Shopping is now an always-on experience as physical retail moves online, marketplaces increase rapidly in both size and number and social commerce becomes more and more frictionless.
Social commerce is at the forefront of total commerce — conducting commerce wherever your customers are, on their terms.
According to recent consumer research from Linnworks, 76% of consumers say convenience is their key priority when selecting a retailer. Social commerce provides that convenience.
Read on to learn what social commerce is, why it's important and how you can use it effectively.
What is social commerce?
Social commerce is the buying and selling of products directly on social platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Social commerce is one way for consumers to discover products — and on some social media platforms, complete the entire purchase process.
Specifically in the U.S., eMarketer predicts social commerce will rise by 34.8% to $36.09 billion in 2021. This represents 4.3% of all retail ecommerce sales.
The evidence is clear that more and more consumers are discovering new products and purchasing them conveniently on social channels. What’s more, according to recent research by Linnworks:
70% of consumers shop while multitasking, and more than four in five shoppers like shopping on social channels.
82% of customers like the convenience of social shopping.
71% of customers would rather complete transactions on social than exit to a retail site.
Social commerce provides your customers with a convenient buying journey by being exactly where they spend their time online. Social commerce makes it easy for customers to discover your products and complete their purchase, reducing any friction that could lead to the abandonment of their purchase. There is no switching from the platform to your website – the discovery of the product to purchase all happens on one platform.
The best social commerce platforms to use.
Here are the main social platforms you’ll want to use if you implement a social commerce strategy. But also keep a close eye on TikTok and Twitter. These platforms are currently experimenting with new shopping features.
Instagram Shopping is an engaging storefront on Instagram that gives you the opportunity to build your brand story and let customers discover your products. Customers can seamlessly browse products and purchase them without ever leaving the app.
Facebook Shops are digital, curated storefronts designed by you. When customers organically discover your products, they can purchase them directly in the app or on your website. You can communicate with your customers via messenger to answer questions and offer customer support. You can set up a Facebook Shop store to sell to customers on both Facebook and Instagram.
YouTube is a shopping platform with its product reviews and unboxing videos. YouTube is testing a feature that will allow customers to make purchases directly in its app just like Instagram and Facebook.
Snapchat is rolling out features that give users the ability to browse clothing and accessories from company catalogs all on the Snapchat app.
Pinterest is emerging as an ecommerce discovery platform. As reported by PYMNTS.com, Pinterest Co-Founder Ben Silbermann says, "[Pinterest] is a positive place to be inspired to get ideas for your future life." According to Silbermann, later this year, the company will begin testing on-platform transactions that are seamless.
Each of the above social media platforms offers a convenient buying journey for consumers by allowing them to shop while engaging in activities they enjoy. Facebook leads the pack in popularity. According to research from Linnworks, 67% of shoppers made purchases through Facebook, followed by Instagram (56%) and YouTube (28%).
TikTok had nearly 1.6 billion global monthly active users in the first quarter of 2022, a 45% increase from a year earlier. A focus on short video content helped TikTok gain popularity, along with the 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly by its parent company, ByteDance. TikTok’s video-fueled growth secured the attention of its older competitor, Meta, which followed with its video feed alternative, Reels.
How does social commerce work?
Social platforms are developing and testing their commerce features, especially as the pandemic has accelerated online shopping.
Businesses can set up a store on the relatively new Facebook Shops, which launched last year, selling across both Facebook and Instagram. This might be the easiest way to connect to a new audience that’s already using these platforms.
You want to establish an organic presence on social platforms so that potential customers discover your products in a very natural way — customers gravitate toward their interests and what excites them. Paid ads are also a good way to get potential customers to discover your brand and your products, and eventually buy your products either on these platforms or on your website. You can target your specific audience by demographics and interests with paid ads.
Retailers can set up a Facebook Shop with the Commerce Manager. One of the features in Facebook Shops is to decide where you want customers to complete their purchase — your website, direct message, or with the checkout feature on Facebook (or Instagram).
As an example of the customer journey on a social platform, let’s say, for instance, a consumer is scrolling through his Instagram on the “Recommended For You” page. He comes across “decor” photos. As he’s scrolling, he sees a plant stand in an image that resembles something he liked on the West Elm design page the day before.
He clicks the photo with the stand to examine it more closely. The picture is posted on the @thedudebuilds Instagram page. It contains a tag with the plant stand details as well as the price. He clicks the tag and is taken to “Shop,” where he can view this specific product. He has the option to be redirected to a website and purchase the plant immediately. Within two days, the plant stand is delivered. He tops it with his favorite jade houseplant in the corner of his home office.
