You’re scrolling through your Instagram, catching up on friends’ activities and the day’s news. Somewhere in the middle, you come across a sponsored post by an apparel brand, featuring a model wearing a sweater that you know would be a perfect staple in your fall wardrobe.
Luckily, the image contains a “View Products” tag, which takes you to a product page with pricing and details about the sweater. You select your size, tap “Buy Now” and, in just a few clicks, complete your purchase in the app. And without missing a beat, you go straight back to scrolling through your feed.
You may or may not know it, but you just experienced social commerce in action.
What is Social Commerce?
Social commerce is a segment of ecommerce in which merchants sell products directly through social media platforms, allowing potential customers to interact with brands, browse goods and make purchases.
Unlike social media marketing, social commerce gives customers the option to checkout directly from social platforms. Or, in some cases, the social platform may contain links that lead directly to the retailer’s product page where the customer can also complete their purchase.
Amid a steady growth rate in ecommerce sales since 2003, not to mention an ecommerce boom during the COVID-19 pandemic, the social commerce market has experienced enormous growth. According to eMarketer, the US social ecommerce market skyrocketed by almost 38% to $26.77 billion in 2020 and is expected to surpass $50 billion annually by 2023.
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Social Commerce vs. Ecommerce
While they may fall under the same umbrella, social commerce and ecommerce are two very different concepts.
Put simply, ecommerce refers to an online shopping experience via a website or branded app, often built on an ecommerce platform such as BigCommerce, Shopify or Amazon. Customers may access these websites via desktop or mobile devices; however, in many cases, the ecommerce sales funnel generally looks the same.
Digital ads, social media content and other marketing strategies all act as top-of-the-funnel tactics to direct customers to the online store. Then, even after reaching the store, the customer must go through even more steps in the purchase journey — each of which poses the risk of losing their interest and a potential sale.
Not to mention 92% of active users access the internet through mobile devices, and mobile users have a cart abandonment rate of nearly 86% — but unfortunately, not all ecommerce sites are mobile-friendly.
Here’s where social commerce steps in.
Rather than redirecting customers to an online store, social commerce brings the store to the customer, meeting them wherever they are. By letting the customer checkout directly through social media platforms, social commerce removes unnecessary steps and streamlines the buying process. This creates a more frictionless journey for the customer and more sales for the retailer.
Plus, since social media platforms are built to be mobile-friendly, social commerce is a highly accessible way to reach a variety of audiences.
Top Social Commerce Platforms
While Instagram and Facebook lead the way in social commerce functionalities, other social media sites such as Pinterest, TikTok and even Snapchat are also expanding their offerings. Since every platform serves a unique purpose and attracts a niche audience, each one offers comparative strengths that shape its approach to social commerce.
Here we’ll take a look at the key features of the top social commerce platforms so you can determine the best one for your business.
With 70% of shoppers looking to Instagram for product discovery and 1 billion active users, it’s safe to say that this is one of the most promising social commerce platforms on the market.
Known for its eye-catching photos, stories and videos, Instagram is the ideal space for sharing high-gloss brand imagery. So, if your customers are already engaging with your content, why not place your product front-and-center and turn that engagement into sales?
All you need to set up Instagram Shopping is a Facebook business profile, which links your Facebook Shop to Instagram. Then, you can upload a product catalog and begin creating product tags for each item. This will allow you to create shoppable posts and streamline purchases directly from the platform.
Additionally, Instagram shoppers can purchase through product stickers embedded in your story. Rather than uploading a shoppable post to your timeline, you can choose an image for your story and select the sticker icon in the top right corner along with the product you want to link. Then, move the sticker to your desired location, customize its color and size and share it to your story.
In 2021, Facebook had nearly 3.45 billion monthly active users — needless to say, the 17-year-old platform holds huge potential for leveraging new audiences and scaling globally.
Launched in 2020 during the pandemic, Facebook Shops helped small- and medium-sized businesses to shift online and build shoppable storefronts. Not only is it mobile-friendly and free, but Facebook Shops are also fully customizable, allowing you to import an existing product catalog or create a new one on the platform.
Once your customers discover your page and products, Facebook does the work of featuring products based on the shopper’s unique preferences and search history, thus giving them a personalized customer experience.
The customer may complete the purchase either within the Facebook platform, or they may be linked back to your ecommerce site. And, if needed, you can communicate with the customer via Facebook Messenger to answer any questions and offer support.
Plus, you can use your Facebook page to share company news, engage with existing and potential customers and introduce new products.
