In the early days of the internet, online shopping was considered unreliable at best and risky at worst. But digital retail and online stores have come a long way in the decades since, including supercharged growth in the past few years. Worldwide e-commerce sales climbed from $2.3 billion in 2017 to $4.2 billion in 2020, and are expected to reach $6.3 billion by the end of 2023, according to Statista.
Meanwhile, the e-commerce world has combined with social media platforms to create a new phenomenon for the modern age: social commerce. This hybridization of social media and e-commerce has clearly contributed to the steadily increasing popularity of online retail. According to research by Accenture, social commerce is expected to become a $1.2 trillion market by 2025.
The more time consumers spend on their favorite social networks, the more appealing it is to be able to shop from their favorite brands right then and there. At the same time, tech giants have cracked down on privacy by eliminating cookies and forcing businesses to prioritize zero-party data. In response, many brands have implemented community and influencer marketing strategies and stretch their budgets further.
This has created a highly competitive environment, requiring brands to master the distinct ins and outs of the many social media platforms where they’re engaging their audiences. In this article, we’ll analyze the state of social media shopping and explore how it’s changing the game for online retailers and e-commerce brands.
What You’ll Learn:
- Social media shopping allows brands to sell directly to consumers through social networks.
- Every major social media platform offers some kind of social shopping functionality.
- Consumer behaviors and the retail landscape are evolving along with social commerce trends.
- Social commerce can be a highly profitable influencer marketing channel if you have the right tools.
What Is Social Media Shopping?
Social media shopping, also known as social commerce, is a subset of e-commerce in which brands sell directly to consumers through social media platforms. Social commerce combines the best aspects of all its components, allowing consumers to engage directly with brands, browse products, and complete purchases within the social networks where they already spend their time.
While increasing sales and conversions is one of the critical goals of any robust marketing strategy, more long-term social commerce goals like improving brand awareness and building highly engaged communities combine the more traditional advertising aspects of social media marketing.
With the advent of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), brands can access even more tools to create captivating content for each social media platform. From generative AI’s ability to boost content creation to personalized recommendations backed by ML models, these technologies use readily available consumer data to move the needle for businesses.
Augmented reality (AR) is another key technology that has leveled up social commerce; it allows online retailers to create immersive and realistic digital experiences that encourage consumers to form deeper brand connections and feel confident in shopping online from the comfort of their homes instead of visiting a store first.
Social commerce happens on virtually every major platform today. Let’s look at a few of the most important social channels in the social shopping space:
From the very first “Buy” button to the arrival of Facebook Marketplace, Meta’s flagship platform has been at the forefront of social media shopping from day one. More recently, Facebook Shops allow retailers to launch digital storefronts right inside the app, without having to build or host their own e-commerce shops on the backend.
For customers, this makes it easy to shop for products and complete orders without ever leaving the Facebook ecosystem. Even in 2023, as social media apps have proliferated and there are tons of platforms for consumers to choose from, Facebook remains the most popular social network with more than 2.9 billion monthly active users.
Instagram, which is now also owned by Meta, has evolved its social media shopping features significantly since it first launched the “Shop Now” button in 2015. Today’s Instagram Shopping platform allows brands to curate collections, design product detail pages, and complete transactions directly in the app instead of forcing customers to click through from Instagram to a website.
Product tags and product pins appear in branded posts, paid ads, and organic user-generated content throughout the shoppable Instagram world, boosting both traffic and sales. And to make things even easier, Instagram integrates with all the major e-commerce platforms like BigCommerce and Shopify.
TikTok has over a billion users and is widely considered one of today’s most popular social media apps. Even though TikTok is something of a newcomer compared to more established apps like Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn, the app has the added benefit of baking commerce into its design essentially from day one.
More than half of TikTok respondents said they were inspired to buy something after seeing it in the app, and there’s even a trending hashtag that represents the potential of TikTok shopping: #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt. TikTok built on that momentum by introducing TikTok Shop, which empowers brands with the social commerce functionality to sell directly to consumers through videos, livestream shopping broadcasts, and dedicated product pages.
5 Ways Social Commerce is Changing the Modern Retail Game
As consumer behaviors have evolved, so have the technologies that allow brands to sell and promote their products and services. At the same time, the introduction of new technologies and tools — like social commerce — have also inspired further changes to consumer behaviors and to the modern retail landscape at large.
For example, as the Gen Z and millennial demographics come of age and continue to accumulate purchasing power, their reliance on social apps is fueling this symbiotic change. According to research by Havas, 64% of Gen Z and millennials have purchased something on social media in the past year.
