In this article, the definition of Social Commerce is examined. Social commerce is, broadly speaking, the use of social media as a sales platform. Social Commerce is essential to understand within the landscape of today’s digitally-driven world and shifting marketplaces. The following paragraphs define Social Commerce in-depth, analyze its history, discuss its applications, and explore its future.
What is Social Commerce?
Social Commerce is the ability to purchase products from within a social media platform. Traditionally, brands used social media as a tool to direct potential customers to their websites, where they could complete their purchase. However, with the advent of social commerce, customers can complete their transactions from directly within social media platforms, thus eliminating that additional step that often makes a successful sale more difficult.
Every step a customer must go through in order to purchase a product poses a risk of diverting their attention or losing their interest. Social commerce strives to eliminate any unnecessary hurdles and streamline the sales process. This new method of selling offers customers unparalleled convenience, which is reflected in more sales for businesses. In fact, in 2017 alone, 500 retailers made around $6.5 billion in social commerce sales. This figure increased by 24% since 2016, and is expected to continue to rise in the years to come.
The history of Social Commerce
They key to why Social Commerce is successful can be found by looking at its history. Social Commerce is an ideal example of adaptive selling. Before the invention of the internet, sales were mainly conducted using the telephone, catalog services, door-to-door calls, or via brick and mortar shops. It was widely accepted that salespeople had to travel in order to garner exposure for their brand and target as many potential customers as possible. They brought the sales process to the living rooms of their prospects because that was what was most convenient for the consumers, and what would therefore result in more success for the salesperson (and therefore their brand).
Once the internet came into existence and more and more people began looking online for their products and services, businesses shifted their attention towards developing their websites and focusing on their digital presence. They adapted their sales strategies to withstand this new age and cater to this new, modern consumer. In 2017, 10.2% of the global retail sales were e-commerce retail sales. This figure is estimated to climb to 15.5% by 2020. Digitally concentrated e-retailers are now controlling a large stake in the marketplace. Amazon earned 178 billion USD in net sales in 2017 alone, and most of that revenue was generated through e-retail sales. With their Prime Membership perks and fast-and-free delivery on most items, Amazon prioritizes customer convenience, and tailoring their processes to best facilitate today’s consumer has resulted in fantastic success.
As of October 2018, there were 4.2 billion active internet users. The majority of these users, or 3.4 billion people, are also social media users. Looking at the patterns of the past, it therefore stands to reason that reaching this user base on their preferred websites and platforms, will offer brands huge benefits. Enter social commerce. Social media already plays a huge role in the research and discovery phase of the buying process, with 74 percent of consumers relying on their social networks to assist them with purchasing decisions. By incorporating consumers’ need for validation and desire for convenience, social commerce has emerged as one of the greatest sales platforms.
Social Commerce illustrates how far the sales process has evolved. Like the traveling salespeople that paved the way before it, social commerce brings the store to the people within the platforms they love the most.
Social Commerce and today’s social media
There are three major social media sites that have a strong focus on social commerce: Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. People who have used any of these platforms have likely seen ads or “buy now” type buttons, advertising products that can be purchased directly on the platform, in record time.
Businesses must take into account factors such as their target demographic, sales goals, resources, and product catalog when determining which site is right for their social commerce store.
A recent study showed that more than 60% of social media users have made a direct purchase via social media. Facebook topped the charts, with 47.7% of respondents having made a purchase directly through Facebook. According to Instagram, “90 million accounts on Instagram tap on a shopping post to learn more about products every month.” When it comes to Pinterest, 55% of users, or “Pinners” reported having used the platform to find and shop products. Though this figure doesn’t necessarily mean these Pinners bought those products, nor bought them directly on Pinterest’s site, the platform is still a valuable source for businesses, especially when considering that, in general, Pinners spend 29% more on retail than those who don’t use Pinterest.
The future of Social Commerce
The shopping habits of consumers have evolved greatly over the years, and will continue to evolve moving forward. Now, more than ever, consumers are looking for synergy between social and physical shopping. Customers are constantly looking for ways to save time and improve their shopping experiences, so convenience and engagement are key. Social commerce combines both of these factors seamlessly, and the process will only continue to be refined.
According to Satish Kanwar, Vice President of Product, Channels at Shopify, “Social Commerce will continue to provide opportunities for both consumers and businesses, giving rise to an era where technology will power a new set of commerce experiences. Ultimately, these experiences will significantly shorten the path to discovery for consumers and give retailers exciting new and efficient ways to drive transactions.” By making social commerce a priority, businesses will be able to thrive within this new and ever-changing commercial landscape.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Is Social Commerce necessary for brands to adapt in order to be successful in today’s marketplace? Are there types of businesses that social commerce isn’t suitable for? Where do you think this new era of shopping will lead us?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Wang, C., & Zhang, P. (2012). The Evolution of Social Commerce: The People, Business, Technology, and Information Dimensions. Communications of the Association for Information Systems. Vol 31, Pages 105-127.
- Hajl, N., & Sims, J. (2015). Social commerce: The transfer of power from sellers to buyers. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Vol 94, Pages 350-358.
- Zhou et al. (2013). Social commerce research: An integrated view. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications. Vol 12, Pages 61-68.
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