The future of commerce is on social media

Cally Archibald, social media strategist at smp, explains how brands can prepare for the future of mobile commerce.

social media

Mobile devices have forever altered the way we search, discover and buy from brands. As we spend more and more of our lives on mobile, our behaviour is shifting to an always-online mindset, allowing us to shop from wherever we are.

But though an astounding 95% of UK citizens use smartphones , mobile commerce (m-commerce) is still low. Particularly when you compare it to developing markets like China and Africa where mobile payments are the norm.

This is set to change fast. Predictions suggest that mobile commerce will overtake desktop soon. Affiliate marketing platform Criteo reported that in the US only 33% of all e-commerce transactions were fulfilled on desktop in 2017, against a towering 59% on mobile. eMarketer, meanwhile, estimates that 59% of global e-commerce sales occur on mobile devices, with the figure set to rise to 73% by 2021.

Social influence

Social media will play a pivotal part in the mainstream uptake of m-commerce. Brands should already be thinking about how to best prepare themselves for a future where socially influenced mobile sales is the mainstay.

Social media has become the go-to place for discovery prior to shopping, with a whopping 81% of UK consumers purchasing a product after seeing it on social media. This is hardly surprising, with consumers in the UK spending an average of two hours per day on social media.

Facebook IQ revealed that 60% of UK fashion consumers research products on mobile before purchasing in store, with 52% undertaking this research on Facebook or Instagram. It also reported that active users frequently incorporate social media during purchase consideration, with many taking into account a brand’s own social channels when evaluating whether to buy from them or not, with many using the platforms to discuss purchases or potential purchases with friends and family.

While the purchase itself rarely takes place directly on social platforms in the UK, due to the lack of a transactional backend, social clearly already plays a key role in discovery and choosing.

Looking at China and the APAC region, where e-marketplaces (from giants such as Alibaba to smaller enterprises such as Tigers Limited) dominate e-commerce, the future of online commerce is almost completely social. China has already trailblazed direct social commerce through WeChat and Weibo, with brands setting up branded shops on these platforms, complete with native search and payment functionalities.

Social media already acts as a space for inspiration, so stumbling across an item on Instagram and purchasing it in a few simple steps seems not only closer than ever, but the desired future. This points to the evolving role of social media, from a place for fun where advertising is at best tolerated to one where product communications are not just native but welcomed.

Platforms are in an arms race, competing to optimise social shopping on a grander scale, easing the discovery process and reducing the number of steps to purchase. From product tagging to buy buttons, social media platforms are opening their APIs to reduce friction and provide a more seamless shopping experience.

Instagram’s product tagging feature allows brands and influencers to tag specific items of clothing and link to the product on their website, helping users identify products and tap through to buy. Facebook has also been testing direct commerce features through Instagram, in areas where fulfilment is less complex, such as booking cinema tickets, or salon appointments, signifying that integration across third party providers is on its way.

Pinterest has introduced Lens, featuring built-in object recognition technology, that allows users to identify products before serving them with related pins, aiding search and discovery. Snapchat’s exclusive partnership with Amazon similarly uses image recognition technology to analyse snapped products, redirecting users to the Amazon store, where they can complete purchases in a few clicks.

Social media platforms across the board are investing in new ad formats, from stories to 360 video to live features, in order to make the experience of browsing more appealing than ever.

So how can brands tap into social commerce?

It’s clear that social is now a crucial touchpoint for every stage in the shopper journey, from discovery and evaluation, right through to the final purchase. To win at social commerce, brands need to ensure their content strategy satisfies each stage of the path to purchase.

Consumers interact with brands in a number of ways: by following them and interacting with them, sharing items they have purchased, and asking for help. But brands need to also consider how to appeal to non-vocal customers and think beyond customer service. Specifically, brands need to think more about the discovery and consideration phases of the shopper journey.

Looking at discovery, brands who treat their social feeds like a shop window – with gorgeous imagery and videos – stand to win out. Net-A-Porter and MR Porter are possibly the most illustrious retailers on social media. This is largely down to THE EDIT and Journal, the two magazines produced by the retailers, which form part of the content that occupies their social channels. The editorial draws in prospective customers by simply offering more than just a product showcase. Net-A-Porter completes this with high-budget video content, another example of how to capture shoppers’ imaginations.

For consideration, make sure you are surfacing content that adds weight to a user’s purchase decision. User-generated content, testimonials and influencer collaborations are a great way to give users ‘social proof.’ HeyHuman recently conducted an eye-tracking experiment which demonstrated that users pay attention to user comments on a given post when evaluating how they feel about it.

Lime Crime, the vegan and cruelty-free makeup brand, is leading the way in encouraging and leveraging user generated content. By establishing the all-important two-way narrative that not only considers and engages its customers, but actively makes them a part of the brand’s narrative, Lime Crime has established word-of-mouth credibility, while also showcasing how their products can be used on different people with different styles.

As consumers continue to embrace mobile shopping, the power of social media to influence purchase decisions will only increase. Social platforms will, without doubt, continue to introduce new features on their way to achieving true direct social-to-purchase capabilities. Thinking beyond mere advertising is pivotal. Brands need to ensure they occupy all stages of the social shopping journey with relevant content, integrating a shopper focus into their existing social strategy.

* smp is a marketing agency specialising in creative solutions that influence shopper behaviour.

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