In this article, we dive into the recent tidal wave of social commerce to understand whether a revolution is on the horizon for B2C retailers, or whether social commerce is just another fad that is not worth the current hype 🔥
First, let's explore the history of social media and how commerce got involved…
Have you heard of Sixdegrees.com? It was the first ever social media platform, which launched in 1997. It had about a million members when it peaked and was soon overtaken by Friendster, which is often thought of as the first ‘proper’ social network. It was founded in 2002 and had over a hundred million registered users. Then came the flurry of other networks - LinkedIn, founded in 2003, Facebook started in 2004, MySpace was also founded in 2004, and then Youtube arrived on the scene in 2005. Twitter joined the party in 2006 and then fast forward to 2010 and Instagram launched into the public domain.
Not forgetting the many others, like Pinterest, Snapchat, Foursquare and Vine - but since then, new platforms like Clubhouse and BeReal continue to break ground and although many platforms have come and gone over the last 20 years, very few have grown over the rate of TikTok. 🚀
A huge part of the success behind many of the social media platforms mentioned above is the engagement rate of their users - meaning, the more users who engage and spend time on each platform, the more data is being collected, and the more advertising that can be served.
Engagement of users can also be increased dramatically with the strategy of adding commerce features into a platform - and this is exactly what the majority of social platforms have added, or are adding soon.
Social commerce refers to the integration of social media platforms and eCommerce stores, combining elements of social interaction and online shopping. It involves leveraging social networks to facilitate the buying and selling of products or services.
‘The global social commerce market is expected to continue to expand, possibly topping £1 trillion in annual sales in 2023!’ Deloitte.
In social commerce, users can discover, share, and purchase products directly within the social media environment. This integration aims to provide a seamless shopping experience by enabling users to make purchases without leaving the social media platform. With users completing their purchases on the social platforms themselves, this feature provides valuable consumer purchase data to the platforms. Quite often, platforms won’t even share the full customer data set with the retailer.
One way to simplify the process of purchasing products online is through a ‘direct basket’. This involves taking the consumer to a retailer's storefront/website, where the desired products are already added to their basket. However, Facebook (Meta) have already announced they will be restricting this function and other platforms will likely follow suit, in an attempt to keep customers within their environment.
Unfortunately, brands who prefer to control the customer experience and product display, are forced to relinquish this control when selling on social platforms. This is a sticking point for many retailers who are protective over branding and CX.
But that’s still not the whole story: because social media can drive commerce in more ways than ever before. Brand discovery is happening more and more on social platforms, especially for younger demographics - meaning that users are discovering brands on social platforms, then buying from them on other platforms (like Lyst.co.uk for example) - creating a halo effect on all sales channels and having a direct positive impact on new customer acquisition.
So if you look at a much wider definition of social commerce: the role social plays in the commerce journey as a whole. Taking a wider angle view makes it clear how much innovation is happening and where we are likely to see this trend develop. 📈
The future of social commerce looks promising and is expected to continue growing. Here are some key trends and potential developments:
- Increased adoption: More retail businesses are embracing social commerce as they recognise its value to reach and engage with a large user base, especially when customer acquisition is a business driver. Some of our clients are seeing as much as 10% of their monthly revenue being generated on social platforms. Social media platforms themselves are investing in features and tools to support eCommerce journeys, making it easier for businesses to sell directly to consumers. To that point, some platforms (like Facebook) are looking to remove their ‘click through’ buttons on organic posts, in an attempt to push customers into buying within the Facebook checkout. 💀
- Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR): The online shopping experience could be improved by these technologies, which could have a substantial impact on social commerce. Users can virtually try on products, see how they appear in their environment, or visit virtual showrooms thanks to augmented reality (AR). Immersive shopping experiences, including virtual stores or product demos, can be made possible via VR. I see this trend as having a low adoption rate until there is a tipping point of consumers using VR headsets for everyday tasks.
- Personalisation: Social commerce platforms can leverage vast pools of user data and advanced AI algorithms to provide personalised product recommendations, tailored promotions, and targeted discounts. These strategies can enhance user engagement and will increase conversion rates.
- Influencer marketing: By recommending products and influencing consumer choices, influencers play a key role in social commerce. The relationship between businesses and influencers will likely develop, with more authenticity, transparency, and rules to protect consumer trust.
While social commerce offers exciting opportunities, it also presents challenges such as privacy concerns, data security, and competition. The future of social commerce will depend on addressing these issues while continuing to innovate and provide value to users and businesses.
In my opinion, Social Commerce is not just hype - there are major opportunities for retailers to benefit from increased brand awareness. With millennials (born post-1981) and Gen-Z (born post-1997) beginning to take a larger share of retailers' order volume, and 50% of these generations typically use social media daily, it is a huge mistake to ignore social commerce.