Social commerce is the merging of e-commerce with social networking features. First there were the Buyable Pins on Pinterest. Then we could ‘checkout’ on Instagram. And now we can shop directly on Facebook.
Compared to Google Adwords or Google Shopping, designed to solve our immediate needs, social commerce is a far richer experience. Brands build profiles on Instagram or Facebook to introduce their products to consumers and drive awareness long before there is a need.
And with the lockdown causing more and more people to switch from brick and mortar to online shops, social commerce could be a real innovation for the retail industry.
What is social commerce?
Let’s start with the fundamentals. There are different types of social commerce. Firstly, there is social-based commerce, where transactions mostly take place within social platforms: from the discovery and selection of products to paying for them in some cases (as with Instagram Checkout and the brand new feature Shops from Facebook). Fashion brands have been early adopters of this form of commerce.
According to Forrester, social ads drive customers towards the purchase funnel more effectively than other digital ads. So, social referral commerce drives traffic from social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to e-commerce platforms. This usually involves influencers and specially-created social ad formats. This is perhaps the most common form of social commerce since it is the most direct and “easy” to execute.
Lastly, social-based commerce integrates social features into e-commerce platforms such as the live streaming of limited events/offers (e.g. Singles Day) or feeds made from users’ reviews.
The PROs of social commerce.
By using social commerce, brands have the chance to engage with consumers right across the buying funnel. They can interact with them, from increasing brand awareness with paid ads to checking out when they’re ready to buy. Brands can create a personalised shopping experience with customised products and messages to suit the audience’s interests and their position inside the funnel.
Lastly, brands can take advantage of buying/selling features made available by the major social platforms. These allow users to discover, purchase and pay for goods and services in the same network.
Instagram critical to the e-commerce experience.
Today Instagram is probably the most efficient social channel selling things online in Europe and in the US. Every direct-to-consumer business runs ads on Instagram. The platform is too prolific not to.
The ad experience is easy and measurable, however the power of the platform lies in ad content which is highly visual and aspirational, stimulating the passive desires of users before their functional needs arise.
Users on Instagram enter the platform with multiple discovery pathways. Brands feature throughout the browsing experience of users while they are looking for their favourite restaurants, their next holiday or interesting influencers. And if the visual stimulation is successful, the buying experience often ends on the e-commerce site) or on Amazon, sometimes days or weeks later.
For a year now, Instagram has been allowing companies to sell products directly through its app, via Instagram Checkout.
This innovation addresses many of the biggest challenges: it reduces the friction associated with making a purchase on an external website. A user’s ability to buy natively through Instagram radically shortens the buyer journey allowing businesses to easily find, inspire and convert a user into a customer.
On the other hand, to be discovered by customers retailers need to invest into advertising and influencer marketing: products will need to be featured in the Instagram style, which means photos and videos that customers can relate to and not just items on a simple white background.
There has been one major recent development in the area of social commerce and, by rapidly turning more and more retailers to online commerce, the lockdown played a big part in it. At the end of May, Facebook announced the roll-out of Shops. This feature will allow businesses to create digital storefronts on Facebook and Instagram where they can host ‘catalogues’ of their products, with links to purchase the product either on the retailer’s website or directly within Facebook.
Important note: people could already shop on Facebook (there was Facebook Marketplace and Instagram Checkout, as mentioned) but Mark Zuckerberg’s latest move goes further. Shops is not a sudden move into social commerce. It’s a unified approach across all of the Facebook platforms. In fact, there are already plans to roll out Shops across Facebook’s social chat apps WhatsApp and Messenger further down the line.
Facebook will never be Amazon’s biggest rival. But Facebook and Instagram are already well-known platforms, which significantly lowers the entry barrier for those who are looking to set up an e-shop for the first time. Also, with the launch of Shops, Facebook has partnered with eight different third-party shopping platforms including Shopify, BigCommerce and Woo. This will make the transition easier on businesses that are familiar with these platforms.
The future of social commerce.
One interesting development outlined in the launch statement of Facebook Shops is this:
“People have been using live video on our apps to showcase products for years. Now, we’re making it easier to shop for products in real time. Soon, sellers, brands and creators will be able to tag products from their Facebook Shop or catalogue before going live so people can easily tap to learn more and purchase.”
Brands who can master live shopping will probably hold an advantage in the next few months: live streaming functions weren’t a primary focus with the launch of Facebook Shops but they have huge potential for businesses in the West.
In China, live shopping is estimated to be worth $63B annually and commands a whopping 9% of their total e-commerce sales. During the coronavirus lockdown, live commerce has been key to most businesses, allowing them to both entertain customers and sell products.
The importance of human relations.
But there is a critical factor that we haven’t considered so far. Despite all the innovation and attention, much of what is described as social commerce may be missing the thing that truly sets it apart: the buyer-to-buyer interactions that drive trust, inspiration and relevance among consumers.
Several studies point out that online shoppers rely increasingly on social networks to help with their purchasing decisions: 55% of people in the US bought a product online after discovering it on social media. In addition, with more people working from home and buying online, other people’s feedback and recommendations have become increasingly important.
To be successful in the area of social commerce, brands must be truly social. Here are some inspiring questions and tips to make your commerce social-proof:
- Are social interactions, especially comments or reviews, visible to other buyers? Are buyers able to see whether their friends have bought the same product? Seeing a positive review from influencers, other users or, better, from a friend, is a very powerful incentive and can increase trust levels exponentially.
- Are you making it easy for consumers to share their experiences? Is your content engaging to the point people are compelled to share it with friends? UGC is important for any marketer and business. Social commerce is most successful when it makes clever use of user-generated content.
- Is your content tapping into important causes or hot topics? If what you’re selling, or its content, taps into trending conversations it will get more exposure. Shopping promotions like Single Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are great opportunities.
In conclusion, social commerce is a developing field and, with the emergence of influencers, so too is social shopping and online retail. Facebook’s recent expansion into Shops is of major significance in the industry: it creates new interactive sales channels that will convert passive users into paying customers well before other platforms get a chance to. And buyer-to-buyer interactions help to build trust and relevance — the best ways of keeping users and turning them into long-term customers.
If you need advice for your company’s social commerce or simply want to find out more, get in touch with us at sncegroup.ch.