Social Selling: Data for SMBs Amid the E-Commerce Explosion
Over the last 20 years we’ve seen social media shift from simple, text-based updates to increasingly visual content, championed by app-based platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, with new entrants such as TikTok and Pinterest taking the trend even further.
Social media now goes way beyond communicating with friends and family. The impact and growth of social media brands now play a huge part in what we see in our newsfeeds — and with that, social commerce has flourished. Social apps that already allow for commerce include Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. TikTok and Twitter are also experimenting with shopping features.
Social Commerce: Why You Should Care
Social commerce is a $89.4 billion market right now. It’s projected to grow to $604.5 billion in the next seven years. eMarketer predicted social commerce to rise by 34.8 percent to $36.09 billion in 2021 alone.
It’s increasingly clear that consumers are discovering and purchasing products directly via social channels. Social is becoming a primary research tool for shoppers, with many channels, including Instagram, acting as discovery engines for brands. According to Instagram, 60 percent of people discover new products on their platform and users say that when they were inspired by something they saw, they would take steps to find and buy the product right away.
Consumers also love the ability to browse and buy products within different digital environments, often as their preferred purchase channel. In fact, 81 percent of shoppers research products on Instagram and Facebook, and shopping is a top priority for 48 percent of Pinterest users.
However, a staggering number of retailers are overlooking social media for commerce. According to Brightpearl’s own data of 4,000 shoppers, a quarter of retailers still don't have options for consumers to buy via social channels, including some of the largest brands. Very few businesses facilitate nontraditional ways of shopping like Instagram, Pinterest and livestream, and there isn’t much urgency to change. That’s a major mistake. Our research suggests shoppers are looking to the digital channels they already use to socialize and access entertainment. With consumers leading the way in these new behaviors, retailers need to meet consumers where they are. In fact, they may need to use a whole host of different social commerce options for various age cohorts — and be able to swap these out as needed.
Gen Z consumers, in particular, want to buy online in a variety of new ways, including via voice, livestream and social apps like Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram. They love social commerce because it combines entertainment and shopping, much like traditional shopping centers do. They’re ready to shop as they scroll, and the data supports this: three-quarters of 18- to 24-year-olds planned to shop via alternative channels this past holiday season, and the same number want retailers to make nontraditional channels easier to shop in the future, according to Brightpearl’s study.
It’s not just the "youth" market, either. Fifty-seven percent of ALL U.S. consumers (and one in four U.K. consumers) intended to shop in nontraditional shopping channels this past holiday season. Furthermore, 48 percent of U.S. internet users aged 18-34 made a purchase on social media in 2019, a number that's only set to grow with the rapid growth in e-commerce and emerging channels ready to explode into social selling.
It’s clear this is not only a short-term trend. The Gen Zers who are used to engaging through an ever-increasing choice of social apps and digital services are going to keep growing in purchasing power. Generation Alpha and subsequent generations will be even more digitally savvy. There are shopping opportunities across the digital platforms that your audience uses most, and if your brand isn’t taking action, it’s missing out. By not embracing new social media shopping channels, retailers are effectively leaving money on the table.
Adopting Social Commerce
The opportunities brought on by social commerce are clear, but what about the risks?
The complexities involved in adding and then managing multiple new social selling channels — while delivering a consistent and integrated customer experience — is going to be a growing challenge.
The proliferation of new digital channels has caused a fragmentation among shoppers — often along generational lines — that demand a more flexible approach from retailers. Complete visibility across all channels, and the ability to quickly adjust to sudden changes from internal or external environments, are essential.
Infrastructure is an important consideration, too. There’s little point in trying to add multiple sales channels without the right technology infrastructure in place. Too many brands rely on classic ERPs, but these aging systems can’t cope with the speed and agility required to meet the expectations of modern consumers. If you use an ERP and your customers start flocking to a new social media channel, such as TikTok, you’ll be waiting months or even years to integrate it as a commerce channel. But your competitors won’t.
The truth is many retailers will miss out on the opportunities new social commerce channels present simply because they lack the ability to quickly integrate new, better e-commerce technology from other vendors.
This reliance on dated and inflexible back-end technology, combined with low adoption of new digital channels, suggests many merchants haven’t realized we've entered a new era of hyperscalable commerce that requires new ways of thinking. Cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-none strategies from a single vendor no longer work for merchants that need to deliver the latest and best e-commerce experiences, which for Gen Z and subsequent generations will be increasingly found on social media.
To truly succeed with social commerce, brands will need dynamic, hyperscalable systems that allow them to manage an ever-changing roster of social applications at rapid pace. The desire for consumers to be able to "buy wherever they are" will inevitably unearth operational complexities; however, with the right retail operating system it need not be intimidating.
Be Social Proofed
According to Gartner, “by 2023, organizations that have adopted a scalable commerce approach will outpace competition by 80 percent in the speed of new feature implementation.”
Brands must act now to gain the competitive advantage and avoid being left behind. For those that are willing to adapt to the emergence of new digital channels, there’s perhaps never been a more exciting time to be in business.
Whether you fail or thrive will ultimately depend on whether you have a system in place that’s built for hyper-scalability, agility, and optionality. It’s only with this type of system that you can easily and rapidly add the new services your customers demand, now and in the future.
Mark Hook is global director of brand, communications and PR at Brightpearl, a retail-tailored operating system for omnichannel merchants.
Related story: Gen Z’s New Shopping Habits May Kill Off Unprepared Brands
Mark Hook is the Global Communications Director at Brightpearl, a retail-tailored digital operations platform built for omnichannel merchants.