Looking to reach large audiences in your target demographic? For ecommerce businesses, there are few resources more valuable than social media. More than half of the world’s population uses social media, with a majority of us logging in at least once a day.
With numbers like these, social media marketing has massive ROI potential, but driving sales on social media still comes with its challenges—one being getting your followers to leave a social media app to make a purchase on your online store.
However, this might not be such a big challenge anymore, thanks to a fast-growing ecommerce trend: social commerce.
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What is social commerce?
Social commerce (sometimes called social shopping) exists at the cross section of ecommerce and social media. In basic terms, social commerce is when businesses, brands, and creators sell on sales channels located directly on their social media profiles or their followers’ social media feeds.
In the past couple of years, social media platforms have developed tools like shoppable posts, on-site storefronts, and dedicated checkouts that allow users to discover new products, explore new brands, and make purchases—all without ever leaving their social network.
While the practice is still evolving, one thing is certain; social commerce is incredibly profitable. According to Statista, social commerce generated about $475 billion in revenue in 2020, and is expected to grow at a rate of 28.4% annually, reaching $3.37 trillion by 2028.
Insight into why social commerce is so profitable can be traced all the way back to 2005, when the term was first coined by David Beisel, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist:
When a product is directly integrated into becoming content itself, it bypasses the normal filter that consumers put up to ignore or at least be skeptical of the advertising. And when this advertorial content is generated by a friend, a special element of trust is integrated into the advertorial relationship that wasn’t present otherwise.
In other words, it all boils down to trust.
Long before Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram—when Facebook was still in its infancy and the term “social commerce” characterized group-buying sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, Beisal understood the potential behind the symbiosis of ecommerce and social media.
What are the benefits of social commerce?
By meeting your target audience on their own turf, social commerce offers many advantages over traditional ecommerce. If it isn’t already a part of your social media marketing strategy, here’s why it should be:
1. Less friction in the checkout process.
In traditional ecommerce, social media is used to redirect traffic to an ecommerce site where users can purchase. While this model can work, the biggest deterrent is the friction it creates in the buying process.
Following through on a purchase requires users to stop what they’re doing on social media, go to an external site, and then return to where they left off. This process might not seem arduous, but the effort involved is just arduous enough for many users to avoid.
These additional steps required to make a purchase are what we’re talking about when we refer to friction in the checkout process. Each step makes purchasing a little more complicated, and at each step, users have a chance to decide the process is no longer worth it.
But when you use social commerce tools within a social media platform, you greatly reduce that friction. Users that stumble on your content already have everything they need right in front of them to make a purchase. Purchasing from you is almost as effortless as tapping Like or Follow.
Potential customers will still make a lot of considerations before purchasing from you, but when they’re able to buy directly from the point of discovery, the effort involved in the purchase won’t be one of them.
2. Drive social media engagement while you sell.
A good social media marketing plan needs to perform the simultaneous functions of finding new audiences and maintaining good relationships with existing ones.
When you use social commerce, you can engage with these two audiences simultaneously. Posts driven to create brand awareness can also feature buying options for others who are in the consideration phase.
A bonus feature of this dynamic is the users who may fall down the marketing funnel a little faster than usual. With awareness, consideration, and conversion all happening in the same place, users who’ve just discovered your brand may have all the info they need to decide your product is worth buying, and the features they need to buy it.
3. The social commerce market is huge.
Grouping social media users by their follows, likes, or interests makes finding your target market a breeze. But if you’re doing this without social commerce features, you’re likely missing out on a lot of potential sales.
The number of people who report having purchased via social commerce has been growing since 2019. As users warm up to social shopping, this trend is expected to continue. By 2025, it’s estimated that around 37% of Americans will have made a purchase through social media.
With more businesses adopting social commerce, the ability to buy directly on social media will become less of an extravagance and more an expectation. Adopting social commerce now will put you in prime position to stay on top of this trend and stop missing out on lost sales.
4. Generate social proof while you sell.
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that describes our tendency to rely on the opinion of others when making purchase decisions.
In ecommerce, social proof can take the form of product reviews, customer testimonials, case studies, public praise, or even just knowledge of a product’s popularity. If you’ve ever watched a movie or TV show just because everyone seems to be talking about it, you’ve experienced the power of social proof.
