Using social media to raise brand awareness and drive direct engagement with customers has been a core strategy for large retailers and smaller boutiques for years, and this trend is only set to continue. Facebook and Instagram advertising spend alone is expected to reach a staggering $95 billion by 2021.
Recently, however, have we seen retailers using the platforms to directly drive sales, signalling a move towards social commerce becoming a more central component of their go- to-market strategy. Every major social media company has developed new tools and integrated shopping features for their respective platforms; Pinterest now has a purchase function built into its site, Instagram offers an integrated shopping platform, while Snapchat keeps adding shopping capabilities to its offering.
Before retailers and brands can capitalise on these growing social marketplaces however, they will need to acquaint themselves with the intricacies of the different social commerce platforms and build a bespoke presence and offering for each.
The benefits of social commerce
Traditionally, ecommerce has not been overtly social. Rather than entering a physical store where you engage with a resident salesperson, consumers have shopped alone online, isolated from external opinion.
Social media gives retailers the opportunity to build that all important connection with their customers, giving inspiration for the product purchases. In fact, over 600 million people now seek out new products on Instagram alone, and this is especially important for lifestyle-focused retailers, such as clothing, home and luxury goods operators.
Brands already succeeding in their social media strategy understand the importance of tailored and creative two-way communication with their target audience. River Island just saw a 45 per cent increase in average orders after introducing shoppable social content for their site, for example.
What brands need to learn now is how to create a seamless customer experience on social marketplaces so that buyers can go from inspiration to purchase in one go.
People often use social media to research products that they then go on to purchase in either ecommerce or brick-and-mortar stores. The power of “social referral” within a customer’s purchase journey should not be underestimated. In fact, social referral to ecommerce sites has outpaced all other referral sites, having grown by 110 per cent over the past two years.
As bricks-and-mortar retail continues to face turbulence, developing an effective social commerce strategy will be the key to surviving.
Using social media to generate direct sales
Developments in social commerce tools have opened up an entirely new sales stream and mean that brands and retailers can now implement shoppable advertising campaigns through social media.
Imagine watching a make-up tutorial on YouTube and being able to instantly purchase the products highlighted. This type of functionality is already available on some platforms. Instagram users can now purchase products directly on the platform via it’s ‘checkout’ function. For fledgling direct-to-consumer brands, who may not have the resources to build their own ecommerce site, this is a game changer.
Each platform’s social commerce tool is different, and can be used in specific ways to target audiences and consumers. Therefore, as part of a wider marketing strategy, it is important to target those media channels which make most sense for your brand and the audience you’re trying to reach.
For example, Instagram users experience brand content as they scroll through their regular feed, while Pinterest shoppers typically use the platform to search for ideas and inspiration. Understanding how bespoke content needs to be tailored to specific platforms, as well as how to do it in a personalised, story-telling form is paramount.
Optimising product inventory and offering
As social commerce gains traction across different social platforms, some brands may find it difficult to maintain an effective presence across them all, particularly as content needs to be tailored to each platform.
Brands need to ensure that images are correctly configured, product information is clear and consistent, and that data is compliant. Retailers also need to understand what unique content specifications each platform requires, which will vary hugely across the different social media platforms.
It will be important for brands to grasp and understand what specific purpose of each platform in order to accommodate how consumers engage with content. However, the need for product data to remain uniform across channels is just as important.
Retailers should therefore look to using feed management partners to manage and maintain their product inventory across social commerce platforms.
The future of retail?
The future of retail is inextricably tied to the development of social commerce. Research from Deutsche Bank has forecasted Instagram alone to boost ecommerce sales by as much as $10 billion in the near future. This suggests that social commerce is likely to increase its overall market share and impact going forward.
Most of the hurdles currently associated with social commerce come from lack of experience in using the new shopping features. However, as brands become more familiar and comfortable engaging with these platforms, social commerce could quickly become the norm. Those ignoring its growing influence do so at their peril.
Marcel Hollerbach, CMO, Productsup