The Next Generation of
SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BECOME A STAPLE OF ONLINE MARKETING IN RECENT YEARS, WITH GLOSSY INSTAGRAM GRIDS AND SNAPPY FACEBOOK STATUSES CREATING AN INSTANT LINK BETWEEN BRANDS AND SOCIAL MEDIA USERS. AND NOW, BUILDING ON ASPIRATIONAL YET RELATABLE INFLUENCER CULTURE, LUXURY AND LIFESTYLE RETAILERS ARE TAKING THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE ONE STEP FURTHER—CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMAN AND OFFERING CUSTOMERS AN OPTIMIZED AND SEAMLESS ONLINE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE.
What is social commerce?
Quite simply, social commerce means selling products through social media, often without consumers even having to leave the platform. Picture this: you’re sitting on the subway, waiting for a friend or simply enjoying some downtime at home. Smartphone in hand, you scroll through Instagram or Facebook, admiring beautifully curated lifestyle posts, when a particular product showcased by a favorite social media personality catches your eye. With the latest social commerce techniques, you can treat yourself the moment inspiration strikes, picking out your product and going straight through to checkout all from the comfort and familiarity of your social media app.
It’s an appealing setup—and brands have begun leveraging the latest in artificial intelligence, big data and cutting-edge technology to offer social media users just that.
A pandemic paradigm shift
The disruptive effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 turned the shopping landscape on its head. Sales in brick-and-mortar stores took a major hit amid stay‑at‑home orders and social distancing measures. Luxury and lifestyle retailers, predicting that they would need to boost their online sales to offset losses from stores closed temporarily or even permanently, had to act fast.
Savvy brands massively scaled up their existing social commerce techniques to make sure they could give consumers in lockdown what they wanted: a streamlined, integrated and gratifying way to shop, from inspiration on social media to payment and delivery in just a few clicks. And customers responded with great enthusiasm. Insider Intelligence reported that online shopping worldwide soared by 27.6% in 2020 as citizens unable to leave their homes turned to escapism through social media. As a result, well‑positioned brands saw their social commerce sales rocket during an otherwise bleak period for many businesses.
Even now, with the economy beginning to recover from the pandemic, the social commerce trend looks here to stay, as customers have gotten used to the ease and fluidity of making purchases directly from their social media. According to Insider Intelligence’s Social Commerce 2021 Report, US retail social commerce sales are projected to rise by 34.8% to $36.09 billion in 2021, representing 4.3% of all retail E‑commerce sales. The takeaway: it’s a crucial time for brands to maintain valuable momentum and keep riding the wave.
Generations and geography
To ensure they’re targeting the right social media shoppers, brands need to make sure they are catering to generational trends, which vary across the globe.
In the West, for example, millennials and Gen X are more or less loyal to Facebook and Instagram for their online shopping inspiration, while hyper-engaged Gen Z, the latest demographic for E‑commerce, is increasingly turning to trendy TikTok.
Over in China, social commerce has developed at lightning speed, propelled predominantly by Alibaba and Tencent. Building on the country’s already very well-established E‑commerce sector, at more than three times that of the US, the two tech giants have led the way in incorporating social commerce techniques into their platforms. Thanks to their hefty share of the market, along with the by no means insignificant volume of purchases made on other social networks including Weibo, WeChat, Pinduoduo, Douyin and Little Red Book, social commerce sales in China are projected to reach a massive $363 billion in 2021.
Wherever you are in the world, maintaining consistent, streamlined messaging across all social media is of course a must to keep brand image on point and distinctive, as well as fostering trust with consumers.
All bases covered
With social media no longer a novelty, connected consumers are expecting increasingly sophisticated strategies from brands. While the traditional route of an enticing product photo posted by a brand or influencer is a good place to start, it’s no longer enough. Online retailers need to go further to keep their social media followers engaged and poised to purchase.
To stand out from the crowd, brands should multiply their messaging across a variety of different social media channels—all while making sure their posts don’t look like old-fashioned ads. Swipe-up links in ephemeral stories are already a tried-and-true method, helping forge a feeling of personal connection with buyers. Streamlining the purchasing process further, the more recently launched in-app shopping features, built into the interfaces of social networks like Instagram and Facebook, are also proving a hit with consumers. Other brands are taking even more direct marketing approaches, such as launching hashtag challenges or reposting followers’ photos of their products to create a dedicated online community and increase user engagement.
As social commerce takes over a huge share of the retail market, it is essential for brands to leverage not just one but many social media channels to stay ahead of their competition and create an immersive and seamless marketing experience.
In a retail environment pushed even further into the digital realm by the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever for brands to maintain a consistent, attractive social media presence and remain attentive to new ways of online shopping. Social commerce is booming—and it’s here to stay.
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