Social media has been an important marketing channel for ecommerce businesses for years, but increasingly social networks are also being used as a lucrative channel that enables customers to make a purchase without having to leave the platform. Social commerce sales around the world are expected to almost triple by 2025. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the biggest ecommerce trends identified in Shopify’s Future of Commerce report.
Social networks are simply where customers spend most of their time. Accelerated by the pandemic and the need to stay connected, usage continues to grow fast. There are now more than 4.62 billion social media users around the world, equating to 58.4% of the total global population, and almost half a billion people joined social media over the last year. As the average user now spends about 15% of their waking lives on social media, it’s a huge opportunity for brands to engage with potential customers.
No longer a trend confined to China, social commerce is on the rise all over the globe. Around 30% of internet users in the United States already make purchases directly within social platforms, and according to a study conducted for the Future of Commerce report, 49% of brands plan to increase their investment in social commerce in 2022.
Social commerce is establishing itself as a key channel for businesses, which means now is the perfect time to help merchants experiment with new social commerce strategies and take existing ones further. We talked to a range of Shopify Partners to find out how they advise their clients on making the most of social commerce.
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Help your clients develop a social commerce strategy priority
“With social commerce, the medium becomes the platform,” points out Jason Stokes, CEO and founder of premier Shopify agency Eastside Co. “It allows brands to sell directly from spaces like Instagram or TikTok, without pointing customers back to their website first. This reduces friction, making it easier and quicker to buy—not to mention that 84% of shoppers review at least one social media site before purchasing, so are already in the right place.”
Social media networks are also an excellent opportunity for merchants to differentiate themselves from the competition and control of the customer experience.
“Brands build loyalty, not products,” highlights Étienne Mérineau, senior director of marketing for Heyday, an AI-powered live chat platform for retailers and ecommerce merchants that recently got acquired by Hootsuite. “It’s key for brands to develop their own independent direct-to-consumer strategy. The brand shouldn’t be an afterthought, it’s the signal in the noise. Social commerce is an opportunity for brands to reclaim their destiny by owning the experience, the relationship with customers, and the data."
While many merchants are already aware of the massive opportunity social commerce poses, they often don’t know where to start. As not every business has the resources to handle it in-house, agency partners can lend a helping hand in determining the best approach.
“We have increasingly had pressure from clients desperately knocking on our door, saying 'we don't know how to set up Facebook Marketplace or Instagram Shopping!” points out Nadine Iacocca, chief strategy and growth officer at Shopify Plus consultancy Stream Commerce. “Gone are the days when you could just deprioritize a certain social channel because you didn’t have bandwidth to do it. You do need to be present, and the content is key.”
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Use social as a product discovery & customer acquisition tool
One of the major benefits of social commerce is that social networks have become a fantastic way for consumers to discover products. On the flip side, as customer acquisition costs are rising rapidly, having a social commerce strategy helps merchants increase brand awareness and find new customers. This is especially important in the wake of stricter privacy measures.
“Merchants can now seek to build their second-party data on social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest that are making discovery a greater focus,” agrees Kate Collinson, an ecommerce consultant and growth marketer, specializing in Shopify and Shopify Plus. “It avoids the ‘break’ in the chain that Apple’s iOS changes have imposed which has made conversion tracking more challenging.”
As a result, customers increasingly prefer to discover and wishlist products on social platforms, for example through active searching via Instagram’s Shop tab, engage with influencers who promote products, and respond to advertising with tagged products.
Getting started with social commerce
To build a foundation for their social commerce strategy and take full advantage of automation, Collinson recommends helping merchants with the following:
- Set up catalogs: If the merchant is already on Shopify, they can simply connect the relevant social channel (Facebook, TikTok, and Pinterest) to their account and they’ll auto-update, ensuring a seamless customer experience.
- set up social stores: For Facebook and Instagram use Facebook Business Manager, then customize the social store to feature specific collections, the same way that you would on the homepage of an ecommerce site.
