“Saw it on Instagram”
The frequency at which that phrase is being used when discussing a recently purchased product has been steadily increasing over the last several years, but with people spending more time on devices and social platforms making it easier to shop every day, the trend raises important questions for brands looking to optimize their customer experience. So what does social commerce mean for retail moving forward?
Social commerce generally refers to shopping through social media, but as the platforms have advanced and competed for more of consumers' time, social commerce has shifted from allowing shoppers to discover products through social media, to being able to purchase them without ever leaving the platform. Where third party curation apps such as LikeToKnowIt have dominated over the last several years, new features built into the platform are now taking center stage.
Instagram in particular has been a focal point in the discussion around social commerce, given its highly visual nature and the concentration of brands and personalities that have leveraged the platform’s reach to gain recognition.
In addition to a dedicated shopping tab (which was moved to where the notifications button used to be), Instagram has rolled out features such as Shoppable Feeds, Instagram Checkout, and most recently Shoppable Reels. These features are open to not only brands, but creators who are sponsored by or partner with brands, which encourages creators to regularly appear and contribute on Instagram, increasing the amount of time (and dollars) that their followers spend within the platform.
Instagram is not alone in stepping up their commerce game. TikTok and Snapchat have also taken advantage of consumer’s interest in social shopping. TikTok’s partnership with Shopify, which launched in the fall of 2020, gives merchants the ability to control, view, and optimize their marketing campaigns within the platform from their Shopify dashboard, while also gaining insights into viewer’s shopping behaviors on their site. While the Shopify partnership does not currently allow for a fully in app purchase, the expectation is that this will eventually be a reality, similar to the platform’s shoppable livestream with Walmart in December 2020.
Beyond the streamlined experience of shoppable posts and videos, new technology has allowed platforms to take a step further in creating a better shopping experience for consumers on social. Snapchat’s AR based Lenses have grown up since their launch, shifting from a fun way to send your friend a goofy picture to a viable business tool leveraged by major brands. Shoppable AR on Snapchat started as a trial with Gucci in June 2021, but has since seen partnerships with brands such as IKEA and American Eagle. With a roster of brands that range from Dior to Walmart already using their other shoppable features, it appears that Snapchat is well positioned to become a leader in shoppable augmented reality.
Other platforms that have ventured into augmented reality for shopping include Pinterest and Instagram. The biggest advantage for Snapchat’s AR capabilities is the fact that the user base of the platform is well versed in using Lenses and other AR features in the platform, whereas users on other platforms must be educated on the availability and functionality of AR features within the apps. With 71% of shoppers surveyed indicating that they would shop more often as a result of AR shopping capabilities, brands and platforms are keen to offer these options to buyers.
The availability of interactive shopping features within a platform present exciting new opportunities for brands, but are the consumers as interested in social commerce as brands? The data would indicate yes; research from eMarketer and Insider Intelligence expects social commerce to drive $36 billion in retail sales in 2021, accounting for over 4% of all retail ecommerce sales.
Increasing reliance on ecommerce and consumer preferences for convenient, streamlined purchase experiences mean that brands cannot ignore the opportunities presented in social commerce, particularly if they operate within an industry that lends itself to highly visual content and social currency. While apparel and beauty are some of the largest competitors finding traction in social commerce, verticals such as sporting goods, furniture, and even experiences can drive significant value through social commerce.
Shifts in consumer behavior and demands have dictated that brands quickly and effectively deliver ecommerce experiences that impress and excite buyers. Social commerce acts as a catalyst for meeting shopper expectations by removing friction from the buying process; however brands must also be mindful of how they execute through social media and ensure that the quality of experience matches their brand and its associated shopping options.
High quality visuals and accurate product depictions are essential to providing a satisfactory buying experience. The thrill and interest generated by the ability to shop in 3D and augmented reality will be counteracted if the product that arrives after purchase does not match what the consumer viewed. To ensure a consistent and quality experience across all shopping channels, brands
need to find and work with partners who are able to bring their products to life online in truly representative product visuals that function seamlessly within the platforms they are deployed on.
Social shopping has become a regular part of consumers’ purchase habits and is expected to significantly increase as the larger ecommerce ecosystem expands and improves. Brands now have an opportunity to be an impactful player in emerging markets and set the example for how these commerce channels will shape retail for years to come.
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