Social media is a first-touch point for a lot of users, which makes highly visible social proof a valuable tool for picking up followers and building an audience. When you sell via social commerce, that social proof also becomes a valuable tool for picking up sales.
Encourage purchasers to share pics or videos of your product. Ask for reviews or endorsements from influencers with highly engaged audiences. Just seeing that users are enjoying your product will help encourage others to do the same.
One top of this, your social shopping posts themselves act as a type of social proof. When online shoppers see their peers liking, commenting, and sharing your posts, they’ll feel more confident in making the decision to buy your product.
5. Easily accommodate the growing number of mobile shoppers.
The number of mobile ecommerce sales reached $359 billion in 2021, a 15.2% increase from 2020. Industry experts estimate that by 2025, mobile ecommerce sales will account for 44.2% of retail ecommerce sales in the US, for a grand total of $728.28 billion.
As online shoppers warm up to the idea of shopping on their mobile devices, and social media networks adopt more tools that help facilitate it, an easy-to-use mobile-ready storefront will become more and more crucial to the success of any online retailer.
You might be thinking, So what? I have a responsive, mobile-friendly Shopify theme that makes checkout a breeze. While that may be true, the fact is, most sales aren’t happening in browsers. They’re taking place within social media apps.
Research firm eMarketer found that about 88% of the time mobile-users spend browsing the internet is done within social media apps, as opposed to mobile browsers. You might have a stunning ecommerce site, but without social commerce, you’re still missing out on the sales of users that won’t end up seeing it.
Social commerce features are built by social media developers, engineered to function seamlessly and algorithmically designed to locate users that are more likely to have an interest in your product.
Sales is complex, and nothing guarantees that users will buy from you, but it’s hard to envision any scenario where social commerce doesn’t give you a big advantage.
What are the best social commerce platforms for retailers?
With nearly every major social media platform investing in social commerce features, retailers have a lot of options when it comes to which tools they want to use to sell online.
If you’re looking to get started selling through social commerce, here are the best platforms to explore:
With nearly three billion active users, Facebook is a great choice for businesses looking to scale to a more global audience.
Including social commerce as part of your Facebook ad strategy can be a great way to pick up impulse sales from users who might otherwise have engaged with your content, without going through with a purchase.
With Facebook Shops, businesses are able to create their own personalized storefront on their Facebook page. Users can browse products from their Shop tab, which displays products tuned to their previous purchases, search history, and likes, creating a personalized customer experience that aims to match your products with users most likely to purchase them.
You’ll even be able to communicate with customers directly through Facebook Messenger, giving you a unique opportunity to provide personalized customer support, and sell directly through instant messaging.
💡TIP: Products can be imported into your Facebook shop directly from Shopify. And since both Facebook and Instagram are owned by Meta Platforms, storefronts on both sites can be synced.
Instagram shopping features include dedicated storefronts, product tags that allow you to highlight items from your catalog within your posts or ads, and a Shop tab to optimize product discovery for users that might be interested.
As with Facebook shops, users on Instagram shopping can browse products from a wide variety of stores directly from the Shop tab located on the bottom taskbar of the app. From there, they can access storefronts and product pages from a variety of brands.
Brands and products are served to users based on their interests, follows, likes, and previous purchases—meaning your products have a good chance of being shown to users who are actually interested in purchasing them.
Instagram is all about visual branding, so for business in industries like fashion or cosmetics, there’s a big opportunity to use visual flair to set yourself apart from your competitors.
If your Pinterest marketing strategy doesn’t include an element of social commerce, you’re likely missing out on a lot of sales. Social commerce may be an added convenience on other social media platforms, but on Pinterest, it’s a necessity.
Pinterest is unique from every other social media platform in that a huge number of users log on for the purpose of shopping. In a survey from eMarketer, 48% of respondents said their top social media activity on Pinterest was shopping, far exceeding the percentages for other social media platforms.
That means that Pinterest has a uniquely high number of users willing to discover and purchase new products. Fashion and home décor products are especially popular on Pinterest, so if you’re in these industries, a good Pinterest sales plan is a must.
Users are able to find and save products they’re interested in, so even when customers don’t purchase right away, it’s easy to come back to your products and purchase later.
Brands selling on Pinterest can also use buyable pins, which act as a Buy button that’s embedded directly in your product images, giving users a quick and easy way to add your product to their cart.