Let’s look at the five most important ways social commerce changes the game for retailers in the digital age:
#1: Easily Launch Digital Storefronts
Social commerce has also helped make community marketing a realistic and rewarding strategy for brands of all sizes. While household names can afford to play a long-game of building brand recognition and deepening consumer sentiment over time, small businesses, independent brands, and early-stage startups are under pressure to make sales as quickly as possible.
By offering in-app shopping ecosystems where brands can upload their product catalog and host their collections for sale, social commerce makes the full power of community marketing accessible to all kinds of brands. On top of that, paid advertising within each individual social app helps brands boost their shops’ exposure and get their products in front of even wider audiences.
#2: Meet Consumers Where They Are
The onset of the pandemic in 2020 caused the steadily increasing popularity of e-commerce to spike dramatically; all of a sudden, people all over the world were shopping online for things they could no longer buy in-store or in person. Lockdowns also entrenched the public’s reliance on smartphones — and social media apps in particular — to stay connected to what matters most to them.
In the past, the best possible social media marketing outcomes required layer upon layer of conversion to get consumers from social networks to the brand’s e-commerce site. With social commerce, brands can meet consumers where they already spend their time and customers can complete transactions with just a few taps. The process is streamlined for both parties, and the checkout friction that comes from nurturing consumers through multiple touchpoints and across various channels is virtually eliminated.
#3: Attribute Every Sale with In-App Insights
By eliminating that friction and keeping the entire customer journey contained within a single channel, social commerce also makes it easy for brands to attribute each individual transaction with immense accuracy. Purchasing decisions made on e-commerce websites, for example, may leave brands wondering how a customer discovered them, how many touchpoints they went through before completing a purchase, or how much time has passed from initial discovery to final sale.
This is especially challenging in a cookie-less world, where consumer privacy concerns have made attribution tracking incredibly difficult.
Social commerce transactions, on the other hand, start and end inside the social media app. Thanks to in-app analytics, brands can easily and responsibly develop an understanding of how their target audiences interact with their content. Metrics like reach, engagement, and impressions help social media marketers refine their efforts and make more of the posts, reels, and videos that really move the needle.
#4: Build More Meaningful Customer Relationships
Social media shopping helps brands turn potential customers into brand advocates. Selling to consumers through social networks gives brands a direct line to their communities’ honest thoughts and opinions. Let’s not forget that social commerce brings together the best of both sales and community engagement. By combining these efforts in unified marketing strategies, brands can amplify the power of social media to increase brand recognition and reputation.
Building authentic relationships and connecting deeply with consumers in the ways that matter most to them gives brands access to a whole world of partnerships with influencers and creators. Social commerce is the best way to cultivate these impactful connections, driving sales, building community, and opening the floodgates of user-generated content all at the same time.
#5: Leverage Valuable Social Proof
That user-generated content (UGC) doesn’t have to gather dust as a static collection of marketing assets in your social media marketer’s camera roll either. UGC created by social media influencers of all kinds provides valuable social proof that helps influence purchasing decisions for people all over the world. Consumers trust recommendations from other shoppers — including their friends, family, and peers — much more than they trust traditional advertisements.
For that reason, branded content doesn’t have anywhere near the influence as social proof from peers and creators. Whether consumers interact with sponsored content or click on shoppable posts, social commerce is the most common way for the modern public to find out about new products, engage with your brand, and browse and shop to their heart’s content.
How To Make Social Commerce Your Most Profitable Channel
Realizing the full potential of social media shopping and turning UGC into valuable social proof takes the right tools, though. That’s where Archive can help. Archive is an AI-powered social commerce platform that helps brands of all sizes drive sales, boost their reputations, connect with influencers, and achieve sustainable growth in the modern retail world.
With next-gen AI and ML models powering our entire platform, Archive will help you accomplish your social commerce goals right away. Here are just some of the ways we help brands keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving social commerce landscape:
- Automatically detect and collect all the Instagram and TikTok content that tags your brand
- Organize, filter, and sort content based on your priorities, campaigns, and criteria
- Securely share assets with your team, collaborators, partners, and advisors
- Request usage rights for permission to repurpose UGC in your social commerce campaigns
- Super search to find any piece of content that includes a visual element or key phrase
- Create shoppable UGC feeds to embed social proof directly on your e-commerce website
That’s just the beginning. Ready to turn social commerce into your most profitable channel? Get started with a free Archive trial today.