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How businesses can leverage social commerce to boost sales

(Image credit: Image Credit: StockSnap / Pixabay)

In a world where the consumer expects a more seamless shopping experience than ever before, shopping directly via social media is the natural next step.

After all, consumers already use social media to discover new brands, engage with those they already know, and to research products before a purchase; Salesforce data suggests that over half of millennials do this. Meanwhile, Business Insider Intelligence research shows that social networks are the fastest-growing channel for driving traffic to retail websites, and the world’s top 500 retailers earned nearly £5 billion in revenue from social shopping in 2017 – an increase of 24 per cent on the year before.

However, using social media to raise awareness and direct browsers to an online store is one thing – converting those browsers into buyers is quite another. The challenge of how best to turn social media ‘likes’ into measurable sales has been top of the priority list for quite some time.

Shortening the customer journey

Shoppable posts provide an answer. Instagram launched these in March last year, enabling retailers to ‘tag’ their products in posts with a direct link to the relevant listing on their site. In turn, customers can go from social media post to purchase with two taps of their smartphone screen. The brand’s latest ‘checkout’ update, launched just 12 months after the first, now gives consumers the opportunity to buy products without even leaving the Instagram app – further reducing the friction between impulse and purchase.

Meanwhile, Snapchat announced three new ecommerce developments last autumn, one of which was its own version of shoppable posts. Potentially even more exciting was a visual product search feature, launched in partnership with Amazon. Enabling Snapchat users to scan physical objects via their app in order to bring up product information, price and similar items, as well as clicking through to an Amazon ecommerce page, the feature suggests an innovative and informative approach to social commerce.

Short and seamless customer journeys are one of the core features of effective online retail. Shopping cart abandonment is an issue which affects almost three quarters (74 per cent) of online retail sales, so even tiny reductions in this phenomenon could result in drastically improved business bottom lines. Shopping directly via social media removes a number of pain-points on the customer journey, building shorter links than ever before between a specific product that catches a consumer’s eye, and a completed purchase of that product.

Considering that UK retailers enjoy an average social media reach of over one million, the growth opportunities are tremendous for businesses who can take advantage of this new trend. But how do they go about this?

Engage and re-engage

It is common for businesses to focus their social media marketing activity and budgets primarily on the acquisition of new customers – and easy to understand why. New customers are rocket fuel to retailers’ bottom lines, after all. But savvy retailers also focus these efforts on re-engaging with existing and past customers. Building loyal, long-term relationships and encouraging consumers to make repeat purchases underpins stable revenue growth. There are numerous different ways that brands can use social media to achieve this. All depend on intelligent harnessing of social media data analytics.

Curation is key

Social media websites and applications are dominated by the visual. For social commerce to be effective, retailers need to ensure that their streams look great and are bespoke to their target audience, too.

To encourage maximum engagement per post – and associated shoppable tags and stories - brands should take inspiration from how style catalogues are laid out, carefully curating each post on a feed to encourage seamless browsing. Zara does this very well.

A business’s feed can also be combined with Instagram Stories to provide the customer with more detailed information on corresponding products (such as price, materials or colours) to engage and convert customers drawn in initially by the feed.

Optimise mobile payments

The majority of social media engagement happens on mobile devices – so payment methods need to be optimised with this in mind.

Indeed, research shows that 24 per cent of consumers abandon their transactions at checkout because the retailer didn't offer their preferred payment choices. However, we found that 23 per cent of retailers are failing to offer a payment choice other than a mainstream credit or debit card.

Providing options such as Apple Pay, PayPal and financing options like Klarna are crucial here, as they significantly reduce the potential for customer drop-off at the point of purchase.

Encourage social sharing

Brands should be leveraging the power of ‘user-generated content’; encouraging their customers to share images of the products they have purchased. This has the knock-on effect of increased reach for the brand by customers becoming ‘micro influencers’ to their own networks. Brands can encourage this through the use of branded #hashtags and photo competitions.

However, we found that a significant number of retailers do not facilitate shoppers being able to share their purchases and wish lists through social media.

Almost a fifth (17 per cent) of the leading UK e-retailers lose the opportunity to achieve sales from a shopper’s network of friends and contacts by failing to put sharing buttons on their sites. This figure has increased by 4 per cent vs. 2017 – a surprising fact given the increasing role these platforms are playing in shopper behaviour.

It’s time to seize the social commerce opportunity

Amidst a raft of high-street store closures, which are driving an increasing number of brands to place a greater focus on online, the e-commerce space has never been more competitive.

To stand out in this saturated marketplace, businesses must be proactive in selling directly to their customers and – in our ever more connected society – that is likely to be on social media.

As consumers get increasingly savvier when it comes to avoiding overt advertising methods, it’s important that retailers take full advantage of features, such as Instagram Shopping, to engage natively with their core audience. This will have a significant positive impact on bottom lines and ensure they are fit for the future of e-commerce.

Daniel Dixon, head of social media, Visualsoft (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: StockSnap / Pixabay

Daniel Dixon is head of social media at leading e-commerce digital marketing agency, Visualsoft.