Social networks are so much more than just channels for keeping up with friends and family. Nowadays, they are used for checking out the latest fashion trends and products, following celebrities for inspiration, looking for product reviews, or asking for advice before making a purchase. For a brand to succeed online, being present where consumers spend most of their time is key, and social commerce allows brands to do just that. Let’s look into social commerce in more detail, and see what this hype is all about.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce is the use of social media networks like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok to promote and sell products. The e-commerce functionality is simply brought into social media, so consumers can purchase products directly from content. It makes perfect sense to enable sales on these channels, since consumers already use social media to find inspiration for new products.

The different types of social commerce

The e-commerce industry is undergoing a major change as all social media platforms go transactional, and brands need to keep up with this trend. Here is a breakdown of some of the different types of social commerce that brands can employ as part of their online strategy.

Using bots to drive engagement and sales

Reduce cost per conversion and increase sales by using a chatbot. This is exactly what LEGO did after the rollout of a chatbot campaign in Facebook Messenger. They used the bot with step-by-step CTAs, using playful language and fun imagery to inspire users to purchase. This type of social commerce creates interactive and convenient shopping experiences – and implementing bots can be a good strategy to reach specific goals.

Selling products through stories

Temporary content and videos have been popular trends on social media for a while. New shopping options now give brands opportunities to promote their products on their own stories, and through the stories of influencers. With a quick swipe-up, consumers can conveniently shop products directly from content. Promoting products through stories can be effective, but it also requires time as each story only lasts for a short period of time. Brands have to plan for compelling content and make sure to publish on a frequent basis for maximum reach and effect. Sometimes, working with influencers can help brands effectively reach their target audience and build trust. Here are 4 tips from experts in choosing the right influencer for your brand.

Turning social posts into shoppable content

Perhaps the greatest part of social commerce is tagging products in posts to drive conversions at the point of inspiration. Shoppable content allows for a frictionless experience, where consumers can complete a purchase in just a few clicks. Brands can implement this as part of their social commerce strategy with the goal to drive more conversions to their online store. With readily available products, brands can tap into impulse buying. One of the most common channels to offer this feature is Instagram, their guide shows how to set this up in 7 steps.

Using live video shopping to inspire purchase

China is the global leader in livestream shopping, with an industry projected to be worth 170 billion dollars by the end of 2021. This trend has undoubtedly inspired the West. Giants like Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat are all implementing new shopping features for live videos. A rising number of brands & retailers are following this social commerce trend. An example of this is Walmart who recently partnered with TikTok to venture into livestream shopping events. A move that makes a lot of sense as 61% of people would be open to purchase products from inside a live video.

Source: Tipser survey.

Where to drive social commerce campaigns

Facebook

Facebook has been trying to establish itself as a social commerce platform for years. In 2018, the Silicon Valley giant launched Facebook Marketplace as a competitor to Amazon, Etsy, and Google Shopping. This launch and success of Facebook Marketplace reinforced the idea that there was tremendous potential for social commerce. It was initially launched as a peer-to-peer marketplace but soon gained popularity among brands and retailers.

Facebook Marketplace gives brands and retailers the ability to make their products available to a large audience. Merchants can advertise their store or items on Marketplace to reach more people, users can then browse and select the products that they like. They are then seamlessly sent to a secure checkout either on the merchant’s site or within the app.

Facebook also introduced Facebook Shop to make online selling easy. Brands can design their shop as they like and showcase featured products. This single shop works for both Facebook and Instagram. Users can visit a brand’s shop and purchase a product of their choice directly from the shop with a payment method of their choice.

Instagram

Instagram has developed a set of features to enable businesses to sell on the platform. One of those is Instagram shop that allows customers to shop directly on a brand’s business page. Brands can also run ads including product tags to drive customers to their website. This is great for brands as customers can now purchase the product right away instead of viewing the ad and then having to look for the product later.

Besides this, Instagram Live Shopping gives brands the ability to start their own shopping channel. Here, they can sell products through live videos, and engage with customers in real-time. This enables brands to get direct feedback from customers and to build stronger relationships with them.

In December 2020, Instagram launched shopping in Reels. This means that brands can now tag their products in Reels. Users simply tap the product to view the price and description before purchasing it. The huge popularity of Instagram Reels is great news for brands. By making products shoppable in Reels, brands will be able to drive sales as customers also have the option to ‘save’ or ‘learn more’ about the product. This means that even if a customer is unsure of the product and whether they should purchase it or not, they always have the option of saving it and buying it later.

TikTok

TikTok, the largest short-form video platform, also offers in-app purchases of sponsored products like Facebook and Instagram. Previously, viewers could only see sponsored products but would have to purchase them elsewhere; this is no longer the case.

In October 2020, TikTok announced its partnership with Shopify to help their merchants drive sales by reaching a larger TikTok audience. Merchants will be able to sell via in-feed video shoppable ads by connecting their TikTok Business account with their Shopify account.

TikTok is also launching a livestream shopping feature that will enable users to purchase a product after watching a quasi-infomercial. They’ve also included a feature that allows companies to display products, and another feature where TikTok influencers or those with a big following can link to products and earn commissions on every sale.

Snapchat

Like all other social platforms, Snapchat has been looking to maximize its revenue potential through social commerce. Its introduction of Bitmoji fashion led to partnerships with Levis,  Ralph Lauren, and Jordan among several other clothing brands.