- Tag products in all organic and paid content, both in your feeds and stories.
- Set up Instagram Checkout when you set up Instagram Shopping on the Facebook channel, or at any time on the Settings page in the Facebook channel, if you have activated Instagram Shopping or Facebook Shop.
- Photography: Make sure you have strong, clean, and professional product photography which highlights your products in the best possible light. Think of your social commerce platform as your business' shop window.
- Planning: It’s important you plan which products you will be featuring in your feed and have a strong balance between these. Showing a range of products is important. It’s also important that you do not overuse social shopping. Not every post needs to feature a product or be about pushing promotion. It's good to use your organic social strategy to showcase your brand's personality, not to just use it as a place to hard-sell your products.
- Multiple Tagging: You can showcase full looks and tag multiple products within a post—a great way to cross-sell and inspire your audience to wear your products in multiple ways, for example. It’s also an opportunity to showcase the personality of your brand while driving and promoting those all important sales.
- Engages customers with product demonstrations: Buyers can see the products being used in real-time. They can ask questions on the spot and get clarifications of how to use the product or what it could look like on a real body vs. just a flat photo or even 360-degree videos on a product page.
- Builds trust with an audience: Interacting with the person conducting the livestream shopping session is like a physical store's in-person consultation service. It merges user-generated content and influencer marketing to build trust and credibility with buyers.
- Facilitates group buying: The more people that buy at one time, the deeper the discount you can offer during the live shopping session. More traffic equals more exposure and discoverability of your products, which enables store owners to offer the product at a reduced cost (or bulk pricing discounts).
- Creates a sense of urgency or scarcity: If the shoppers don't take advantage of the offer during the live streaming shopping session, they will miss out on the offer of buying the products at that discount or risk inventory depletion.
- Timing: Plan your event at the right time to maximize your audience. Check your analytics and see when you get the most traffic and engagement.
- Marketing: If you build it, they will come… but only as long as you tell them about it. Make sure you promote the event everywhere your audience lives, on social platforms, emails, newsletters, press releases, etc.
- Test: While it's straightforward to host live shopping events, we recommend a run-through to make sure everything runs smoothly and there are no technical hitches.
- Engage: During the event, answer live Q&As, talk to the audience, encourage participation, and keep the conversation going to maximize engagement and sales.
Instagram in particular is currently making huge inroads into social commerce and even exploring in-platform payments, which means that customers can not only discover brands on Instagram, but don't even need to leave the platform to make a purchase.
Encouraging a brand’s followers to engage with the merchant’s products through social will enhance their ability to gather data and find new audiences to personalize the retargeting and bypass some of the issues brought about by the iOS 14.5 update.
Collinson also suggests keeping in mind that these social networks are their own search engines, and so your product feeds should be optimized accordingly. “Ensure your product data is as complete as possible,” she advises. “This means multiple product images, full product descriptions with keyword targeting and using search-friendly language like ‘pink’ instead of ‘blush.’”
Finally, Collinson cautions not to “set and forget.” “Social commerce is a two-way street,” she points out. “Merchants who simply push content to their channels without actively engaging in customer comments, feedback, and queries will never succeed as much as those who do. The algorithm knows it in terms of how much reach it will grant you, and your customers will know it, too.”
Eastside Co’s CEO Jason Stokes, meanwhile, recommends these best practices for social commerce:
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Bridge the gap between online and in-store with live shopping useful for retail
Live shopping—QVC-style live-streamed product demonstrations or influencer-led product recommendations—is an extension of social commerce that enables brands to interact with customers in entertaining and immersive ways.
Live shopping took off in China almost five years ago, and conversion rates there are as high as 40%, proving it’s an effective sales method. The United States and western countries are a lot further behind but have ramped up considerably over the past two years. Live shopping events generated an estimated $5.6 billion in US sales in 2020, a number that’s projected to climb to $25 billion by 2023.