This Instagram browser, now turned customer, wasn’t looking for a new plant stand. He was just scrolling through his social media account. But based on data from his recent activity (and the 34 plant care accounts he follows), Instagram saw an opportunity for a personalized shopping experience and successfully recommended a product from “@thedudebuilds.” This is social commerce.
How to optimize social commerce.
According to Linnworks CEO, Callum Campbell, to maximize growth opportunities brands have to engage in total commerce. It’s no longer enough to sell exclusively on your website or in one marketplace.
Instead, success and growth now come from maximizing every channel and avenue available. And to do that, you should win at social commerce, too. So how do you optimize your social commerce strategy?
Produce quality content.
The customers already following you on social platforms are doing so for a reason. However, you have to continually provide them with quality content to keep them engaged in your posts.
What makes good social media content will always be based on who your customers are, but there are a few things you should always keep in mind:
Provide Value: Your customers want to know what’s in it for them. Why should they click your link, open your story, or keep reading? You have to tell them how they can benefit from what you have to say to keep them engaged.
Tell Stories: Create an emotional connection by telling your story and your customer’s stories. (The more people feel like they know your brand, the more they'll feel genuinely connected and will stay loyal to you.)
Create Visual Appeal: People are on social media to see what others are doing. Offer them something to see! Use visually engaging content, such as a gorgeously curated Facebook Shop, or photos that pair perfectly with your stories to catch their attention.
Use Influencers: 71% of customers say someone they follow has influenced a sale. Use influencers for product mentions and endorsements. Influencers are people who are experts in their specialization who have a dedicated social following. Influencers build trust with their audience and provide a form of social proof, which is why it works so well.
As an example of social commerce done right using influencers, athletic fashion designer Fabletics advertises across platforms with influencers. According to a case study by Mediakix, Fabletics used Influencers to reach more customers across multiple social channels. The more their brand was seen while social network users were scrolling through the pages of their favorite influencers, the more their engagement increased. In fact, it increased by a staggering 9.4%.
Use data from selling on social platforms.
Your company should use the data and insights gathered by selling on social platforms to retarget customers with relevant products and offers.
Data like demographics (such as location, email, and name) and browsing and purchase history will help you determine who your customers are and what their interests are.
In addition to knowing your customers, you should understand how your brand performs on social platforms. This can help you save time by only creating content that works. For example, Facebook Business Suite offers performance insights to help you determine how your content is performing.
Insights like post views and likes, links clicked, ad performance, and reach trends can be used to understand what your customers like (and what they don’t).
Customers following you on one channel may be different from those that follow you on another. Therefore, understanding your data and insights from every platform will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of that specific audience and help you curate your content appropriately.
“It’s never been more important for a business to know their customer, to anticipate their needs, and have content personalized just for them.” - Dani Cook | Head of Commerce Partnerships, Facebook]
Respond to your audience.
One of the many convenient factors about social commerce is that customers can ask your brand direct questions without ever having to leave their trusted, comfortable social media space.
According to HubSpot, because social media users are posting in real-time, they now expect real-time responses as well. 79% of customers expect your answers to questions or responses to their comments within 24 hours. (And on Twitter, the expectation is currently a mere 30 minutes.) To keep your customers happy, reply to them promptly.
And in addition to replying to questions or comments, respond to customer reviews (both good and bad). Doing this demonstrates to your customers that you’re paying attention to what they have to say — even when they aren’t asking you to.
Take advantage of livestream shopping.
As social commerce evolves on social platforms, be sure to take advantage of the opportunities. For example, livestream shopping is a feature on social platforms like Facebook. While already popular in China, livestream shopping is expected to be a top trend in 2021 and reach $25 billion in the US by 2023, according to a report from Coresight Research.
According to Retail Dive, Facebook recently announced that its Live Shopping feature helps brands “build relationships with customers, provide new entertaining content, answers questions and streamline the purchase process through convenient checkout with Shops.” Facebook launched a summer livestream shopping series where beauty and fashion brands will be featured on brands’ Facebook Pages. The series runs from May 21 through July 16.
Social commerce is an important part of the overall shopping customer experience. It’s one way for customers to discover products while already spending their time on social channels in the effortless economy. To grow your business, be where your customers are and embrace social commerce as part of your selling strategy.