Let’s start with a short social commerce definition: it’s using social media channels to sell goods and services directly. A longer explanation is that social commerce is ecommerce carried out exclusively on a social media channel. It capitalizes on a user’s impulse to buy and lets them purchase quickly, easily, and directly from a social media site. No distractions. No linking to other sites. The sale happens right there and then.
Why Is Social Commerce So Powerful?
It’s estimated that 3.8 billion people use social media. That’s a huge audience of potential customers for products and services. Social commerce taps into that potential, turning channels where people go to chat with friends, get gossip, and other information, into an opportunity to sell.
The world’s most popular social media channels, including We Chat (Weixin), Instagram and Facebook are increasingly becoming social commerce channels. Businesses large and small are using them to promote and sell products and services.
Social commerce content takes the form of messages posted on these channels. Messages can contain photos, moving images (GIFs), or videos with text, or just text on its own. The purpose of all content is to engage the audience while promoting sales and making it easy for users to buy products directly from the social media channel. Posts have direct links to checkouts to enable sales without the customer having to visit another webpage.
This easy version of ecommerce is proving popular. In 2020, the social commerce market was reported to be worth almost $90 billion. It’s expected to grow to more than $604 billion by 2027. But it’s not suited to all products.
Social Commerce Limitations
Social commerce works best for lower value products—those priced under $100. That’s because most people use social media to interact with friends, or find content that interests them. They’re not looking to buy high-value items. However, they may be persuaded to buy low-value items on impulse. Expensive goods are rarely bought on a whim on- or offline, so don’t tend to sell as well on social commerce channels. There’s a bigger risk associated with buying a big ticket item online, without seeing it ‘in the flesh’. But low value items can and do sell well on social media channels, as they do on regular ecommerce websites.
Social Commerce vs Ecommerce
The difference between social commerce and regular ecommerce is that social commerce allows users to purchase directly from the social media content they’re viewing. Information about a product or service and the means to buy it are all there. Ecommerce, on the other hand, is designed to drive consumers to websites to find out more and make a purchase. It entails clicking a link to get to another webpage, a step in the customer journey that social commerce does away with.
It should also be noted that social commerce is different to social selling. That’s the process of developing relationships with customers via social media with a view to building a list of warm sales leads.
How Did Social Commerce Begin?
The origins of social commerce can be traced back to November 2005, according to the article "Social Commerce: A New Electronic Commerce”, That’s when Yahoo first promoted some popular products on its Shoposphere Pick Lists. The concept quickly expanded to include advice and support from experts to help consumers make purchases. It’s an element of social commerce that’s still popular today.
Social Ecommerce In China
China leads the way in social commerce. Alipay, a mobile wallet, first launched way back in 2008. Rival operator, Tencent, integrated online payments into social media messaging in 2013, creating WeChat Pay. Both still have a dominant share of the Chinese market. Looking at what’s happening in China now gives a good insight into how social commerce will impact the rest of the world in a few years’ time. And, right now in China, social media is being used at every stage of the consumer purchase journey.
Social Commerce and the Pandemic
COVID-19 forced many retailers to switch their focus to online sales. And because social commerce is conducted entirely online, it was the right solution at the right time for many businesses. Giving them a way to generate sales while observing social distancing and other restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
That said, social commerce was popular before the pandemic, with research showing that 48% of internet users in the USA aged 18 to 34 bought goods via social media in 2019. And the growth figures quoted earlier in this article suggest its popularity is set to grow even after the worst effects of coronavirus are behind us.
The Most Popular Channels For Social Commerce
The world of social commerce is constantly changing with new platforms and features regularly being introduced. Here are some of the most popular platforms in 2021:
Over 2.2 billion people use Facebook every month. That’s a big potential market for businesses. Facebook Shops launched in May 2020, enabling businesses to set up an online store which can be accessed on Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can also create a test shop to trial how to run a store and create a customer experience before going live.
Linked to Facebook, Instagram is a platform with a focus on images and videos. Consumers can buy direct from Instagram Shops, shopping ads, and shoppable stories. A checkout feature was introduced in 2019 in the USA, but currently, only products can be sold on Instagram Shops, not services.
China’s biggest social media channel leads the way in social commerce in China, which accounts for over 11% of all retail ecommerce sales in the country.