We talked to Deb Mecca, director of marketing at Shopify app In Cart Upsell, to understand the main reasons why brands should consider live shopping for their stores in 2022 and beyond:
According to Mecca, live shopping is especially suitable for brands big and small that sell physical products in the health, fitness, and wellness categories, beauty, home goods, consumer packaged goods, apparel, jewelry, and art.
“Live streaming is a really useful tool to allow you to use your physical store, or a dedicated studio of some sort, to demonstrate products and to get engaged with your customers,” agrees Hilding Anderson, head of retail strategy at Publicis Sapient. “That’s absolutely critical, as consumers want to have a better way of interacting with products and seeing them in context as they shop.”
Anderson says that live streaming is gaining traction most notably among luxury and automotive brands, but whether or not the approach works for a brand ultimately depends on the target customer, the type of product that’s being sold, and how well it can be demonstrated through live streaming.
Dedicated live shopping platforms like NTWRK, Pop Shop Live, Super Great, and Bambuser make setting up a live shopping experience relatively easy, while merchants can take advantage of TikTok’s and Instagram’s seamless integration with Shopify product catalogs.
Now is the time to experiment with the new technology and novel features, as they’re being released and and benefit from the learnings of being an earlier adopter.
“According to Hootsuite, live content enjoys six times more organic reach than regular content,” Kate Collinson points out. “Instagram is slowly rolling out the ability for businesses to tag products in a live broadcast, so if you see this feature available, schedule an event, promote it, and rally your most outgoing team members to front up to the camera. The less polished and more real, the better.”
“Live shopping is a superb, innovative way to allow merchants and customers to interact together in a digital space that is traditionally transactional and disconnected,” adds Eastside Co CEO Jason Stokes. “Shoppable platforms like Bambuser make it easy to integrate your online store with a live environment to generate incredible results.”
Having helped client Tropic Skincare launch a live shopping series, the team at Eastside Co recommend the following top tips:
You might also like: Live Shopping: How to Launch a Live Event That Drives Engagement and Conversions.
Measure the long-term performance of social commerce
Just like on direct-to-consumer channels, it’s important to measure the performance of your social media activity.
Facebook’s Insights tab, for example, provides you with some metrics including product clicks to the brand’s website, number of social store visitors, and products added to wishlists. It will even track estimated sales from customers who visited the store within the last 28 days (note that this functionality uses the Facebook pixel, which has limited accuracy).
However, merchants need to be aware that if they choose to heavily invest in social strategies to increase brand awareness and customer acquisition, they won’t see results overnight. Driving organic growth and engagement with tailored content takes time.
“It's really hard to measure the performance of YouTube videos and Facebook Reach ads, for example,” Collinson cautions. “It has to be a long-term observation of the growth and organic search demand for your store and your brand terms.”
Put the customer at the heart of your social commerce activities
Facilitated by Shopify’s seamless integrations, it’s never been easier to sell on multiple channels, but whatever your approach to social commerce, it’s important to do so authentically. Ensure your approach works for, and is tailored to, the audience you’re targeting. To engage customers and build a community around the product or service, the merchant needs to figure out which channels work best for their customer base.
“Companies will need to test various new things, some will stick, some will not,” Robert Befumo, head of ecommerce strategy at full-service digital marketing agency Parkfield Commerce, points out. “Ultimately, you're going to need to know your audience and where they live online. That’s where your brand should be, where it should live and breathe. You really need to understand your customers’ mindset.”
This means not just using new technology for the sake of it but really figuring out the customer journey. “A lot of companies are now trying to position themselves in social commerce, and there will be some hits and misses depending how well they speak to their customers,” Befumo cautions. “Those that have a true understanding of the brand and their audiences will do well. You need to adapt your experiences to people’s comfort level. Will they feel comfortable actually transacting on a new platform?”
Social commerce is a key channel to find new customers, set your business apart, increase brand awareness, and sell your products on another platform. As with every new channel, however, consistency is crucial and it’s important that all social commerce activities complement the brand’s overall customer experience.