Whether you're selling fashion accessories, upscale electronics, or consumer packaged goods, you're probably working in a competitive market.
It can be hard to find an edge – and even more difficult to keep it – with the competition, consumers, and cultural trends moving at such a rapid pace.
Thankfully, there's a great way to stake an e-commerce claim that lets you move fast and authentically engage with consumers to drive up sales and conversions. Even better – you probably already have at least one foot in the door with this tool, which is social commerce.
Social commerce is growing at a fast rate
Social commerce accounted for $22 billion in sales in 2019, and that's expected to grow to more than $67 billion by 2023 – more than a 200% increase in just five years. Compare that to growth in the overall retail e-commerce industry, which in 2023 is expected to be around 85%. Social commerce is going to be increasingly important to online sellers.
What is social commerce?
Social commerce is not the same thing as social media marketing. Social media marketing is an effort to engage consumers and expand brand reach and awareness so people remember you when it's time to make a purchase. Social commerce is about making the conversion or sale within the social platform.
Social commerce platforms
One benefit of social commerce is that you can use existing platforms and tools to drive it. People are already on these platforms, and many are adopting new technology and security that supports buying and selling. Here are five popular social media sites to consider.
According to Pew Research, Instagram is the third-most used social media platform after Facebook and YouTube, with around 37% of adults in the U.S. using it regularly. People of all ages use Instagram, but it’s more popular among young people than older adults. Around 67% of people ages 18-29 report using the platform, compared to about 47% of people ages 30-49.
Some social commerce features include:
Buy now, learn more, and other link options on Stories and ads
Shoppable posts that let users complete the buying process without leaving Instagram
Pinterest is an image-based platform that makes it easy to share items from around the web. Pew Research indicates that women are more likely to use Pinterest than men, and around one-third of adults ages 18-64 use it. Only about 15% of seniors use this platform.
Some social commerce features include:
Rich pins that pull pertinent shopping information from your e-commerce store and let users navigate directly to product buy pages
Pew Research data indicates that Facebook user rates are higher than for any other social media platform other than YouTube. At least three out of four adults ages 18-49 report using this network, and approximately half or more of seniors use Facebook.
Snapchat is a social media platform that skews heavily toward younger audiences. Around 62% of people between 18 and 29 say they use the platform, but only a quarter of people between 30-49 truly do. It drops off to less than 10% for older adults.
Some social commerce features include:
Native commerce features that enable users to buy direct from influencers
Buy now, learn more, and other linking options for some ads and Stories
TikTok is the new kid on the block when it comes to both social media and social commerce, and its audience skews even younger than Snapchat's. Around 60% of American TikTok users are aged 16 to 24.
Some social commerce features include:
Potential for shoppable videos, which are in beta
Ability to add links to e-commerce sites via profile bio links
Unique features of social commerce
You'll notice that many of the features listed for the sites above overlap or are the same. But you don't find these features on many other sites, because they’re specifically designed for social platforms. They enable the user to complete as much of the buying journey in the social platform as possible, increasing the efficiency that you can move someone from marketing message to purchasing decision and then final conversion.
1. Buy buttons
Buy buttons are CTA links that make it easy for someone to move from the social posts to the product or buy page. Sometimes the person never has to leave the social media platform to complete the purchase.
An example of a buy button is the swipe-up option that businesses can get on Instagram story posts. If you have a business Instagram account and 10,000+ followers, you can add swipe-ups to your story posts. And those can link directly to your e-commerce store or product pages that match the information in your stories.
2. Shoppable galleries and stories
Shoppable galleries and stories provide even more powerful commerce capabilities. You can include products in these galleries, and people can shop directly from the posts.
Pinterest, for example, is designed to be a shoppable gallery in and of itself. You can create boards of different product categories and display your products on them with links to buy pages. Other social sites, including Instagram and Facebook, are catching up by rolling out features that let you create shopping options within each post.
3. Multiple tagging
Tagging typically refers to the action of mentioning another account with an @ or #. Most social media sites support multiple tagging, letting you add numerous hashtags so people interested in those particular items can find your products when they browse the social network. That feature alone can help support social commerce.
But some sites let you tag within images multiple times, including potentially tagging them with links. For example, if someone is approved for Instagram shopping, they can see shoppable tags in posts. A fashion e-commerce shop might post a picture of a woman and tag her jeans, purse, and shoes so users can click to learn more or purchase any of those items.
4. Active user participation
Social commerce is social. In contrast, traditional e-commerce is passive; it involves you putting products out on a site and marketing them. People find your site when they're looking for the products and make a purchase.
Social commerce involves more active user participation. For example, on Facebook, people can like, share, and comment on your posts. They may participate with your brand long before they make a purchase, or they might become an unofficial brand ambassador who champions your products by sharing them with others.
5. Messenger app customer support
Live chat support is a favorite for many customers because it provides instant gratification. More than 90% of consumers say using chat support makes them more satisfied than when communicating with a brand any other way. Since chat and direct messaging are already major features on social media platforms, it's a must-have and must-use for social commerce.
Social e-commerce increasing conversions
Social media can help drive conversions, especially from younger consumers who are hungry to engage with brands and want transparency and authenticity. Here are a few ways that social e-commerce can be good for your brand.
1. Drive authentic engagement
Social is a two-way street, and that breeds authenticity. Consumers can get to know your brand on a more personal level, which means they feel more like they're dealing with or buying from people rather than a corporation or faceless brand.
