Social Commerce For Retail: What Is It and 3 Examples of Retailers Doing it Well

Social Commerce For Retail: What Is It and 3 Examples of Retailers Doing it Well

Social commerce for retail | Shopify Retail blogAs ecommerce has grown over the last decade or so, it’s also evolved, changed shape, and spawned numerous offshoots. One of those offshoots of the big ecommerce revolution is social commerce — and it’s making a big splash. According to Adweek, the top 500 retailers brought in nearly $6.5 billion from social shopping in 2017.

That’s a big opportunity for retailers. Just as social media leveled the marketing playing field, social commerce is giving brands both big and small a new way to capitalize on their hard-earned social media reach. And retailers are taking notice — a recent report from Gartner L2 found that 66% of brands had tried out a social commerce feature in the last year.

What is Social Commerce?

Let’s back up for a minute. What does social commerce actually mean?

Social commerce, or social shopping, is the inevitable meeting point of social media and commerce. It’s a way to streamline the buying process for customers and increase the efficacy of social media ads for brands.

Social shopping is a trend that’s been a long time coming. Both brands and social networks have been hard at work trying to find the right way to convert social media networks into a sales platform.

Consumers, for their part, are heavily influenced in their buying habits through social media — but they’ve been slower to take to social shopping. That trend is changing, with as many as 30% of consumers now saying they’d make a purchase on major social platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. That makes it a really good time for your retail business to get in on the action.

Social Commerce Features

Social commerce and social shopping are broad, high-level terms. There are a lot of different features and capabilities social media networks offer that fall under those umbrellas. Each social platform has taken their own approach to implementing social shopping features for brands to capitalize on, and some have been more successful than others.

Here are a handful of the most popular social commerce features across the big social media networks.

“Buy” Buttons

One of the first and most popular ways to transform social media into a sales channel is the “buy now” button. You can find one of these on most of the big social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Warby Parker Buy Button | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Social Media Examiner

The “buy” button serves as a call-to-action (CTA) on a brand’s social media ads or posts and it typically links users to the brand’s website to complete the sale.

Shoppable Posts and Stories

Shoppable posts and stories allow brands and users to tag specific products wherever they are within posts or “stories.” This type of social shopping is relatively new, but with Instagram and Snapchat both launching their own version of the feature, it’s taken off quickly.

MVMT watches shoppable Instagram post | Shopify Retail blog

Image: LA Times

If you follow brands on either network, you may have noticed when they suddenly started prompting you to “Swipe up to learn more!” Whether it’s a post or a story, this isn’t usually a blatant advertisement. Typically, products are simply tagged within a piece of content, like the watch in the image above.

This feature enables brands to reduce friction and create a more seamless experience for customers because the entire shopping experience stays within the social media app itself. Customers don’t have to open a new app or interrupt what they’re doing at all. That’s why it’s a popular feature, with 41% of brands giving it a try on Instagram.

Social Commerce Plugins and Apps

While the big social networks were tinkering away to find the most effective ways to implement social commerce for brands, some third parties launched their own plug-ins and apps to facilitate social shopping in the meantime.

One example of a third-party app is Soldsie, which works with both Facebook and Instagram, and allows your followers to make a purchase just by commenting on a post with the word “Sold.” After customers post the comment, the app takes care of the rest, emailing them an invoice to complete payment and confirm the order.

How Can Social Shopping Grow Your In-Person Sales?

By now, you might be wondering why we’re talking about social commerce on the retail side of the multichannel sales equation. After all, many brands still make the majority of their sales out of a storefront or pop-up shop. According to census data, 91% of all retail sales still happened in-store in the U.S. in 2017.

But social shopping can help grow your offline sales as well. How can social commerce drive in-store shopping? For one, certain social networks give you access to a highly engaged audience with sky-high purchasing intent. Customers who are actively researching products on social media are getting ready to make a real purchase. That means if you invest in getting those people into your store, it can have a big impact on your foot traffic and sales.

