When shoppers change strategies, you need to change strategies with them. For many brands, that means embracing the rising trend of social commerce.

A change in shopper strategy means customers are finding your products in new ways. But social commerce also means that customers are thinking about their buying decisions differently. In recent years, customers have used social media to research purchases, accept recommendations from friends, and find new brands. With social commerce, they’re making these purchases directly through social channels.

The statistics already point to a massive rise in social commerce. A 424 brand study found 66% of shoppers had already adopted social commerce tools in the past year. In the same report, it showed 41% of brands are dipping their toes in the water by testing shoppable content via Instagram. What’s more: 17% of these brands use Facebook’s shoppable brand pages, and over 50% already use Facebook’s “Shop Now” button.

Those numbers may only continue to grow. Brands are now focusing on social media not just to drive brand awareness and to handle customer service, but also to directly convert sales.

So what is social commerce? How is it different than social media advertising? And what does your brand need to know if it’s going to compete with other brands in the same space? Let’s dive in to better understand this rising trend.

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What is social commerce?

Social commerce consists of product purchases that come directly through social media networks.

What makes it different than social media marketing? With SMM, you place targeted advertisements on social media platforms and through influencers, but you’re still pointing customers back to a distinct product page.

With social commerce, the medium becomes the platform. It allows brands to sell products directly through platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

But that’s not the only important advantage. Social commerce also streamlines the checkout process. This is good news, considering global cart abandonment rates are still above 65%. With that in mind, anything brands can do to make the purchase easier for users is appealing, as it can help create an increase in overall sales numbers.

Brands can also cut down on cart abandonment by reducing friction and eliminating in-between steps in the checkout process. One report found that customer friction is so significant, it can lead to $325 billion (or over £255 billion) in lost opportunities. Not bad, right?

However, while social commerce’s reach is increasing in recent years, the idea isn’t entirely new.

  • Facebook first launched its marketplace back in 2007. The buy button saw initial tests in 2014 and the feature has since grown to include over 800 million users across 70 different countries.
  • Instagram launched its Shop Now button in 2015, rolled out product tags in 2016, and allowed shoppable posts just last year. Shoppable posts allows brands to take advantage of Instagram’s particular popularity with mobile shoppers, as on Instagram, users are 70% more likely to buy on mobile than non-users.
  • Twitter launched its Buy Now button in 2014 before eventually rolling it back due to poor performance.
  • Pinterest started testing buyable pins in 2015. In 2018, the company ramped up those efforts with up-to-date shopping information and a new shopping tag icon. In 2019, the company became a publicly traded stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

Though social commerce has seen ups and downs (depending on the medium), the overall trend is clear: Users are happy to click on a social button to directly access a product purchase page.

And adoption of social commerce is growing, too. As this happens, brands--especially Shopify merchants--should expect social commerce to become an even larger part of the ecommerce landscape.

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Social commerce on the rise

Social media has woven itself into the fabric of our lives. The way we make purchases online is no exception.

Social commerce allows brands new access to the huge audiences already tuned in to social media. On Facebook, there are nearly 1.5 billion active users daily, which is almost 20% of the entire world’s population. When you consider all forms of social media, that number shoots up to about 42%.

Social commerce also provides a platform for businesses to tap into the way people shop. Instagram users say they already find products to buy on Instagram at a rate of 60%. Most respondents told Forbes that social media content influences their buying decisions.

Even more importantly, 84% of shoppers review at least one social media site before making a purchase, as customers gather feedback on social media before buying. Many would-be customers do the same before visiting a retail outlet. Social media has become a research tool, which makes it a natural landing spot for brands that want to create an easy way to link between customers and products.

Yet despite these numbers, social commerce has yet to hit its full potential. At the end of 2017, 34% of shoppers had still never purchased anything directly on social media. Given how many users report daily activity on social media, that number can represent a customer segment of millions.

But demographics are changing. A younger, social-savvy generation is growing in influence and purchasing power. With that influence, brands should expect social media to become even more relevant. Statistics suggest these trends are far from over. More and more are looking to social media as a source of product discovery as well as research:

  • Social media exerts twice as much influence on those in Generation Z (born in the mid-1990s to early 2000s). 80% of the same group are influenced by social media when making their purchases.
  • Instagram influences 72% of users making buying decisions. Instagram influence is particularly strong on the younger generations of millennials and Gen Z. Even so, there is still a majority influence on Baby Boomers (54%).
  • Social media platforms are learning what their users want to see. One report pointed out that Facebook managed to double its revenue per user in three years.

