Social Commerce for Retail?

Ruth Peters
May 12, 2022

Why it Matters

Social commerce is not just about social marketing, in-app purchase or online sales. It’s an omnichannel approach to retail that is changing the way consumers shop and discover brands. However, shopping experiences, particularly across social and eCommerce touchpoints, are often very poor. In this article we explore the opportunity and the challenges of delivering great social shopping experiences.

Go Deeper > 4 Minute Read

It's all change, especially for Retail!

Retail has changed a lot in the past few years. A combination of the pandemic and massive technological advances has led to a big change in the way we shop. As a result, from groceries and skincare to loungewear and videogames, online retail saw a massive boom during 2020 and 2021. And it’s here to stay.

But does that mean that these customer experiences need to be purely functional? No way! They need to be seamless, inspirational, engaging and social commerce is having an ever increasing part in this story, as people seek to discover new products through social media engagement. 

However, social commerce is often a stepping stone to the brand site.  And the increasing number of customer touchpoints frequently throws up challenges for both the consumer and the brand. So brands need to be aware of the pitfalls and deliver an inspiring, frictionless social commerce experience across channels.

What is social eCommerce for Retail?

Put simply, social retail or social commerce is the perfect union of traditional shopping practices with new technologies. While social media plays a pretty big role in social commerce, it’s actually more far-reaching than that.

Social retail is based around the concept of social proof –– the idea that consumers will change their behavior based on what others around them are doing. We can observe the existence of social proof around us at all times. Think about the importance of our social networks — influencers, content creators, celebrity endorsements, and even just regular social marketing campaigns. Whether we like it or not, we humans are an extremely impressionable species. 

There’s no denying that social media plays a really important role, but what's interesting is that social retail can be omnichannel too. It can exist in brick and mortar stores, as well as online.

The whole point of social retail –– particularly for brands that exist in physical stores, not just online –– is to create cohesion across a brand and each retail environment. 

This works both ways: we’ve seen eCommerce DTC brands like Glossier create bricks-and-mortar stores, while physical retail giants like H&M have strongly invested in their social retail strategy. 

Brands can see huge benefits from creating a social shopping space, using new technologies and existing social media platforms, allowing customers to browse items across various channels. 

A consumer may see a sweater worn by an influencer while scrolling through TikTok. The next day, she’ll see it in-store, where she can scan a QR code to find the item online, and read reviews left by other customers. The following week it’ll pop up in a suggested ad on her Instagram feed, and she can shop it directly from the app. 

Social commerce is the future. It’s not just about social marketing, in-app purchase or online sales. It’s an omnichannel approach to retail that is changing the way we shop. 

What makes an eCommerce experience social?

On the surface, the concept of online shopping is a solitary activity. A customer typically browses alone, adds items to the cart alone, and checks out — alone. But social retail is a whole new world. 

Social retail is about tapping into social media and online technologies to connect with customers across physical and digital shopping spaces. There are two end goals for social retail:

  • Give customers who are shopping online the same immersive and social experience they would get in-store.
  • Encourage customers to engage with the brand, and develop the habit of sharing the products and experiences they love.

Innovative, interactive technology has allowed brands to get creative with their eCommerce strategies. Using text, video, instant chat, and social media embeds, online shopping has become just as an immersive experience as in-store shopping –– if not more!

For example, a typical challenge with online retail is not knowing how the garment will actually look in person, what the sizing options are like, or how to style the piece. In social retail, the online store could introduce a style consultant who’s available for video calls during business hours.

This consultant can talk customers through specific products, show them what particular pieces look like through the video chat, and discuss sizes and styling.

Real-world examples of social retail: one in-store and one purely online

Nike’s Jordan partnered with Snapchat for the launch of their new collection. Users could dress up their Bitmoji in virtual outfits, then buy the exact same outfit to wear in real life. Nike extended the reach of their campaign, letting their customers do the marketing for them. Even if people didn’t follow through with a purchase, it still raised the awareness of the brand and the new line. 

example of nike social shopping experience

Meanwhile, in the luxury sector, Burberry partnered with the Chinese tech company Tencent to bring the digital world into its physical retail spaces. Burberry opened its first-ever social retail store in July 2020, where customers used their smartphones to explore the store and products. 

Rather than just going into the store, browsing, and making a purchase, customers get an in-depth memorable experience with Burberry. Through their phones, customers can access store tours, learn about products, book a shopping appointment, or reserve a table at the in-store cafe. 

Burberry’s social retail store is made up of a series of spaces that customers can explore by scanning QR codes. The more a user engages, the more ‘social currency’ they earn, and the better their experience becomes. This social cash can then be spent to access exclusive experiences and rewards from Burberry. 

How can social retail drive sales?

Social retail is primarily about creating brand awareness and customer loyalty. So how can a brand translate that into sales?

Well, thankfully, these things all go hand in hand. The more chatter and hashtag activity there is around your brand on social, the more likely you are to see commercial success. 70% of social media users report using Facebook and Instagram to find new products to buy –– and a good social retail strategy helps you tap into that. 

