Pavel Lovtsevich, a co-founder of the Shopaholic e-commerce platform, has just delved deep into social commerce as a tool. Below you will find top trends of social commerce along with some right practices of their usage.
“Every cloud has a silver lining!”, — that’s really what e-commerce related businesses could say about last year. Already blooming, the e-commerce market is growing very fast. A COVID-19 pandemic has changed the behavior of how people prefer to buy. Just consider: its size in 2019 was about $3.53trln, and in 2020 has reached $4.13trln worldwide. Some predictions state that till 2040 no more no less than 95% of purchases will be fulfilled online.
Social Commerce is at the top of its growth drivers. In common sense, Social Commerce is an array of tools and approaches in e-commerce tied with social interactions. This topic became calling the shots long before the pandemic. Look, even in 2018, about 78% of users were ready to recommend brands they have had a successful interaction in social media.
When a new reality came, these tools have substituted all the offline interactions between salespersons and customers that became unavailable. It’s crystal clear that ignorance of this phenomenon is criminal negligence, so to speak.
Social Commerce: What’s in the Box
What Social Commerce Is
The meaning of Social Commerce is quite wide and shady. First of all, let’s find a common ground in the terms and definitions.
So, there are hordes of definitions published. Here are some of the most common yet interesting:
- Social Commerce is commerce generated using social interactions (Shop Socially).
- Social Commerce, in the widest sense, is aimed at digital interaction of the audience leading to direct sales (Mass Relevance).
- Social Commerce is a subset of electronic commerce that involves social media and online media that supports social interaction, and user contributions to assist online buying and selling of products and services (Wikipedia).
As you can see, the concept is really broad. Social Commerce could include everything that is: tied with social interaction in a digital environment and leads to sales. And now we’ll talk about the most interesting, trendy, and demanded tools here.
The Shortlist of Social Commerce Tools
User opinions and recommendations
User reviews are an oldy-moldy recipe for sales that began its way long before the digital age. This is exactly what Yahoo! experts meant when they introduced the term in 2005.
As you surely know, people do believe someone else’s experience, despite the huge volume of fake ones. Due to faking en masse, the reviews published at third-party platforms are much more valuable than the ones posted on the vendor’s website. It’s widely recognized that famous platforms are paying much attention to fakes’ elimination. The truth is slightly different but sometimes the role of fake reviews is really minuscule.
There are some basic requirements for reviews that help to sell:
- A good or service must be really attractive for customers. Otherwise, public opinion will bring only harm to your sales.
- Users must be equipped with a convenient tool for posting a review. If the review requires different complicated actions, only displeased users will be ready to complete the flow.
- You must motivate your users with discounts, gifts, or at least by asking. Otherwise, you’ll see the negative opinions only.
User reviews of goods and services
In fact, a tool is an advanced form of the previous one. It takes a bit more than just a few lines, but the result is much more distinct. The individual user opinion will highly likely show no effect. The one and only user review, by contrast, could easily change the situation.
The advice is pretty the same. The main difference is that stakes are slightly higher. So, you must put more effort into getting the review, but the result will be better, too.
Promotion using social media
It’s incorrect to say that Social Commerce is every promotion of goods or services using social media. If you bet on the broadcasting type of communication here (it means you’re always posting your press releases and don’t think about users’ feedback). It’s not the thing called Social Commerce.
An engagement-oriented strategy is another pair of shoes. Likes, comments, reposts are the social signals that you should measure here. These impressions lead to an increase in reach. Moreover, they give new users confidence in the acceptable quality of your good or service.
Like in the previous case, a key to success here is high quality. Else, users must be familiar with your messages for them. Or your messages must raise conflicts among the users. The reward is a high level of engagement, but you could easily lose control of the situation.
Paid advertising in social media stays separately. It allows brands, most commonly, to get engagement and even direct sales for money. Once the number of social media is huge, we’ll not detail the specific ones here.
However, it’s important to mention that social media know much more about their users than your e-store could know about its buyers. It allows businesses to use advertising tools with quite high efficiency.
The attraction of celebrities, bloggers, and influencers
The famous people help to sell goods and services, it’s a fact. The Instagram accounts of celebrities are filled with both direct and native advertising. For many of them, such advertising is the main source of income, as well.
For example, it got about that a single post made by Kim Kardashian costs up to $1mln. Indeed, such spending is moderate only for the biggest brands. Those which are not so big, usually attract celebrities who are less famous and more cooperative.
So, when it comes to planning any cooperation with celebrities, it’s better to take into account the following nuances:
- Most often, the declared reach and engagement are higher than the real ones.
- You should prepare the posts by yourself rather than ask your new partners about this.
- The ‘number of small versus one big’ strategy here often fails.
Such nuances lead to bloggers’ and influencers’ inflation. So, in China, where e-commerce is the most developed, the live streams are usually shot by millions of ordinary merchants, not by celebrities. The content they’re creating is selling cheap and in the bulk. That’s why the Chinese web is full of streams of a low quality. What is interesting, that such streams here convert ok. In the rest of the world, the conversion rate is directly tied with the quality of streams and with the popularity of people presenting.
E-commerce using messengers
China is the pioneer of sales using messengers. WeChat, launched here in 2011, allows users to process transactions during the last couple of years thanks to the built-in WeChat Pay payment system. Currently, the number of WeChat users has reached 1.2bln, and the total volume of transactions is $11.5bln.
The key to successful sales in WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber, and other messengers is the usage of their pros: a possibility of instant answering, a variety of communication ways, automation using chatbots, PUSH notifications, CRM and data analytics integration, etc. The messengers, for one thing, are the source of targeted audiences, but using them this way only looks wasteful.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most users became suspicious of offline purchases. The polls conducted in February and May of 2020 among Americans, found that more than half of them prefer to withdraw from offline purchases.
