Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Why social commerce is becoming a mainstream retail channel

By Rachel Millar, Social and Creative Lead, Loud Mouth Media

Social media gets more powerful every year, and currently there are 45 million active users in the UK regularly scrolling to catch up with friends, share milestones and more recently to shop. Up until now, the main shopping experience could only really take place by exiting the platforms to enter a brand or retailer website, but this is no longer the case.

Today, social platforms are ready to close the gap and allow users to browse and purchase items seamlessly as part of a complete turnkey social media experience. This development has the potential to transform the way consumers buy online and is the future of social commerce.

It is estimated that 90% of people buy from brands that they follow on social media. Therefore, it’s clear that the businesses that embrace social commerce will be the real winners in customer acquisition and retention in the long term.

What’s more, COVID-19 has accelerated existing trends in shopper behaviour and led to an estimated extra £5.3bn being spent via Ecommerce in the UK alone in 2020. The fallout from the pandemic has forced more people online than ever before, with early figures suggesting that this behaviour is set to continue even after lockdown is over.

Social commerce is the future 

With half the world’s population active on at least one social media platform and its reach virtually unparalleled, this has created a huge Ecommerce opportunity. The rise in social commerce is inevitable as that’s where the majority of people are now spending their time. Over the last couple of years and especially over the last 12 months, more people are spending time online and have therefore created a social buying culture. Because of this, more brands are now making it a priority to have a social media presence.

Never before has the retail and Ecommerce sector been able to reach such a substantial global audience, with social commerce now the latest growing trend among modern retailers. Ecommerce businesses are using social platforms to engage with both existing and potential audiences, and have carved it into another channel of sales and revenue.

Now that even traditional brick and mortar stores are turning to online sales, social commerce is helping businesses to create an innovative substitute to the high street experience we have lost. This allows them to not only continue trading, but to still maintain their engagement and connectivity with their audiences through personalised campaigns and ad formats.

Today, social platforms want their users to be able to browse, shop and purchase seamlessly within their platforms. This development has the potential to transform the way we buy online. Social platforms are creating an Ecommerce environment that isn’t just bespoke and informative, but also brand-friendly. Popular Ecommerce platforms, such Amazon and Etsy however, lack this and produce thousands of results in response to a search which leads to competition over pricing, shipping, and other factors, often leaving little time for creating a connection with consumers.

To better understand this, experts in Ecommerce, Initials, surveyed an audience of British shoppers and found that almost two in three consumers would be more likely to purchase from a brand if they could browse and shop within a social media platform.

COVID-19 and online shopping 

Moving forward, the evolution of Ecommerce is not expected to slow down. In fact, 64% of small businesses plan to continue their new Ecommerce strategies into 2021 and beyond.

It’s no surprise that social commerce has thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. While short-term solutions have been key, it is becoming increasingly clear that the crisis will permanently shape the societal and economic order of the future. Purchasing behaviour is changing rapidly, and while some of these trends were already advancing before the pandemic, we are seeing an acceleration that will lead to a new way of shopping for many.

Companies that invest in their businesses and make behavioural changes can capture market shares and emerge as industry leaders post-pandemic. Social commerce success is not limited to creative business sectors or those with large social media followings. It is the quality of the campaigns that will see brands reach success, and investment in their creative resources is encouraged, in order to compete with other brands offering similar products and services.

Shopping habits have changed for the better 

All major social media platforms have developed Ecommerce capabilities, with Pinterest catalogues, Facebook and Instagram shops and TikTok’s partnership with Shopify now in place to enable online sales. Making purchasing items as convenient as possible can also be achieved by using on-platform store fronts (collection ads) to showcase more of the product range on offer in an easily consumed format. This also adopts a more personal approach to the ad content and includes the likes of buy-now-pay-later services like Klarna to encourage the sale.

Using technology like contactless payments, in-store shopping appointments and delivery or pick-up options has also replaced 94% of Point of Sale (POS) revenue lost in the first six weeks of the pandemic with online sales.

The retail landscape in the UK is evolving at pace, with the younger generation of shoppers more aware and connected than their elders. They expect more from the brands they buy from and want to make choices that have a positive impact on communities, the environment and society as a whole.

Commerce has become so much more than just a transaction, it is an interaction between a business and its customer, and those who fail to adapt will undoubtedly be left behind. 2020 was the year for short-term solutions, and now 2021 is the time to put those solutions into practice and make way for change. The shopping experience has evolved from what it was 12 months ago, and its success and convenience means it is here to stay and even bigger advances are still to come.