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ECommerceTimes.com

Social Commerce Is Changing How Brands Sell Online

By Thibaud Clément
Mar 4, 2021 5:00 AM PT

Social media has changed how we communicate with friends and family, keep up with everything from fitness trends to news, and share our thoughts and talents with the world. Now, it is changing how and where we shop.

Social commerce -- selling products or services on social media platforms -- is catching on fast. Social shopping grew 35 percent in 2020, with U.S. sales reaching about $38 billion. That number is expected to hit $50 billion by 2023, according to eMarketer.

As impressive as those numbers are, they still pale in comparison to China (suggesting an untapped growth potential), where the live stream commerce market reached $170 billion in 2020, up from $66 billion the prior year.

For brands that haven't yet tried social selling, 2021 is the time to start. Social commerce offers brands the ability to reach new audiences on platforms consumers already use and trust.

Moreover, because it streamlines the sales process by allowing people to discover your brand and make purchases without leaving the platform, social commerce can boost revenue.

Driving the Rise in Social Commerce

Social commerce has been around for more than a decade. Facebook, for example, launched Marketplace for peer-to-peer selling in 2007.

However, several factors are now coming together to fuel a new wave of growth. The pandemic has helped drive a boom in e-commerce, which grew about 40 percent last year, with U.S. sales reaching nearly $210 billion by the third quarter of 2020, according to Statista. The rise in mobile shopping, expected to reach about $3.5 trillion in sales this year, is also having an impact.

These shifts in buying habits reflect a change in mindset as well. For many years, consumers have used social media for window shopping. Brands used social platforms to build awareness, community, trust, and influence; and used e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Walmart, or Shopify to sell.

But the launch of visual-first social platform Pinterest, followed by Instagram, began to blur those boundaries. Instagram's popularity led to the phenomenon of "Instagram brands" that exist only through their presence on the platform. It also gave rise to influencer marketing, with brands partnering with people with a large number of followers to promote their products and services.

Consumers have grown used to seeing product placements and promotions on social media, so it is a natural next step for them to want to shop without going to another platform or branded website. Social media platforms are responding with a slew of features that make social commerce possible, with more on the way.

How to Start Selling on Social Media

Brands that are getting started for the first time with social commerce have more options than they did even a year ago. Choosing which platform is best for your brand's social commerce efforts depends on your existing digital marketing and sales strategies.

You'll want to enable shopping features on platforms where you're already connecting to customers as well as on those where you're most likely to find new ones. Here are some highlights of each to help you get started with social commerce.

Instagram

Instagram's visual nature makes it an excellent tool for featuring products, and the platform is the gold standard when it comes to shoppable posts.

With Instagram Shopping, you can showcase products in organic posts and Instagram Stories. When a user taps on a product sticker in Stories or a tag on your post, they're sent to a product page where you can add information about your product -- images, price, description -- as well as a link that takes them directly to your site to make the purchase.

Last but not least, Instagram Checkout allows users to purchase your products without even leaving Instagram -- just like they do when they make an in-app purchase inside a mobile game.

As more people use Instagram to browse for categories of products, such as when they want to buy a new pair of boots or the perfect lamp for their new apartment, they can discover your products through the Search & Explore feature.

Facebook

Instagram is part of the Facebook ecosystem, and that relationship lets brands benefit from the synergies between the platforms when posting.

Facebook offers similar capabilities through product tags that you can add to your photos and videos. People can select a tag to access the information on the product you've posted and start shopping.

Pinterest

For brands that frequently make changes to their product line, Pinterest can be a great place to start selling.

Pinterest makes it possible to sync information between your website and organic posts with Rich Pins, which comes in handy if you frequently update data such as the prices and descriptions of products. The feature automatically keeps all your pins up-to-date and relevant.

YouTube

This platform may not immediately come to mind when you think of shopping, but it is an exceptional way to highlight products through your videos.

Brands can use cards with links and information that pop up during the video or, as influencers like to say, use "links in the description below." Those sections below a video are also a great spot to include affiliate links.

TikTok

The platform many brands are paying close attention to now is TikTok, and it is rapidly becoming a place for social commerce. TikTok tested shoppable posts in 2019 and rolled out shoppable ads in 2020, allowing users to make purchases without leaving the app.

TikTok's livestream shopping has been a massive success in China, and the platform is now looking to expand the feature in the U.S.

Shopify

The e-commerce boom has been great for Shopify, and the platform has thrown its hat into the social commerce ring as well.

Last month, Shopify announced that it was enabling ShopPay, its secure payments process, for Shopify merchants selling on Facebook and Instagram.

Conclusion

Social media and e-commerce have become ever-growing parts of our lives, and the lines between the two are beginning to blur. Through the vertical integration of commerce on social platforms, customers can purchase the products they discover without leaving the platform.

For brands, social commerce offers the opportunity to engage customers on well-established platforms they trust and streamline the sales process, which can mean a revenue boost.

As social media continues to add features that make it easy for customers to shop in the places they spend time with their family and friends, social media is moving closer to becoming the new shopping mall.


Thibaud Clément is cofounder and CEO of Loomly.


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