Plus, buyable pins are synced to products in your Shopify store and automatically update when pricing or stock information changes.
As your products start to pick up on engagement and get more repins, clicks, and purchases, Pinterest may add a “Best-seller” label to the product, which helps its visibility in “Popular” exploration pages.
💡TIP: Add the Pinterest app to your online store to begin using Pinterest’s buyable pins.
TikTok is home to 732 million users worldwide and largely geared toward younger audiences, with 62% of its audience falling into the 10- to 29-year-old age group. Creators on TikTok can sell directly to their followers by adding a Shopping tab to their TikTok profiles.
Currently, TikTok shopping is exclusive to Shopify, so you’ll need to have your store set up before you’re able to use TikTok’s shopping features. When you sign up and install the TikTok Shopify app, products are pulled directly from your Shopify store for easy setup.
TikTok shopping allows retailers to tag products within their organic content and paid TikTok ads, making it easy for interested customers to go from seeing your product to buying it.
How to sell using social commerce: Tips and best practices
Social commerce trends are constantly evolving, but there are a few best practices that you can look into for making the most out of selling through social commerce platforms.
1. Choose the right social commerce channel for your product.
No single social media platform is best for every retailer, but if you want to know which is best for your business, consider the demographic makeup of your brand’s audience and start with the platform that most conforms to it.
For example, if you’re mostly marketing to Gen Z, you might consider using TikTok’s sales channels. If you’re selling to millennials, it might be better to start with Instagram.
If you’re already using social media to advertise your products, consider which social channels drive the most engagement currently. Social commerce can increase the volume of sales with a more frictionless checkout, but the same instincts that cause more users to engage with your content will be used to drive sales of your product.
While it’s possible to find audiences across multiple platforms, don’t fall into the trap of trying to do everything at once and spreading yourself too thin. Start by focusing on the most valuable social network, and plan to scale for the future.
2. Use your platform's livestreaming feature.
Livestreaming can be a great way to showcase your product and talk about the unique selling proposition offered by your brand over competitors. For creators, a livestream can be a great way to show off your personality and build a deeper connection with your followers.
On a livestream, viewers can tune in, see your product in action, ask questions in real time, and get all the information they need to make a purchase. On Facebook, you can even enable live shopping, which gives them the option to purchase directly from your stream while they watch.
In a survey conducted by Statista, 70% of US internet users that reported frequently watching livestreams also said they’re likely to buy products from livestreamers they follow. That means there’s a huge opportunity for creators and retailers to make sales via livestream.
3. Use instant messaging to engage with your customers.
When you’re selling online, it’s likely that customers are going to have questions about your products. You can’t be live streaming 24/7, but you can keep your instant messaging channels open for fast and easy communication.
In a survey conducted by 99firms, 73% of respondents said live chat was the “most satisfactory” form of communication from a company. Live chat helps add a personal touch to your sales process and is a fast and convenient way to provide customer support.
Being there for customers this way helps build up a familiarity with your brand in their minds that will translate into stronger brand loyalty and more sales. By being available via chat, you help curb the number of users who abandon their purchases.
Through private messaging, you can also offer discounts, promote new products, and nurture customer relationships following a purchase. The more personalized online shopping experience helps your customers feel more valued and lets them know you’re available to help.
4. Drive your growth by partnering with influencers.
Influencer marketing has continued growing in popularity as a method of driving sales, with the industry set to balloon to $16.4 billion in 2022. Influencer audiences put a lot of value on the opinions of influencers they follow, so an endorsement can mean a huge boost to your online sales.
On top of that, the level of social engagement on your posts tends to increase when you work with influencers, since they often have very engaged audiences.
All that engagement plays well algorithmically too; when more users engage with your posts, there's a better chance of those posts being shown to new users who might be interested in your product.
And you don’t necessarily need to work with particularly large influencers in order for influencer marketing to be advantageous. Micro-influencers tend to have higher engagement rates than large influencers, which is more valuable for building a sustained, long-term engaged audience.
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The future of ecommerce is social
Many ecommerce trends come and go, but social commerce won’t fade any time soon. As social media platforms develop more ways to incorporate social shopping, users will grow to expect a frictionless way to purchase products at the moment of discovery.
For small businesses, social commerce offers a level of access to customers that lets them compete on a level playing field with large ones. Experimenting with social commerce strategies now can put you in a position to scale down the road.