing feature where users can scroll through products and shops they may be interested in.
Snapchat has turned its sights onto taking social commerce a step further with Augmented Reality (AR), and in 2020 started testing out a limited number of Brand Profiles to enable in-app shopping capabilities.
Snapchat’s AR shopping features allow users to “try on” products before making a purchase, which capitalizes on the popularity of filters in the app. Brands such as Target and Gucci are already on board, so it will be interesting to see where Snapchat is headed with social commerce.
While not inherently social commerce, Pinterest still has a sort of social shopping option in Shoppable Pins. These are pins which redirect users to product specific landing pages to complete their purchase.
The pins contain all the information a customer would want before going to the landing page, such as pricing and shipping information. Shopify merchants can also use the Pinterest for Shopify app which allows merchants to quickly publish product pins, update their catalog, and track performance.
TikTok has enjoyed a huge amount of success in a very short space of time, and is now exploring social commerce in partnership with Shopify.
This allows merchants to create, run, and optimize marketing campaigns directly in Shopify, with native, shareable content that turns products into in-feed video ads. This will grow to allow merchants who see viral success on the app to strike while the iron is hot and get more users through their checkout process in-app.
4 tips for your social commerce strategy
1 - Understand your audience
The first step in developing a social commerce strategy is in understanding your audience - where they spend their time, where they’re most likely to make a purchase, and which products will interest them. Use a combination of your store data and social media analytics to get a full picture of your audiences across both.
Use this data to determine the messaging and content that best speaks to your social media followers, rather than simply adapting your ecommerce site content. A successful social commerce strategy relies on encouraging audience engagement, so consider how you already tailor your content to each platform and how you can further incorporate your products to promote your social storefront. Ask questions and create polls, set up a chatbot to answer queries, work with influencers, and create interesting content that will create a more social and engaging brand presence your followers will respond to.
2 - Encourage reviews and user generated content
Regardless of where your customers are, be that on social media or your website, they’re going to want to see some social proof before they make a purchase. The two ways you can utilize social proof with social commerce is by showcasing reviews and user generated content.
User generated content is content which your users share on their own accounts, showing your product in a positive real-life context. 92% of consumers say they trust user generated content more than traditional advertising, so there is a huge opportunity for brands to present social proof in a more authentic, genuine way. This type of content is great for showcasing to potential customers the quality of your product, and engaging your existing customers to build a stronger relationship.
Reviews can also be make-or-break for purchases online regardless of if they’re made on your site or social media, with 93% of consumers saying reviews influenced their online purchasing decisions. The first step is in gathering reviews, which can be achieved with automated post-purchase follow-up emails. Check in with customers to see if they’re enjoying their purchase, and give them the opportunity to offer feedback. If you want to really encourage them to leave a review, you can offer an incentive such as a percentage discount or free shipping on their next purchase. The next step is to ensure you feature reviews and other positive feedback on the social media platforms you’ll be selling through. If the point of social commerce is to have the entire journey completed from discovery to purchase on the platform, then you don’t want the customer to have to go off-platform to find reviews. Create content which puts this positive feedback at the centre, even better if you can bolster it with the user generated content mentioned before.
3 - Watch and respond to your metrics
It will take time to learn about what does and does not resonate with your followers with your social commerce strategy. The best thing to do is to watch your metrics and respond to them accordingly. Here are some ideas of how you can use your metrics to strengthen your social commerce:
Conduct some A/B testing with different styles of messaging around the same products to see which posts your followers respond best to. Which gets the most engagement, and which sees the most conversions?
Be ready to respond to a product receiving a lot of engagement and attention through a post either your own or an influencer’s, add it to your catalog and see if the attention results in sales. If not, why not? i.e. pricing, imagery, etc.
- Use your ecommerce store data to determine best-selling products. Test these out on your social commerce stores to determine whether these are still popular with your audiences when they aren’t on your site.
- Test out complementary products based on your store’s browsing data.
Along with your own data, look to your competitors and other benchmark brands to see what strategies they’re employing with social commerce. Consider how you could adapt their high-engagement content to your own strategy, and see if it resonates with your audiences.
4 - Pick products on the lower end of your catalog pricing
Just as with everything else in ecommerce, you need to be strategic when looking at which products to include as part of your social commerce storefronts. There is an element of impulsivity in shopping on social media, in that it does rely on capturing the interest of your customers in that moment.
What this means is that you should go for products that are proven to sell easily, and often this will mean the products at the lower to middle end of your catalog pricing. If you sell audio tech, then it’s unlikely someone browsing on Instagram or TikTok will buy a $2000 speaker system, but they may be likely to buy a $50 pair of headphones. The higher the cost, the more likely the customer will want to go off and do research and compare your products against your competitors. Lower cost products have less risk associated, and can be rationalized easier with on-site reviews and user generated content.
Social commerce is a way for your business to fully engage and build meaningful, authentic relationships with your customers while making their purchasing journey as simple as possible. It’s an opportunity for you to grow your Shopify store beyond your site, offering your products to your ideal customers right where they spend their time online.