We’re also moving rapidly away from the days when a retail store could ignore the Internet and still thrive. Today’s consumers are looking for multichannel shopping and brand experiences. That means successful retailers have to create a cohesive and consistent brand presence across all of the platforms where customers can find them. Growing your following in any of these channels automatically boosts the others.

That’s why even brick-and-mortar retailers need to emphasize building a loyal following on social media. Fifty-eight percent of consumers surveyed say they’re following retailers on social. By tapping into that audience, you can build a large and loyal following that will follow your brand right into your physical store.

The Best Social Commerce Options for Physical Retailers

As we mentioned before, there are several options for implementing social shopping on your brand’s social media — and more likely to be introduced. But which options are the best for retailers to leverage?

Average order value by social platform | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Shopify

There are a few things to consider:

  • Snapchat has been hailed as the most fluid and intuitive ecommerce process and experience for customers. That means it’s a good option for retailers looking to incorporate social shopping as an add-on to events in your store. Snapchat has long been one of the most effective platforms for location-based marketing, too, and the ephemeral nature of Snapchat content makes it ideal for building exclusivity and urgency.
  • Facebook reigns as the most influential social network when it comes to buying habits. Thirty-five percent of consumers surveyed say Facebook is an important factor in deciding which retailers to patronize.
    The largest social platform also has a solid reputation when it comes to driving in-store foot traffic. For example, one IKEA store in Cardiff saw a 31% lift in foot traffic from 21-25 year olds after serving up geotargeted Facebook ads.
  • Pinterest users are unique from other consumers on social media in that they’re actively looking at specific products. The platform is almost more of a shopping destination than a social network. For that reason, Pinterest users have higher buying intent and don’t mind being advertised to as much as users on other websites.

From Inspiration to Action: 3 Retailers Using Social Commerce to Their Advantage

Social commerce can help grow your retail business — but don’t just take our word for it. Let’s look at a few retailers who are already using social shopping to their advantage.

Jordan Capitalizes on Snapchat’s Urgency

Jordan, the brand that brought you the iconic Air Jordan line of shoes, partnered with Snapchat earlier this year to capitalize on the NBA All-Star game. Consumers within a certain radius of the arena where the game was played were able to gain access (via a special “Snapcode”) to an exclusive launch sale of the special edition Air Jordan III ‘Tinker’ shoe.

Jordan on Snapchat | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Adweek

While the event brought people together, social commerce greased the wheels of the sale, making it seamless for customers to make a purchase. It’s easy to see how a feature like this could be used to draw consumers into your store.

Allbirds Taps Into Instagram’s Big Audience

Allbirds birthday collection | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Allbirds

If you can’t tell by now, one of the best use cases for social commerce revolves around events. To celebrate their 30th birthday, Allbirds created a special edition birthday collection available only on Instagram.

By doing so, they were able to reach out to Instagram’s wide audience without putting their entire product catalog on the site, and they created a sense of exclusivity because the collection never appeared on their own website.

Jenny Boston Uses Facebook to Reach New Customers

Boston-based women’s clothing retailer Jenny Boston Boutique, which hosts several boutiques across Massachusetts, made use of the third-party app we talked about above, Soldsie. Each Wednesday evening, Jenny Boston promotes a handful of products with sale prices exclusive to Facebook. They post photos and descriptions of the apparel, and all Facebook users have to do is comment “sold” to purchase them at the sale price.

As a result, Jenny Boston says its sales spiked 617% in a single month using the comment selling tool and Facebook ads.

The weekly sale keeps existing customers engaged and gets them excited for the Wednesday night discounts. It also introduces the brand to a new audience on Facebook, and they target those posts to consumers within a certain distance of any of Jenny Boston’s brick-and-mortar locations.

Social Commerce for Retail

While social commerce is still in the early stages of adoption among both brands and consumers, the technology is there. That makes today the perfect opportunity for retailers of all stripes to dive in, experiment with social shopping, and emerge ahead of the curve.

Photo of Kiera Abbamonte

About the Author

Kiera's a freelance writer and consultant for software and ecommerce companies. She writes for the likes of Wave, Kissmetrics, and Kayako, among others. Newly located in Boston, MA, Kiera loves cinnamon coffee and a good baseball game.

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