The Blurring Lines between Ecommerce & Social

Sometime in mid-2017, Amazon quietly rolled out Spark  – an Instagram-like platform for Prime members. The idea was to help people connect with those with similar interests, increase product discovery and boost customer engagement.

Fast forward to March 2018.

Instagram, the social network that was responsible for  ‘sparking’ the inspiration for millions of dollars worth of ecommerce sales launches a new feature that allows users to make purchases and complete the checkout without leaving the app.

In 2019, 130 million Instagram users click on a shopping post every month to learn more about products. And a whopping 81% of brands said that integrating social channels with ecommerce will be a priority.

In a sense, both ecommerce brands and social networks are venturing into each other’s turfs to blurry the lines and create this hybrid experience known as social commerce.

Simply put, social media is an experience-driven, community-influenced form of shopping that is rapidly emerging as a third buying channel, next to retail stores and ecommerce platforms, with shoppers seamlessly switching between the three.

Advantage of Social Commerce for Brands

The single biggest advantage of social commerce is its ability to simplify and unravel a complex and entangled purchase journey

There was a time when the purchase journey was linear and straightforward.  But the digital explosion and changing consumer behaviour has reshaped it into a pretzel-like structure that twists and turns in unpredictable and complex ways.

The implication of a complex purchase journey is massive for brands. For one, it becomes increasingly difficult to predict and influence customer behaviour. But more importantly, it creates a highly perforated purchase journey which exponentially increases the chance of losing a customer forever.

Social Commerce, in many ways, simplifies and linearizes this complex funnel by tracing a direct path between discovery and purchase. Here are some of the other advantages of social commerce

Top Social Commerce Platforms

  • Facebook

Facebook currently leads the social commerce pack for multiple reasons: they were the first platform to introduce the ‘Buy’ button and have the first-mover advantage, it has the highest number of users, and finally, they make it super easy for anyone to setup shop directly within the platform. And to top it all off, Facebook allows shoppers to pay directly through the platform which makes it convenient for both the user and seller.

  • Pinterest

Pinterest has always been a retailer’s favourite, primarily because of its user base – 18 to 30 year old, affluent, tech-savvy women.  The visual platform hosts shoppable pins from thousands of brands and businesses and small entrepreneurs. The platform recently launched ‘Buyable Pins’, which allow users to shop directly on the platform without being redirected to another website. Businesses can promote these pins, and add details to it like product photos, availability, price, and a ‘Buy it’ button to attract more customers.

  • Instagram

Instagram’s young, hip and affluent audience renders it the perfect platform for social commerce.  It’s no surprise that it leads Facebook and Twitter in engagement rates. Another reason Instagram is getting popular for shopping activities is its mobile-first architecture. Most of the social commerce taking place these days is on mobile devices. But when it comes to implementing commerce features, Instagram is still lagging behind. After introducing the ‘Shop Now’ button, which takes users to the brand’s website to make a purchase, Instagram is working on their new ‘Product Tag’ feature. Once launched, the feature will let brands add multiple product tags to photos displaying prices and clickable links. Users can click on the links to view more details about the products and buy them through the brand’s website.

Best Practises to Ace Social Commerce

Seamless Purchase Experience: Users are no longer comfortable leaving the social platform to complete purchases. Brands that are seeking to leverage social commerce as a major sales channel, will need to enable a seamless purchase journey within the platform.

Know the channel & the audience: Before venturing into any sales channel, it’s important to understand the audience, the channel itself and what type of products work best in that specific channel. In the case of social commerce, the audience tends to be younger and certain items like consumer packaged goods, beauty products and fashion/apparel usually find more traction. Luxury brands and other big-ticket purchases which involve lots of research and interactions with a sales associate might not be suited for social selling.

Embrace the Power of Personalization: Ironically, as shopping is getting heavily infused with technology, customers are increasingly craving personalization and a human touch in their experience. This is simply a reiteration of the fact that ultimately, shopping is a social experience. Brands should, therefore, make it a priority to understand their customer’s preferences and interests through omnichannel data collection and personalize all aspects of the experience, starting from recommendations, to after-sales support.

Ditch the Sales Pitch: Social channels are by nature casual and community-driven, so pushy sales pitch will stick out like a sore thumb in your customer’s feed. To excel in social commerce, brands will need to reframe their promotions and offers as helpful guidance rather than a sales pitch.

Understand & measure the KPIs: Some brands make the mistake of treating social commerce just like an ecommerce channel and measure only sales and conversions. To be successful, brands will need to analyze a range of mid-funnel metrics like click-through rates, visit frequency, time spent on the site; and user interaction with ratings and reviews on product pages.

Data Security: According to a survey by Sumo Heavy, 71% of users reported that the primary concern around purchasing from social sites is weak data security and privacy violations. Brands will need to alleviate people’s fear of security through constant engagement and transparent communications.

Superior Mobile Experience: Social media sites are mobile-first platforms that users instinctively know how to browse and navigate. Brands will need to ensure the transition from the social platform to their own website is smooth, simple and superfast by using mobile technologies like PWAs. For digital natives that grew up with the internet, loading times and buffering can be a big turnoff. PWAs is an opportunity for brands to boost conversion and engagement within the social commerce universe. For instance, when Lancôme converted its mobile site to a PWA, conversions went up by 17% and mobile sessions increased by 51%.

Focus on Visuals: Brands looking to leverage social commerce will need to adopt an authentic and relatable visual aesthetic. Ultimately, the visual content is the one that will build your top funnel and encourage users to learn more about your brand/product.

Ecommerce-like Customer Support: Research shows that 42% of followers expect a response within one hour and 32% expect to hear back within just 30 minutes. A great way to enhance brand trust on social media is to double down on customer support. Facebook live chat is a great platform but several brands have started creating dedicated Twitter account only for support issues.

Leverage UGC: Ultimately, social commerce is about the users and the community, and brands will need to interweave this into the purchase experience. A great way to achieve this is through User Generated Content. The reasoning is simple: 92% of consumers worldwide say they trust word-of-mouth more than any kind of advertising and positive consumer reviews can result in 70% higher conversion.

Way Forward 

For social commerce to truly flourish and become the norm,  social networks and brands will need to keep optimizing the infrastructure and customer experience. Until recently, social networks hadn’t provided retailers with the necessary tools—like buy buttons across content types and sophisticated checkout options.

While that’s now resolved, there remains an additional obstacle: consumers’ discomfort with buying on social networks. The next step for brands and social networks is to build trust and authenticity around social commerce through constant engagement and transparent communication.

Aishwarya Raman
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