I would strongly urge Shopify merchants to pay attention to the rise of social commerce.

Aligning social media and ecommerce makes perfect sense both for merchants and their customers. It's now easier than ever to find, view and buy products and with Facebook's suite of platforms aligning with Shopify, social commerce is only going to become more prevalent in the months and years to come.

Social commerce is going to continue rising whether your brand participates or not. If you want a new way to reach your customers and reduce purchase friction, it’s time to embrace it.

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Social commerce in action

Although the statistics suggest a rising opportunity in social commerce, another question remains. What does it look like when a brand successfully leverages social commerce?

One powerful example of social commerce in action comes from Nike. Nike had the opportunity to participate in a beta run of social commerce in Facebook’s Messenger augmented reality feature. This beta run allowed brands to blend the effects of Facebook Messenger with AR features in their phone’s cameras.

Nike’s campaign used social media influencers to distribute a specific series of emojis to its users. Once users unlocked this feature, they could witness an Augmented Reality feature called the “Kyrie 4 ‘Red Carpet’” experience. The AR displayed trainers on a pedestal, surrounded by a red carpet. After the experience was over, users were then allowed to purchase the shoes.

This miniature game-like experience proved such a success that Nike sold out of the trainers before one hour had passed.

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Best practices for social commerce

So what are some of the best practices for social commerce? Here are a few of our best recommendations for Shopify retailers who want to make their efforts highly effective.

Tip one: Product photography is key.

If you plan on optimising social shopping for your business, it's imperative that you have strong, clean and professional product photography which highlights your products in the best possible light. Think of your Instagram as your business' shop window.

Tip two: Use Instagram Stories.

Social commerce has now rolled out into Instagram Stories. This is a great feature if you are a company which has new stock added daily. For example, you might be a vintage brand with thousands of one-off items. By using the Stories feature, you narrow the risk of featuring products which might have sold out, but are still appearing on the Instagram feed.

Tip three: Test various prices.

If you are a brand that stocks thousands of products or brands which can vary in price, but you want to open your brand up to all markets, by using the social shopping feature you can still show great looking products at a variety of pricing tiers. This means you can acquire an audience across a wide demographic in terms of spend.

Tip four: Plan.

With all organic content it’s important you plan out which products you will be featuring in your feed and to have a strong balance between these. Showing various products is important, from dresses, to jeans, to shoes etc. It’s also important that you do not overuse the social shopping feature. Not every post needs to feature a product or be about pushing product promotion. It's good to use your organic social strategy to showcase your brand's personality, and not to just use it as a place to hard-sell your products.

Tip five: Test Multiple Tagging.

You can showcase full looks on Instagram and tag multiple products within the post. This is a great way to cross-sell and to inspire your audience to wear your products in multiple ways. It’s also a great way to showcase the personality of your brand while driving and promoting those all important sales.

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We are one of the world’s most trusted and experienced Shopify Plus Partners.

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Start testing the waters with social commerce

Social media is growing beyond advertising and social influencing and is becoming its own selling platform. Today’s Internet users already turn to social media for product research and friendly recommendations. The digital world is fast becoming the go-to medium for even the most vigorously researched shopping.

Mobile phone usage is fast approaching 5 billion users worldwide. With that growth, social commerce could one day become the digital equivalent of the local shopping mall or the neighbourhood retail outlet.

The only question is whether you’ll help lead the trend.

Utilising “buy now” features on social media might seem complicated, but it’s really a process of simplification. If you can connect more directly with users on social media, you’ll reduce purchase friction. You’ll cut cart abandonment rates. You’ll reach your audience more directly, especially a younger audience with growing purchasing power.

If the process seems overwhelming, keep in mind that this field is new. But there are experts who can guide you along the way. For Shopify merchants, we can help you realise the potential of social commerce by reducing the space between you and your customers.

We’ll help you get ahead of your competitors and stay at the forefronts of new developments in all things social commerce. With so much potential ahead, now’s the time to take a step into new territory. If you want to join a burgeoning field, contact us today and tell us about your social commerce goals for your Shopify store.