Over the years social media has become more and more ingrained into the fabric of society. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have allowed us to form virtual personas and connect with people and brands digitally. With use of these platforms being so normalized for social interactions, it should come as no surprise that consumers are now turning to social media for another social experience.
As mobile phones increasingly become shopping tools, people are now turning to social media to gather information, discover new brands and even make purchases.
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With social commerce becoming a prominent feature of the shopping experience, this article will dive into the top trends retailers should be aware of for 2021.
What is Social Commerce?
Social commerce, put simply, is the process of selling products via social media. It allows consumers to discover, research, and purchase all within the social app or website. These capabilities can currently be found on all major social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and Snapchat.
Driving this trend forward unsurprisingly are the digital natives; Millennials and Gen Z. 97% of Gen Z cited social media as their top source of shopping inspiration and half of surveyed Millennials said they use social media while shopping.
Taking a broader view, it seems that social media is primarily used in the research and discovery stages of the shopping process, with 44% of global users turning to social media for brand research, and 60% of Instagram users using the platform to discover new products. TikTok also seems to be an up-and-coming social shopping force with the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit racking up 2.3 billion views. Furthermore, there are indicators which suggest that people are also using social media to make purchases.
Social commerce is already proving to be a lucrative space for retailers. Statista reports that in 2020, social commerce sales in the US reached nearly $27 billion, and by 2025 this number is expected to skyrocket to $79.6 billion - that’s 5.2% of total eCommerce sales in the US.
So with all this promise, let’s dig into the ways you can take social commerce to new heights this year.
Top Social Commerce Trends
As we’ve seen, social media is a key tool for consumers when it comes to product research. Brands can take this aspect of the shopping experience even further by utilizing user-generated content (UGC).
UGC is any type of content created by people, not brands. This includes images, videos, and product reviews. With 70% of consumers trusting peer recommendations over professionally produced content, UGC is going to be a key feature of social commerce this year. In fact, over 86% of companies are already using it as part of their marketing strategy.
Red Dress features tons of UGC on their Instagram page, all of which are shoppable. (Source: Red Dress Instagram)
Shoppable UGC is the next frontier when it comes to shoppable posts on social platforms. This is where posts of real people using or wearing products are featured on a company’s social media channels with links to buy embedded within the post. Not only does this respond to the 56% of consumers who want to see this type of content from brands, it also makes for much more engaging content. On YouTube, UGC fan content gets 10x more views than official brand content, UGC on Facebook gains 6.9x higher engagement, and UGC posts on social channels have a 28% greater engagement rate. With over 50% of people creating content daily, it's clear what a treasure trove shoppable UGC can be for social commerce.
Shoppable videos and live-streaming
Across all social media channels, video tends to be the most engaging content. Instagram posts with videos receive almost twice as much engagement than their photo and carousel counterparts, Pinterest users are 2.6x more likely to make a purchase after viewing product videos, and Facebook videos earn the highest engagement rate of all content on the platform at 6.09%. It should therefore come as no surprise that videos will play an increasingly greater role in social commerce.
The most intriguing use of video in social commerce, which is also taking user-generated content to new heights, is live-streaming. We can take a look at China to see how live-streaming is becoming a commerce engine. Here, influencers promote and sell products at discounted prices via live streams on their own social channels. The streams last for about four hours, and the hosts demonstrate the product, explain the features, and answer questions from viewers. This form of social commerce is booming in China with annual sales reaching $60 billion.
Typically, the west is the global trendsetters of all things media, but more and more we can look to Asia for inspiration, particularly in places like China where social commerce is at a more mature stage. International brands have already dabbled in China’s live-streaming market with great success. Estée Lauder managed to sell $300 million worth of products in one day with a 2-for-1 discount.
Taking a page out of China’s book is the eCommerce giant, Amazon. Amazon Live has its own dedicated page where hosts demonstrate products, talk about them whilst in use, and interact with viewers via chat. Viewers can immediately purchase the items they see on the live stream. (Source: Amazon Live)
Interestingly, live-streaming has already begun seeping into the eCommerce world outside of China. Amazon launched Amazon Live, a live-streaming project which helps brands and influencers connect with shoppers in real-time with interactive shoppable videos. These can be found on the Amazon Live homepage, as well as on product detail pages. Facebook Live streams can also be made shoppable with Jumper.ai.
Shoppable videos have also been a feature of channels like YouTube and Instagram for some time, however, newer short-form video platforms have taken strides to incorporate commerce capabilities. TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify in late 2020, and this year Instagram made posts on Reels shoppable. These progressions will surely see companies doubling down on video commerce efforts in 2021.
Seemingly in a bid to match up with TikTok, Instagram introduced shoppable Reels. (Source: The Verge)
One of the major pitfalls of traditional eCommerce is the inability for customers to get a real sense of how a product will look on them or in their home. Savvy businesses will see the opportunity social media presents in resolving this problem - augmented reality.