Let’s break it down a little, and explore some of the tangible ways that social retail can help drive sales for your business.

Tap into new audiences

We all know that social media is massive, with Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok each boasting a billion active monthly users. As a brand, you should be seeing this as a billion potential new customers that you can reach. 

Impulse buying

During the pandemic, impulse buying tendencies surged, particularly among Millennials. With social retail, brands can leverage this purchase behavior and make impulse buys easier than ever. 

Make the user experience seamless for customers looking to check out directly through your social media presence or brand site. Broken links, inconsistent experiences, out of stock inventory all of these challenges will stop a customer journey in its tracks.

More brand awareness

Traditionally, a brand’s eCommerce site and its social presence were two separate entities. But now it’s all about combining the two for maximum impact. One of the best ways to build brand awareness, and drive traffic to your site, is through influencer marketing. A massive 92% of consumers trust an influencer more than an advertisement –– social retail is about leveraging the sway of these creators to boost your brand. 

Easily generate social proof

Let’s face it: customers aren’t going to trust you right away. With so many brands out there, why would someone immediately buy from one they’ve never heard of? Potential customers need to see positive reviews and endorsements from creators they trust. 

Social commerce comes with built-in social proof. You can create a positive feedback loop by encouraging customers to leave reviews and share recommendations for your products. The more users who interact with and promote your products, the more likely that other customers will trust your brand, too.

Generate social proof by providing your customers with incentives to share the word about your brand –– coupon codes, discounts, and giveaways.

Frictionless checkout

When you have a ten-step process between finding a product and completing payment, you’re far more likely to lose customers along the way. Social commerce has the potential to cut out unnecessary steps. It can provide a more direct option with in-app checkout. 

However Brands need to be aware that customers like choice and in our recent, soon to be published research, 71% of consumers wanted to discover on social and purchase on the brand site. Opinions formed due to data and trust concerns around social networks. Of course there are major advantages for the brand if the customer transfers to their brand site post discovery on social media. Namely, the brand knows more about the customer and can build a direct relationship.

Whichever choice the customer makes, brands need to ensure a great experience that keeps users engaged the whole way through the sales funnel, minimizing frustration and the risk of cart abandonment to boost your sales. 

6 tips for getting started with social commerce

Now you’re up to speed with the concept of social commerce, let’s finish up with some actionable tips to get started. 

  1. Choose the right platform

Go to where your audience is. If you’re primarily selling to 50-year-old moms, then it’s probably not worth investing in a TikTok strategy. But if your audience is Gen Z, you’re better off focusing on TikTok and avoiding Facebook. 

Take a good look at your demographics, analyze your target audience, and figure out where on the internet they’re hanging out. 

  1. Create unique campaigns for each platform

You want to create a sense of urgency, to make your audience believe they should buy right then and there on your platform. If you’ve got the same campaign running across three different social platforms, it reduces that need to snap up the deal. 

It’s also a great way to test out different campaign strategies on different audiences, to see what sticks. Analyze the numbers and let this inform your strategy moving forward. 

  1. Don’t upload your entire inventory

On Facebook and Instagram, you can create a catalog of products for sale. It’s tempting to upload every single product you have available –– more products mean more sales, right? 

Wrong. Giving your customers a hundred things to choose from is way more overwhelming than just a catalog of ten items. You want to entice your leads to convert, not to get flustered and navigate away from the page. 

How many times have you filled up an online shopping cart with items, gone to check out, looked at the price, and X-ed out of the window immediately? The same thing happens with social retail. 

Keep your offering small, and rotate your products often. 

  1. Streamline the purchase process

As we explored above, frictionless commerce is essential for converting leads. Customers want to protect their privacy whilst having a great experience and the majority want to complete their purchase on the brand site. However, customers also like choice and regardless of whether they choose the brand site or a social networks ‘shop now’ button you need to make sure it’s a quick and easy purchase, without friction. Inevitably, sometimes broken experiences will appear, so make sure you have the tools to detect and fix friction points such as broken links, out of stock inventory and missing links, before they impact revenue.

  1. Build your brand

Customers only want to buy from brands they trust. To have success with social eCommerce, brands need to have an established social presence. Invest time and money into building up your brand on social media, through influencer campaigns, targeted marketing, and engagement with your audience. 

New customers, in particular, want to know that they’re buying from a good company. When you build up your reputation, users will begin to recognize your brand and be far more comfortable making a purchase. 

  1. Optimize for mobile

Your online commerce experience needs to be mobile-friendly. In 2021, nearly three-quarters of all online sales were done via mobile phone. It’s essential that everything, from product discovery to the checkout page, is completely optimized for mobile. No excuses. 

Ready to build Social Commerce into your retail and marketing strategy? At SimplicityDX, we help brands maximize retail success with the creation of frictionless  experiences across the key touch-points of social and the eCommerce brand site. Get in touch today to find out more.

For more information on social commerce read our post Social Commerce and the Peak Shopping Season.

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