A newer player to the social commerce game, TikTok is becoming far more than just a short-form video-sharing app. Now with shoppable posts, livestream shopping capabilities and opportunities for influencer marketing, TikTok is a social commerce platform worth noting.
Even before launching its TikTok For Business feature in 2020, the phrase “TikTok made me buy it” was already all too common. With a unique ability to make lesser known users — and now brands — go viral overnight, TikTok has the ability to introduce your business to millions of new potential customers.
According to eMarketer, many of TikTok’s social commerce capabilities thus far have focused on product ads which appear as native videos on users’ For You feeds. Below each advertisement, users can tap the “Shop Now” button, which links them directly to the merchant’s ecommerce site to complete their purchase.
But as of recently, brands also have the option to build a shoppable storefront within TikTok through the Shopping tab. TikTok users can now add the Shopping tab to their business profiles, where they can sync their static product catalog and allow customers to make purchases straight from the app.
And now, BigCommerce’s partnership with TikTok allows merchants to connect their online store with their TikTok profile, allowing you to engage with shoppers and share your products with more users.
The great thing about Pinterest is that most users care far more about the content rather than the creator. Compared to platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where the influence of the user or brand may hold more weight, Pinterest allows merchants to focus more on putting out great products and less on building their personal reputation. In fact, 77% of weekly Pinners have discovered a new product or brand on Pinterest.
Launched back in 2010, Pinterest began as a platform to help people find inspiration for all aspects of their lives, whether it be home decor, fitness and wellness or fashion. But as of 2015, Pinterest began offering shoppable pins to an exclusive set of brands, allowing them to add a “Buy” button to their pins, but this feature became more widely available to other brands not long after.
Using Pinterest for Business, merchants can create Product Pins, which display updated pricing and stock information and allows shoppers to save products directly to their personal boards. Or, if they’re ready to make a purchase, the shopper can tap on the Product Pin which redirects the shopper to the product page on the brand’s website.
The platform also offers features for insights and optimization including an Ads Manager, which supports merchants in building and measuring successful campaigns. With advice for discovering new audiences, as well as retargeting existing customers, the Ads Manager allows merchants to track results and expand their reach over time.
Benefits of Social Commerce
In case you aren’t yet convinced that social commerce is necessary for your business, here are a few key benefits that might sway you.
1. There are huge numbers of potential customers on social media.
According to Statista, there were over 3.6 billion social media users globally in 2020, and this number is expected to reach 4.4 billion by 2025. With more of these users starting to shop through social media, this is a huge opportunity for you to get your products in front of new faces and grow your audience exponentially.
Considering the high level of impulse buying, particularly among millennials and gen Xers, social shopping holds huge potential for attracting customers and increasing sales. The key is to leverage this purchase behavior by making it as seamless as possible for customers to checkout directly through their social media platforms, with little to no disruption.
2. Enhanced social media presence and brand awareness.
Instead of keeping your social media and ecommerce site siloed, social commerce gives merchants the power to merge the two. This is a huge branding opportunity, allowing you to create brand awareness and stay top-of-mind to your customers through daily content.
One key way to build brand awareness is through influencer marketing.
Of course, it’s every ecommerce brand’s dream to have a professional athlete, actress or celebrity endorse their products. Unfortunately, this isn’t an accessible option for many smaller brands on a tight budget.
Luckily, influencer marketing has taken on a new meaning in recent years, as customers aren’t necessarily looking to big-name celebrities for advice — rather, they’re seeking authenticity, largely from micro-influencers whose lifestyles are similar to their own.
In fact, a 2021 survey of US social media users showed that, for 53% of respondents, posts by influencers played the biggest role in their purchasing decisions. This goes to show that customers yearn for brands that others trust, so if you’re looking for ways to increase brand awareness, influencer marketing may be an investment worth making.
3. You can reach your target audience.
Social commerce is all about meeting your customers where they are. And likely, most of your customers are already on social media. This gives you the perfect opportunity to engage with existing customers in a new, more authentic way by sharing your brand voice through creative content.
Many social media platforms also come with analytics capabilities that allow you to track users’ social and buying behaviors over time. Using this information, you can cater your content and products directly to your target audience.
Of course, to reach your target audience, you first have to know your target audience. For example, if most of your customers are in the age range of 30 and up, TikTok might not be the best option for your business.
So, take time to gather demographic data about your customers, identify what they like and don’t like and perhaps even talk directly to them to get more insight into how you can best serve them. Then, reach your audience with products and messaging that best meets their needs.
4. Convenient, frictionless buying.
With features on many platforms such as the buy button and in-app checkout, social commerce helps remove unnecessary steps in the buying process. With every additional step in the sales funnel, there is a greater risk that the customer will lose interest and leave your page.