Snapchat also announced its first shoppable show, ‘The Drop’, to sell limited edition streetwear. Each weekly episode will feature a designer and a celebrity promoting a limited edition product that can then be bought through the app. Snapchat previously included shoppable ads, but it now appears as though it is betting on integrating commerce with show content to take its social commerce to another level.

Twitch

Twitch is the world’s leading Livestream platform for gamers and other lifestyle casters that supports building communities around shared and streamable interest. In 2019, Twitch partnered with Teespring, a custom clothing company, to bring social commerce to its audience. By 2020, the partnership had grown and allowed users to sell while streaming. This was made possible through Twitch’s amazing features that enable social commerce.

The Twitch merch store allows its users to engage with their communities and sell products directly on Twitch. With integrated checkout, viewers can buy products without ever having to leave the stream.  Moreover, content creators can sell products that can be seen only by their subscribers, giving them the chance to reward their loyal viewers with exclusive access.  

Pinterest

Pinterest was among the first to introduce native shopping, specifically through their ‘Buyable Pins’ that allow users to purchase products directly from pins. Users can easily check product pricing and descriptions on images via the shopping tag icon on the image.

When users click on an image with a shopping tag icon, they are taken to the retailer’s website to complete the purchase. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Pinterest does not offer a checkout function at the moment but they plan on incorporating direct payment and checkout options on the platform in the future.

What makes social commerce so powerful for brands and retailers

Creating personalization through two-way communication

Social commerce is a way for brands to interact with their customers in an active dialogue. Brands can get direct feedback and data from their consumers, and consumers get quick information about new products, promotions, and discounts. As shopping in-store becomes less popular, the ability to use all your senses when browsing products has gone. In social commerce, having someone else, like an influencer, show the product, and talk about how it feels, smells, tastes, and sounds adds some new value to the whole experience.

Consumers have been overwhelmed by ads for years, and it is becoming increasingly challenging for brands to see a positive ROI. Ad-blockers used to be a big problem for a lot of publishers and advertisers, and still is to an extent. However, the use of ad-blockers have seen a decline in recent years, but there are other challenges advertisers face. The impact of Apple’s launch of iOS 1 is huge as it prevents ads to be shown in mobile apps and mobile browsers, unless consensus have approved by the user. Brands need to think differently about their e-commerce strategy – consumers today want content and experiences they can relate to, and to share with others.

Social commerce and mobile commerce is a match made in heaven

One could argue that social commerce is mobile commerce – with users of social media platforms being predominantly mobile. As social platforms go transactional and e-commerce on mobile surges, this is clearly a perfect marriage. In 2021, it is estimated that mobile commerce will account for around 73% of total e-commerce sales. In other words – the power lies in mobile, and the opportunities for brands to create a mobile-friendly shopping experience are huge. Social media platforms are already optimized for mobile, so brands can focus on creating content that converts.

The community effect spreads positive word-of-mouth

Because consumers are already looking for products on social media, brands and retailers don’t necessarily need to chase them. Great content and products are likely to be shared – so sales can come organically via the friends and family of your community. It is like a giant social marketplace, where users go to find the latest trends, engage with their network, and purchase products based on the inspirations that have come from brands, influencers, and friends.

Social proof belongs to social commerce

Another reason to trust the power of social commerce is social proof. When a person is unsure about something, they will go to others for recommendations. In social commerce, likes and comments act as clear indicators as to whether a brand and its products are trustworthy. Now consumers don’t have to use other channels to look for proof, they can simply stay on the platform to appreciate the value of the brand’s offering.

The buying power of Gen Z

Generation Z grew up with social media and use it not only to express themselves, but to seek connections and get inspiration. It is part of their reality – they live through the lens of social platforms. For them, if a brand doesn’t exist on social platforms – does it even exist at all? The buying power of Gen Z increases as they enter the workforce – another reason to be delivering inspiring content to them.

Unique shopping experiences through retargeting

Social commerce enables businesses to create a unique shopping experience through retargeting. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow businesses to retarget consumers interested in a particular product. Retargeting through social commerce increases the likelihood of purchase as customers can complete the purchase within the site instead of being directed to another website. This creates a better shopping experience for consumers.

“By enabling social commerce, brands meet their customers on their own “playing field” – this adds to the possibility to create strong and meaningful customer relationships” – Mikaela Jaconelli – Head of Sales at Tipser.  

Instagram Checkout vs. Instagram Shopping

Instagram Shopping and Instagram Checkout are two features that can be easily mixed up. With Instagram Shopping, brands can tag products in their posts or stories for sale. Users who interact with the product tags are taken to the product page where the image of the product is shown, along with a description and price. The user can visit the brand’s website via a link to complete their purchase.

Instagram Checkout has one key difference – the transaction takes place inside the Instagram app. Users enter their order details directly in the app, and the data is saved so any future purchases from that brand, or any other brand with Instagram Checkout enabled, are faster. Instagram Checkout allows for a seamless shopping journey for customers, and higher conversion rates for brands. You can read more on Instagram Checkout here.

Source: Instagram

Conclusion

The growing popularity of social commerce is sure to have an increasingly influential impact on the purchasing behaviour of consumers. Brands can now sell directly to their consumers at the point of inspiration instead of directing them to an online store.

Enabling consumers to checkout directly from within their favorite social network means a shorter path to purchase with fewer clicks. This will ultimately lead to better conversion rates, increased sales, and increased revenues for brands.

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