The rise of social commerce

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When it comes to understanding social commerce, the numbers tell the story better than words ever could: 81 per cent of potential shoppers use Instagram to research products and more than 250 million people, worldwide, actively interact with Facebook Shops every month.


And those numbers add up: the worldwide social commerce market in 2020 was worth AUD$115.5 billion and is set to rise to AUD$777 billion in the next six years.


So, what is social commerce, exactly? And, more importantly, how can retailers get involved?


What is social commerce?


“As the name suggests, social commerce is the process of shopping directly within a social media platform, like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest,” explains Karyn Parkinson, co-founder of Unstoppable eCommerce.


In other words, social commerce is the natural evolution of e-commerce, which is the act of buying or selling goods or services on the internet.


The difference is that, with social commerce, the entire process happens on social media; from the consumer discovering, say, a stylish pair of sandals, to clicking on the product, adding to cart and then entering their shipping information.


How advanced is social commerce in Australia?


In Australia, Facebook Shops and Instagram Shops launched in May 2020. The feature lets retailers virtually re-create the physical shopping experience. It allows customers to browse collections and save products – all within Facebook or Instagram. They can also ask retailers questions about the product and track deliveries via DM. However, checkout still occurs on a retailer’s website, with in-app checkout only enabled in the US. (So far.)


As of April 2021, Pinterest has also launched shoppable product pins in Australia, while Snapchat has launched an in-app checkout to selected retailers in the US, and TikTok is trialling a Shop Now function.


The social commerce trend


In short: social commerce is moving fast. Social media platforms, which once delivered audiences and assisted with product discovery, have their sights set on offering users the full end-to-end shopping experience.


“From catching [shoppers’] attention, to convincing them and getting them excited about your brand, and then helping them make the final purchase decision: all of these stages can be accomplished on and with social networks,” says Caro Wulf at e-commerce marketing agency squarelovin. “Social commerce takes potential customers by the hand and accompanies them step-by-step on their purchase journey.”


Why try social commerce?


There are a range of reasons to set up social commerce functionality. The main one? It smooths the path to purchase for shoppers. “Social media is an integral part of people's daily lives,” says Parkinson. “Brands who facilitate social commerce are removing barriers of purchase and making it as easy as possible for consumers to shop with them.”

Social commerce smooths the path to purchase for shoppers


And it makes sense for retailers to serve customers where they are – and right now, Australians are on social media. According to We Are Social’s Digital Report, 18 million Australians are active social media users (that’s 71 per cent of the population) and, on average, they spend nearly 40 hours per week online (the equivalent of a full-time job).


As a retailer, why wait for customers to come to you, when you can go to them on social media?


Smart tips to boost sales with social commerce


Tip #1 Seek attention


Whether you’re creating flat-lay photos or campaign videos, all social media content, including social commerce content, needs to be engaging.


“You want to make sure that it’s one thing: thumb-stopping,” says Parkinson. “The first job your social media has is to stop someone scrolling their feed, and consume your piece of content. No matter how amazing your product is, if your creative doesn’t get people to stop and get curious, they will scroll straight past and never return.”


Tip #2 Pick multiple angles


“When looking at an item in a physical store, customers can pick the item up, look at it from all angles, touch and feel it, and even try it on – they can’t do that when shopping online,” points out Parkinson. “So, it’s your responsibility to replicate that experience as much as you possibly can.” That means photographing products clearly, showing them on models from different angles, and providing adequate information about sizing and fit.


Tip #3 Recommendations reign supreme


Showcasing still-life products or those worn by a model is one thing; using user-generated content to create social commerce content is the next step.


“Potential customers are influenced by existing customers,” says Parkinson. “This is factually proven: around a quarter of consumers say they first became aware of brands through recommendations on social networks. People who have already bought your product share their experience on Instagram and spread the message. Recommendation marketing is the name of the game.”


Posting a photo of a happy customer in the scarf they’ve just bought, or reposting a customer’s photo of the way they’ve styled their new duvet cover, is a smart way to repurpose content and deliver social proof. “It’s a very powerful persuasion tactic when it comes to e-commerce,” says Parkinson. “Showing that others have purchased your product and had a good experience with it, will always far outweigh [an overt] advertising message.”


Tip #4 Choose your platform


Pick your social media platform wisely, advises Parkinson. “It’s important for brands not to stretch themselves too thin. They are better to do one or two platforms really well, rather than all of them badly. If you’re going to activate social commerce on a platform you need to be actively engaged in the community and actively answering questions and giving feedback in a timely manner.”  


When choosing which platform to focus on, consider your target audience and where they’re most likely to be. Selling homewares to a target market of 40-something women? Pinterest may be the perfect platform. Offering beauty products to Gen Z consumers? Consider TikTok or Instagram.


Tip #5 Target accordingly


When using paid social media, it’s best to consider all stages of the consumer journey - from raising awareness to driving conversions. “You want to show the right message to the right person at the right stage of their buying journey. By using [Facebook’s] targeting functionality in a clever way, you can introduce new people to your brand with one message, then show a different message to people who have already discovered your product,” says Parkinson, adding that one of the most powerful strategies is retargeting people who have abandoned their cart to remind them to come back and purchase.


Next steps


Setting up a Facebook Shops account or a Pinterest business profile is quick and free. It takes the same amount of time as setting up a personal Facebook account. Within a matter of minutes, retailers can have their very own online shopfront – with a customised cover photo and colour scheme.


Find out more about Facebook Shops, Pinterest Product Pins.


Alley Pascoe has worked as a freelance journalist and social media producer for marie claire, Women’s Agenda, PRIMER and Sunday Style magazine. 


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