However, by creating a seamless buying process that keeps users in the app all the way through their purchase, you can minimize this risk and increase sales.
For instance, rather than redirecting an Instagram user from the app and transferring them to your ecommerce site, the platform now offers a “Checkout on Instagram” option. So, instead of disrupting their scrolling time, you can make it easy for customers to discover your brand while still enjoying their time on social media.
5. You can generate social proof.
The reality of ecommerce is that many shoppers may not trust your brand right away. Many may not be fully convinced until they read customer reviews, compare products or talk to other customers who can vouch for your product or service.
Luckily, social commerce comes with built-in social proof. Largely through user-generated content such as comments, likes, follows and shares, brands can create a positive feedback loop that keeps customers coming back for more. The more users who interact with and promote your products, the more likely that other customers will trust your brand, too.
Some tangible ways to generate social proof are providing customers with incentives to share your content, such as coupon codes, discounts or a giveaway. Or, create a fun hashtag that customers can use to share pictures and videos of products and engage with your brand’s community.
Examples of Successful Social Commerce Campaigns
To see some of the top social commerce trends in action, let’s take a look at a few retailers who have launched effective social commerce campaigns. By leveraging social commerce platforms, these retailers have been able to drive sales and create a seamless online shopping experience.
In 2019, lifestyle audio brand Skullcandy launched its 12 Moods campaign. The idea behind the marketing strategy was to redesign the brand’s theme each month to demonstrate how music makes people feel. With moods from “Bold” to “Empowered” to “Rad,” the campaign included monthly artist spotlights, stories, performances and limited-edition product releases.
Although it was a multichannel campaign, Skullcandy largely spread the campaign across Instagram and YouTube.
To create a full focus on the campaign, Skullycandy actually wiped everything from its Instagram page and started from scratch, hiring 12 influencers per month to help bring each theme to life.
Since music-streaming partners played a large role in the campaign, YouTube Music curated a monthly playlist for Skullcandy, each inspired by the month’s respective “mood.” Plus, Skullcandy leveraged its YouTube channel to release exclusive interviews and live performances from emerging artists and featured athletes.
LARQ, a self-cleaning water brand launched in 2018, works to give people access to drinking water that is both healthy and sustainable. Partnering with 1% for the Planet, LARQ also donates a portion of its profits to support environmental nonprofits and provide safe drinking water to people around the world.
In efforts to create brand awareness and increase engagement, LARQ created the hashtag #DrinkBrilliantly, which the company uses across its social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Attaching the slogan to nearly every product image and video reinforces the brand’s mission and purpose, and LARQ invites its customers to join in on the journey.
Sure enough, if you search #DrinkBrilliantly, you’ll find over 1,000 posts from loyal customers who have used the hashtag, which undoubtedly builds social proof for the brand.
Burrow is a brand on a mission to make furniture shopping easy and affordable. Setting itself apart from both cheap, low-quality furniture as well as high-quality — yet bulky and inconvenient — furniture, Burrow creates modular furniture that can be separated into pieces and easily moved.
Although the brand already had a leg up with its design approach, Burrow wanted to launch a campaign that would target upwardly mobile millennials.
Knowing that many millennials are active on social media and always on the go, Burrow used its campaign to encourage the idea of doing nothing — and what better place to do nothing than on a Burrow couch?
So, the company focused its campaign around the theme of leisure, featuring Instagram photos and videos of people sprawled out on couches and napping in plush armchairs. Tagged with hashtags like #MyBurrow and #StayOnTheSofa, these posts pushed against the hustle culture norm, encouraging customers to kick back and relax.
Along with Instagram Live videos and highlights, Burrow’s Instagram page also features shoppable posts, which allow shoppers to buy directly through the app.
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Social media has opened doors for users to connect with long-lost friends, stay up to date on global news and express themselves through creative content online — today, these things are commonplace, but we forget that they were unheard of only a couple short decades ago.
And now, social commerce is the new frontier but will surely become mainstream before we know it. While costly campaigns may have been reserved for larger, multinational brands at the start, it’s now far more accessible for brands, both big and small, to experiment with social commerce and leverage it to grow their businesses.
Ultimately, many of the most successful businesses are the ones with a strong omnichannel strategy — one that weaves together all business channels, online and offline, to create a consistent, engaging customer experience. And leveraging social commerce is a key way to achieve that.
With these tangible examples in your back pocket, you’ll be well on your way to implementing a successful social commerce strategy that meets your audience where they’re at and gives them an unforgettable customer experience.