In a world where faceless connections and automations run much of the day, people crave genuine engagement. In fact, 90% of consumers say authenticity is critical to their decision to buy from a brand. Yet there's a disconnect, with 92% of marketers believing they generate original content but consumers saying only around half of the businesses do a good job with this.
It turns out social media (and social commerce) is a good answer to this conundrum. That's because consumers view user-generated content as the most authentic. That's the content that comes from your interaction with consumers on social platforms.
2. Build deeper trust and loyalty
The two-way conversation street that lets consumers get to know you boosts trust and loyalty. You're not just an online business; you're an entity that's connected to your consumers through shared social experience. That makes them more likely to support you by buying, buying often, or sharing your business with others.
3. Reduce friction in the customer experience
Online shoppers want experiences that work seamlessly and quickly. To understand just how seamless consumers want their shopping experience, consider the results of an NCC Group case study that looked at how improving website performance helped increase the bottom line for frozen meal company COOK.
NCC Group worked with COOK to reduce page load speeds by less than one second – 850 milliseconds, to be exact. You'd think that would be unnoticeable to consumers. Still, that change led to a 7% increase in conversion rates and a 10% increase in engagement. Plus, it reduced bounce rates – the rate at which people navigated away from the page without taking any action on it – by 7%.
What involves less friction than browsing a lighting-fast e-commerce store? Going straight from the social page to the buy page. Or even better, purchasing without leaving the social platform at all.
Best practices for social commerce
Social commerce isn't a magic trick. You can't learn a quick movement of hands and a flashy word and start raking in the conversions. You have to be committed and lean on proven best practices to make this tactic work for your e-commerce business.
1. Empower your customers by sharing user-generated content
Share user-generated content and encourage your customers to do the same to get the conversation started. Some ideas include:
Posting polls and questions to prompt discussions
Creating contests or giveaways that involve users sharing posts or pictures
Choosing hashtags related to your brand and encouraging people to use them when they post. This includes responding to them, sharing their content, and thanking them when they do.
2. Drive growth with influencer marketing
Close to 90% of marketers say that ROI from influencer marketing is equal to or better than the ROI they experience with other channels. That's likely due in part to the fact that consumers are more willing to trust online reviews than brand advertising.
Offering influencers monetary compensation or free items for posting about your products can pay off big, especially on Instagram. And if you're involved in social commerce and engaging with your consumers, you can find people who are already loyal to your brand and willing to talk about it.
3. Use multiple measurement tools to track success
One of the dangers of social media is that it's easy to get wrapped up in the wrong numbers. A million likes and shares aren't valuable if you're not converting any of those users. Make sure you're using a well-rounded approach to analytics. For social commerce to succeed, you need people to:
See your posts
Care about your posts enough to engage with them
React to your posts with likes, shares, and comments
Answer your calls to action and make purchases
Don't forget about the added benefits of an e-commerce platform
Social commerce is an awesome tool, but it can't be the foundation upon which you rest your entire e-commerce business. You don't own the social platforms, which means you don't control them. You need an e-commerce platform to help support your business for several reasons.
1. Provide better customer support
People can always contact you via your e-commerce platform, regardless of what happens with your or their social account. And while social is immediate and authentic, it's not always as flexible as your e-commerce site.
2. Complete control of online business
You control your online business when you launch it from an e-commerce platform and use social as a sales tool. If you launch your business from a social platform, then the social platform ultimately has a lot of control over your business, including:
Who sees your products and content
How you can engage with consumers
What types of offers you might be allowed to make in the future
3. Secure environment
One of the biggest drawbacks of social commerce is security concerns. While social channels are certainly stepping up in this regard, and consumers are becoming more comfortable buying and sharing on social platforms, a good e-commerce platform is still much more secure.
4. Collect rich customer insights
When you engage in a social environment only, you don't get the full benefit of customer insights. That's because a lot of the data associated with your transactions belongs to the social network, and you only see what they decide to share. When transactions ultimately happen on your e-commerce platform, you're better able to capture insights and use them for future marketing campaigns.
4. Integrate a robust content marketing strategy
Social platforms limit how much and in what ways you can share with your audience. Integrating social commerce with site-based e-commerce lets you create more robust content marketing. You can then link to it from your social media.
5. Reach new customers with SEO
That on-page content marketing doesn't just serve the audience following social links. It helps you rank in the search engines, which is critical to success. Social commerce might be growing rapidly, but Google still beats social platforms when it comes to driving overall sales.
Integrate social commerce to build the best e-commerce website
Google drives about 20% of total e-commerce sales. But Facebook and Instagram drive an impressive 10% of sales, which makes social commerce a critical contender.
The best e-commerce websites integrate social. The e-commerce store is a base – like a physical storefront would be. Social channels are the arms that reach out from that base to expand engagement – like regional sales reps would in a physical store environment.
Ultimately, the goal is to have all pieces of your marketing and sales strategy working together as seamlessly as possible. That means integrating social and striving to make shopping the most seamless online experience for consumers as possible.
Social commerce allows brands to sell to customers where they are already spending a lot of their time: Social platforms. While social commerce boasts major returns it still lacks key benefits that an e-commerce solution can provide. The best digital strategy is to marry the two channels and have them work together.
Leigh-Anne Truitt is an SEO Specialist at BigCommerce where she researches and discovers strategies to increase organic traffic. Prior to joining the e-commerce industry, Leigh-Anne perfected her marketing skills at The University of Texas at Austin and CanIRank.