How would you describe the essence of social commerce in one scene? Imagine this: you open your Facebook app while commuting. You scroll the newsfeed looking for juicy gossip about people you barely know. A picture grabs your attention, showcasing a new pair of running shoes from your favorite brand.
Now that you see them in full HD, you definitely feel you want those shoes, right away. And there’s no need to close Facebook app; you just click on the buy button on the image and that’s it. A revolution for the retail customer experience.
This is exactly the kind of win-win situation all retailers are expecting to get now that all major social networks - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest - are rolling out e-commerce functionalities. What will become of the traditional customer experience in retail? It won’t be the same again.
It’s still too early to understand when (and how) social media buying will drive real numbers:
“Even with the amount of airtime and media coverage social media gets, it’s still in a stage of infancy in comparison to other marketing and referring channels.” (Lou Paglia, co-founder of Jirafe)
Despite the difficulties - and the lack of results - of the first experiments, the buzz around social commerce is steadily growing, with brands eager to be first in line. The reason lies in the following numbers:
People spend more time on social media than any other channel, with 60% of this time spent on smartphones and tablets;
74% of customers confirm they rely on social media to look for information and guide the purchase decision;
33% of customers admittedly bought a product/service driven by a promotion or a new launch on a brand’s social media page;
While desktop and browser transactions still make the difference, a shift is happening before your eyes. Customers recognize social media as a primary source of information to discover products, receive promotions and find opinions in their trusted circle of friends.
It’s a fact: be it traditional brick-and-mortars or e-commerce firms, these platforms are now absolutely essential for companies that want to connect with empowered customers and boost revenues. With social-driven retail sales and referral traffic rising at a fast pace, sales officially join customer engagement as the main purpose of social media marketing.
SOCIAL RETAIL EXPERIENCE
Now that mobile connections cuts customers’ daily life into multiple micro moments - driven by very specific intents - the challenge for your brand is to show up in the social feed with the right content at the right moment. When customers are ready to buy.
In fact, social media buying brings in a whole new set of opportunities to revamp your marketing strategy:
Advertising: social media offer better targeting options, to understand exactly who are your potential customers;
Content: social networks now offer refined ads formats (i.e. Facebook Carousel) to enhance your content marketing;
Referrals: social media drive much more retail traffic than other digital channels, becoming the main e-commerce referral (a 200% growth in the last 12 months);
Data mining: no doubt that a key advantage of social business is the ability to collect sensitive customer data, to improve the overall digital customer experience.
When social companies started testing ‘buy buttons’, with the aim of attracting more investments in their platform ads, there has been no doubt that shopping was destined to play a critical (if not the most critical) role in the further evolution of social media.
Facebook - still accounting for 64% of total social revenue - leads the way, but competitors are not just sitting and watching. Visual-focused networks like Pinterest and Instagram are, for their very nature, fully fitted for this kind of transformation. And do not undervalue Twitter, YouTube and all that will come soon: LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr, Xing, Renren, Snapchat.
FROM LOGIN TO CHECKOUT
Social login, social authentication, check-ins and local reviews served as first bite of the tasty dish to come. They opened the gate and social commerce inevitably came thereafter. And now social media are rapidly switching from opinions marketplace to products marketplace.
Not by coincidence, at the end of 2014, we have included social shopping in the list of the most promising social trends that will define customer engagement from this year on. Delivering real-time connections, social networks seem perfect to offer short term and personalized deals. If it didn't work in the past, it was because there was a missing piece.
A piece now displaying its full potential: the smartphone. We all know how deeply mobile devices are reshaping the way we live our life, communicate with other people and connect with products and brands. The impact is so strong that many analysts consider the mobile mind shift the biggest social and economic revolution of the last two centuries.
Buy buttons, shop tabs, buyable pins, sponsored products, carousel ads: recently we have witnessed a surplus of commerce-oriented features from social media players. What will really happen? Let’s see what major players have in store:
Mark Zuckerberg & Co. started testing buy buttons months ago, to strengthen the position as number one social commerce player out there. Brands love Facebook for its targeting data features; with the credit card management and the click-to-buy button, powered by Shopify, it could soon become a complete e-commerce platform.
Last September, Twitter presented its personal buy button, but customers didn't really noticed it. Now that the fuss is all about social commerce, the company will try to relaunch its e-commerce ambition. Right now they are rolling out new product pages, distinct branded micro-habitats living in the platform to gather all tweets about a brand or product.
If you think that Pinterest is just place for fashion addicted serial re-pinners, you may want to review your position. Right now the visual social network is considered the most promising in terms of e-commerce potential. Only time will tell if buyable pins - that let users purchase anything they see on the site - will really turn Pinterest into the Internet's new shopping hub.
Instagram is already a major choice to build customer engagement and brand awareness campaigns. Until today, however, it has been slow in responding to the challenge posed by social media buying. To recover and oppose Pinterest's strategy to transform viewers into customers, Instagram now offers a 'shop now' button, integrated with a checkout process linked to the official brand website.
Success (or failure) of social media commerce will ultimately depend on whether brands will be able to capitalize on buy buttons or not. One thing is sure: together with proximity marketing, mobile app development and one-touch payments, social buying will form the foundation of retail customer experience in the years to come.
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