But what’s to do with the ‘magic’ that skilled salespersons make within the face-to-face interaction? Here comes the live shopping. It acts as a way to arrange known offline approaches with a help of video conferencing. The customer visits the fly page, clicks on the button, then the video conference between the customer and the salesperson starts. Next, the salesperson could use all the known offline sales tools to argue visitors becoming buyers. Moreover, the live streaming could be large-scaled. The presenter shows and describes a good, and viewers could buy the good with a few clicks right during the show.
There are three main approaches on how to arrange live sales: the built-in tools of marketplaces; the tools of social media; the tools for standalone e-stores.
The marketplace-based tools like Taobao Live have raised their reputation quite fast. Thanks to relatively cheap traffic and a huge own audience, the marketplaces are fitting live streaming rather well. It looks like teleshopping, but of a 2.0 version.
Social media aren’t so advanced in a term of live sales implementation. But their top managers clearly understand the potential of such tools. Currently, such features have just a few social media, but the situation will surely be changing. For example, the YouTube reps have been teasing with such features for a relatively long time. Finally, its head Susan Wojcicki has just announced the launch of the homebrew e-commerce platform in the current year.
Arranging the live streaming on a standalone website is quite labor-consuming and expensive. But some third-party tools come to help. For example, the Eyezon service could be added instantly in the form of a widget. As a result, users can ask for the video conference with one click. The tool is quite efficient in selling expensive goods like cars, where the face-to-face interaction between the customer and the salesperson is essential for the conversion.
Cooperative buying of goods by usual customers is quite old yet still demanded an approach to buy cheaper. The point being, customers get together to provide the overall volume, required for the bulk discount. The most popular goods buying cooperatively are fast-moving consumer goods like diapers, baby food, household chemicals, etc.
Cooperative buying is one of the main features of a young Chinese marketplace Pinduoduo. Last few years it became extremely popular. The name Pinduoduo is for ‘Let’s buy together’. Started from selling farming goods only, the marketplace currently covers different types of goods. As a result, its overall sales volume by November 2020 has reached $204bln, with a 75% growth year-to-year.
Social media page as an alternative to a traditional e-store
Most social media, like Facebook or Instagram, could be used as e-commerce platforms. Of course, you cannot customize your store here in full. But, on the other side, you’ll get free hosting, a convenient set of marketing and advertising tools, as well as a huge audience.
Here we should repeat: social media could give you a much deeper understanding of your audience’s behavior than your own website could. It helps merchants to analyze the efficiency of the business much better, as well as to get more from marketing actions.
The main disadvantage here is the fact your shop doesn’t belong to you. Your rights are fully dependent on the internal rules of social media. As we wrote before, in this case you can easily lose your business without any explanations.
Social Commerce: Predictions and Conclusions
First of all, let’s analyze the social media trends of 2020. You could find the most notable of them below:
- Business waxed the first pandemic-related shock in May. The level of ad spendings has reached the May’19 level. Since that time, spendings are growing fast. The raise is partially caused by an increase in average price per click by almost 50%.
- The highest average spendings on targeted ads are in e-commerce. As for the 3rd quarter of 2020, each store spent $1,700 per week on average.
- The longest videos (5+ minutes) get more reach from Facebook compared with the shorter ones. However, the engagement level for such videos is slightly decreasing, where the videos 65–300 seconds long have the highest ER=23.2%.
Then let’s add some info related to Social Commerce we specified above. Placed together, data from these two sources could be turned into some predictions:
- E-commerce stood to gain from the pandemic. Compared with the significant decrease in offline retail, the e-commerce industry is now blooming and will bloom in the overseeing future. Moreover, e-commerce itself will be the main growth driver for those industries where it is applicable. The recession recovery will run mostly in a form of the transition of businesses from offline into online, even in those fields where it looks weird at first sight.
- The role of marketplaces and social media as marketplaces is increasing now and will continue to increase even faster than the entire e-commerce. Marketplaces are currently the fastest-growing part of the industry.
- Social media, especially Facebook, clearly understand the existing situation. They definitely see e-commerce as the main driver for their revenue growth, as well as consider marketplaces as the main hurdle for this growth. So, the nearest future will show the increasing number of e-commerce tools aimed at competition with marketplaces. And it highly likely will take social media to lead positions in terms of growth speed.
- Collaborations between the marketplaces and social media are quite possible, as well.
- Facebook is changing the feed algorithms to show the longest videos more often. It surely means that such videos will soon be among the main revenue channels for the social network. Live streams look like the most probable way for it. The same tools will be definitely added to Instagram, as well.
- TikTok is the fastest-growing social media today. The platform is already implementing cutting-edge Social Commerce tools. It looks like competitors will follow TikTok, copying successful ideas.
We also asked Boris Preobrazhensky, a founder of Praktikadays.ru, to make some predictions. Here they are:
Social Commerce, as the overall e-commerce, is one of the tools to interact with the audience. If e-commerce has already become demanded by most businesses, Social Commerce is still not so famous.
Most companies are presented on social media in one form or another. But making this presence a sales channel is challenging for many. The toughest here is to embed these tools into existing customers’ interaction process.
I see the changes in three main directions. Social media improve their e-commerce tools; retail is learning how to use these tools; the audience is using social media for purchases in increasing frequency.
I think that the social media ecosystems will definitely include some marketplace features, maybe in modified forms. In the meantime, marketplaces are becoming more and more similar to such ecosystems: they must keep the traffic inside to succeed like social media usually do.
So, it’s quite hard to make any long-term predictions here. One thing is absolutely clear: we’ll see the further transformation of customers’ behavior, and Social Commerce will play a crucial role here.
You surely have your own thoughts on the present and future of Social Commerce. We’ll be glad to discuss your opinion in the comments!