A standard feature on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, AR filters are typically used by users to post fun videos of an altered version of themselves. This year, however, we will increasingly see brands turning to this feature as a try-before-you-buy extension of social commerce. Snapchat has already made this an easy possibility, and brands such as Gucci, MAC and Dior are taking full advantage of this.
Luxury brands like Gucci are using AR filters on Snapchat to enhance the social commerce experience. (Source: The Drum)
Although chatbots may not be new, they have made leaps and bounds since their inception. Many chatbots are now AI-powered, meaning that they are better able to carry a conversational tone and make user-specific suggestions. In 2021, we could increasingly see brands turning to them not only as a customer service tool but also as a tool to upsell or cross-sell products and guide customers through the purchasing process.
Social commerce merchants using Facebook and Instagram can add such functions with Jumper.ai. On Instagram, this chatbot allows merchants to share curated collections in messages, share cart and order details, and use public comments to identify purchase intent and information needs as a basis to initiate conversation. On Facebook, the AI also facilitates in-messenger shopping, enables interactive shopping on Facebook Live, and can detect shopping intent on comments to trigger conversations. This technology is already being employed by some major brands, in fact, L’Oréal was able to generate one month’s worth of sales in 24hrs using Jumper AI.
Jumper AI brings commerce to social messaging services like Facebook Messenger. (Source: Jumper.ai)
Deploying chatbots in this way can act as a direct response to consumers' needs for personalization, something that is relatively difficult to achieve via social media due to the lack of control businesses have over its infrastructure. Considering that 49% of shoppers make impulse buys after receiving personalized recommendations and 91% of them are more likely to shop with brands that offer personalized experiences, AI-powered chatbots will be an invaluable tool in social commerce.
For years, influencer marketing has been big business on social media for brands aiming to tap into niches with a more human facet to their social commerce efforts. However, as these long-time influencers have amassed huge fame and followers, and brands are not seeing the same ROI results as they used to. This is perhaps due to inflated costs of using influencers with huge followings, or because of the perceived lack of genuineness of mega influencers. Brands, therefore, may see themselves turning more towards micro-influencers for social media clout.
The power of mega influencers seems to not be what was often perceived to be. For Instagram influencers, as the number of followers decreases, the average engagement rate increases. (Source: Hype Auditor)
Micro-influencers represent quality over quantity. They have a comparatively smaller following - typically 10k-50k - connect with their followers more frequently, and have more niche content in comparison to their larger counterparts. All of these result in higher engagement rates. 82% of social media users say they are highly likely to follow a micro-influencer’s recommendations, proving that they pack a bigger punch.
Social commerce is no longer in its infancy, a multitude of businesses - big and small - are establishing their shoppable presence on social platforms. Thus, the problem brands will face is figuring out a way to cut through the noise and stand out from the crowd. Formulating rich brand stories on social channels will be the way sharp businesses overcome this issue.
From this graph, we can see that storytelling is an effective way to get into the hearts and minds of consumers, with shoppers across all ages most likely to consider purchasing from a brand in the future if they are presented with a story they love. (Source: State of Digital)
With the use of comprehensive customer data, brands will create customer personas to suss out the needs, wants, hopes and desires of their customers, matching these to the brand story to form an emotional connection.
Stories could be centered around local community advocacy, eco-friendliness or well-being, for example. Reposts and hashtags that encourage followers to share posts which help to tell the brand story will be a leading way to leverage storytelling.
Seamless and customized shopping experiences
Consumer expectations are constantly rising, and one of the ways this has manifested is in the demand for seamless, customized shopping experiences across all channels. Consumers now anticipate the actions they do across multiple channels to be remembered and reflected as they hop from one to another. This is known as having an omnichannel presence. Therefore, social commerce will inform the type of content users view on other channels such as a store website or mobile app. Additionally, any communication customers have with chatbots or representatives on social platforms will need to be retained as they continue the conversations over the phone or via email.
If a customer has liked, commented, or purchased an item through social media, recommendations and landing pages will take these interactions into account to enable a user-specific experience. To meet these demands, tech companies have begun developing systems to tap into social commerce to generate intent-based landing pages. One of them is Curalate, a company - now acquired by Bazaarvoice - that provides tools that use AI to create pop-up landing pages for brands to link to on social media. These pages present users with the products they have shown interest in through social interactions alongside a select few related items.
The Showroom tool uses AI to create a tailored page of products related to the item on the social post. (Source: Business Wire)
Brands such as Banana Republic, Guess, and David’s Bridal have tested this tool with great success. Bounce rates fell by up to 53% and time spent on-site of shoppers who used these curated landing pages increased by 45%.
The world of social media is constantly changing. As technology advances and the way in which people consume content evolves, it is vital for e-merchants to be in the loop and understand the impacts these changes have on social commerce. Paying attention and responding to emerging social commerce trends will put your business in the primary position to acquire new customers and skyrocket your sales.