Twitter ads offer ecommerce businesses an opportunity to reach a large online audience with targeted offers.
Two Platforms To Watch:
Two of the world’s most popular platforms aren’t offering widespread direct electronic commerce opportunities just yet, but are expected to do so in the near future:
A store experience powered by Shopify was launched for influencers in 2020. It lets users find and purchase products straight from the app.
This fast emerging platform signed a deal with Shopify in October 2020 to enable vendors to build, run, and track advertising campaigns on the platform.
How Social Commerce Can Benefit Business
The ways social commerce helps companies includes: - Allows access to an ever-growing number of potential customers as more new users join social media platforms - Delivers all the information a consumer needs to make an informed purchasing decision - Makes buying products easier—it’s a case of see, click, and buy - Fewer opportunities for buyers to abandon their cart on the purchasing journey - Getting customers engaged in a brand - Provides a platform for conversations about a product or service - Gives businesses a means to gather feedback from customers about their product or service - Delivering data analytics that enable close tracking of the effectiveness of campaigns
Ways To Engage With An Audience Using Social Commerce
Marketers use social commerce in various ways to reach out to users and persuade them to buy their goods. These include: - Creating a poll in which users vote for their favorite product - Inviting the audience to submit their own thoughts and content (User Generated Content) - Offering bespoke product choices - Delivering interactive experiences that bring the purchasing process to life - Hiring influencers or celebrities to deliver a product endorsement - Making purchasing a product easier by linking directly to the checkout in the post - Offering incentives for users to share the post with their friends - Encouraging conversations about the product or service to spread news about the brand - Asking consumers to rate and review a product - Using imagery, video, or augmented reality content to give a full 360º view of the product and/or show the product or service being used
New Ways To Measure Success
Unlike traditional marketing campaigns where success is measured solely in sales, the effectiveness of social commerce is also measured through interactions with content via: - Comments - Likes - Shares - Retweets (on Twitter)
Current Trends in Social Commerce
Given the rapid changes in social commerce, it’s risky listing trends as they change so often. But we’ve done it, highlighting several trends below that look set to remain popular for some time to come:
Video is the dominant media in social commerce. According to 88% of marketers, video marketing generates a positive ROI. Videos can be: - Instructional—showing consumers how to use a product - Explainers—showing what a new product or service does - Entertaining—aimed at providing engaging content to attract the interest of and reactions from users
Chatbots can help users along their shopping journey, and bot-operated checkouts can make the buying process even easier, giving consumers 24/7 access to brands and online stores.
Influencers and Micro-Influencers
Getting a product recommendation from a big-name celebrity is simply not achievable for most smaller businesses with limited budgets. Which is why many social commerce strategies use influencers. These are people who aren’t necessarily famous worldwide, but still exert plenty of influence over their social media followers (hence the name).
Celebrities tend to be further removed from the average person’s daily lives, so they’re tricky to connect with. Influencers, on the other hand, tend to connect more easily with consumers and give businesses a chance to associate their brand with the reputation that influencer enjoys.
This article shows that influencers with under 35,000 followers (micro-influencers) generate the best engagement rates with consumers.
Live-streaming gives brands the chance to connect with customers directly in real time. It brings the TV shopping channel format to social media with added interactivity. Live shows with live hosts are streamed on social channels. Consumers watch and interact with the hosts who help them select the best product for their needs. And, of course, viewers can purchase the products being showcased on the live stream.
Live commerce is another area of social commerce where China leads the way. The Chinese government revealed that over 10 million live commerce streams were hosted from January to June 2020. And live commerce is expected to grow into a $157.50 billion market.
Social Commerce—the Future Of Ecommerce
Social commerce is ever-evolving, with new platforms regularly launching and existing ones expanding or diversifying. The concept is popular with consumers (and therefore businesses) because it offers a frictionless shopping experience that taps into the desire for ease, speed, and simplicity.
Businesses establishing a social commerce presence should not just set up an account and expect customers to come. A successful social commerce site must feature useful and interesting content that meets consumers’ needs and answers their questions. By doing so, businesses can make the most of the opportunities offered by an ever-expanding social media audience that’s ready to be tempted into making a spur of the moment purchase.