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Building E-Commerce Wave: Social Media Shopping

By Vivian Wagner E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Jan 13, 2020 12:25 PM PT

Consumers are on social media constantly, scrolling through posts from both friends and brands. Many have begun clicking on some of those brand posts and making purchases.

"Social commerce is becoming increasingly popular for brands," noted Darin Archer, chief strategy officer at Elastic Path.

"Even when the transaction itself may be happening outside the app, there's a much smaller gap between discovery and purchase," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"It makes it easy for shoppers to transact when they're already thinking about your ad," Archer said.

A social commerce strategy can be more effective "than counting on the shopper to remember the ad or the product later when they're shopping in-store," he added.

"You're streamlining the shopping process for consumers by making browsing and transacting more connected -- in many cases, drastically reducing the time between the peak of purchase intent and the ability to complete a transaction," said Archer.

In essence, people live on social media, so it's a relatively small step to shop there as well.

"Social media has always been an important gateway to making purchase decisions," observed Liz Cole, group director for social strategy at Digitas.

"Research has shown that more than half of consumers have purchased a product after seeing it recommended by someone they follow on social channels, and nearly 75 percent have purchased a product after first seeing it in a brand's own social post," she told the E-Commerce Times.

As consumers become more comfortable with the idea of social commerce, social media platforms are adapting.

Social platforms are "building out more and better commerce functionality, from shoppable tags to product catalog-enabled ads to transactional chatbots," said Cole.

"As the path from post to purchase shortens, people's openness to discovering new products and buying them directly through social channels has also expanded to include categories of products -- like mattresses or prescription medications -- that previously weren't commonly purchased online at all," she noted.

Social Commerce Success

Successful social commerce relies on creating a sense of continuity across all the various channels consumers use to interact with a brand.

"To succeed in selling through social media, brands will need to figure out how to effectively integrate the social commerce experience with existing touchpoints, like mobile and Web," said Elastic Path's Archer.

"They should also ensure that the brand experience within an app is specifically tailored to that touchpoint. The checkout experience for social commerce should be relevant to that context rather than just a desktop experience repurposed for social," he advised. "The customer shouldn't notice any change to their experience as they move through the purchase journey."

Social commerce also relies on a sense of loyalty that's built up over time and place between brands and their customers, and so it's important that the products people buy through social media are competitively priced and of reliable quality, according to Mousumi Behari, digital strategy practice lead at Avionos.

"Given the visual nature of social media, small format videos are becoming increasingly popular to create a storyline and impact the brand," she the E-Commerce Times.

Influencers often play a big role in the success of social media commerce, since they serve as a kind of conduit between the world of shopping and the world of social media connectivity.

"They already have a likability factor, and customers will trust what they are selling," said Behari. "Brands are having success with this approach, such as Nike with Kobe Bryant, or Puma with Selena Gomez."

Ultimately, social commerce is all about communication.

"Creating a two-way conversation on social media is also improving customer retention. We see massive brands like Target servicing their customers in the comment section and meeting the user where they are," explained Behari.

"Retailers should allocate money to market in these platforms," she recommended. "The interactions on social media feel personalized, and since the customer is able to curate their feed, chances are they are seeing sponsored ads to similar products of people they already follow."

The Evolution of Social Commerce

Social commerce is evolving continually, as it capitalizes on new platforms and methodologies.

"Social commerce is going to grow, and it's obvious there'll become more ways to 'instantly' buy," noted Amelia Neate, senior manager at Influencer Matchmaker.

"I predict more social feeds will be integrated on websites," she told the E-Commerce Times. "For example, DFS has begun introducing integrated Instagram feeds on their website, which helps show their products in situ. Encouraging a purchase, buyers can see how a piece is styled and how it may look and feel in their homes."

Brands selling via social media need to find new ways to connect with customers, suggested Rachael Samuels, manager for social media at Sprout Social.

"As social commerce continues to grow, brands will need to humanize themselves by creating content their audience can relate to and identify with," she told the E-Commerce Times. "In the year ahead, I expect to see more e-commerce brands leveraging micro-influencer partnerships, integrating social shopping experiences across multiple platforms, and finding creative ways to empower audiences to sell for them, such as turning honest customer feedback into distributable content."

Social commerce gradually might expand beyond simple purchases to include larger ones, as consumers become more comfortable with the idea of buying through their social media feeds.

"As Gen Z gains purchasing power and the platforms themselves improve commerce capability, we will see growth here," predicted Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at Bloomreach.

"Certainly we will likely see these platforms continue to grow in influence over shopping and buying, including in high-consideration categories like real estate," he told the E-Commerce Times. "For example, in the future, we could see real estate listings on Snapchat's Snap Map feature."

Another development will be smoother checkouts.

"We may see mobile payment services like Apple Pay and Venmo integrate directly into social media apps to reduce friction even further," said Walker.

More in-app transactions are on the horizon.

"I see the in-app transaction experience as the next step for social commerce," said Archer. "Linking to an external e-commerce site begins to monetize the browsing experience, but it's not as seamless as it could be. To create that ease-of-purchase, brands will need to move the actual transaction into the social app. We already see this with Instagram's Checkout function, and this will cause a ripple effect with other brands making the move to support in-app transactions."

As social commerce evolves, it will be important for brands to understand that they must offer consumers full shopping experiences, even when the consumers are clicking and buying on the go, Archer said.

"A brand's future social commerce experience will need to communicate with all other commerce touchpoints, like the Web store, to facilitate seamless transactions," he said. "Otherwise, you'll lose shopper engagement."


Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.


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