Shopper Experience

Social commerce has shoppers' attention, but brands must build trust

A report from Mintel offers data on the reality and opportunity of shopping on social media.

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(Illustration by The Current)

Social media gained a key role in ecommerce as an engine to discover new products. Increasingly, platforms want to become places where purchases are made, too.

A series of moves being made by social media companies are setting the stage for an expansion of social commerce. The first quarter brought a flurry of announcements about how the platforms where trends are made are becoming more shoppable, and they're continuing into the summer. Consider these announcements from the last week:

  • Pinterest acquired THE YES, an AI-powered shopping platform that curates products based on style preferences. Following the acquisition, THE YES CEO Julie Bornstein, who is the former COO of Stitch Fix, will lead a new ecommerce vision at Pinterest, along with the rest of the startup’s team.
  • YouTube is making its videos more shoppable. The latest example will come on June 16 at its Beauty Festival, where YouTube is making DTC brand Glossier’s new No. 1 Pencil eyeliner available for purchase through video shorts that roll out at the event.
  • TikTok, a fast-emerging marketing channel for brands, is adding commerce integrations. The latest comes through a partnership with Salesforce Commerce Cloud which will make it easier for brands to launch TikTok as a sales channel on Commerce Cloud, and publish products on TikTok.
  • Twitter announced that it is rolling out a new feature called Product Drops. This allows brands and merchants to tease new product announcements, and provide a direct path to a product detail page. A "Remind Me" button will also allow users to opt in to notifications once a product is live.

The attention and capital being put toward these efforts speaks to the growing consumer interest in social commerce. As with any emerging behavioral trend, however, it’s necessary to take a step back and consider how much progress is really being made toward widespread adoption, and the factors beyond platform features that could help it grow.

With a recent report, market research firm Mintel is putting data behind these considerations. Here’s a look at three takeaways that outline the state of social commerce at a time of rapid expansion, according to the firm:

Current reality vs. opportunity

While many new capabilities are coming in the near future, there’s evidence that social commerce already has momentum. According to Mintel, 39% of US consumer said they made a purchase on social media and would do so again. The adoption rate is even higher in the age range of 25-34-year-olds, of which 61% shop on social media.

As the platform plans indicate, there are also ample opportunity to increase that number within view.

Social commerce is often dependent on interfacing directly with brands on social media, and 90% of users are aware that these pages and accounts exist.

Of those users, one in 10 say they avoid brand pages on social media – a low number, given that a direct tie-in with a brand overtly seeking to market products may have been considered a turnoff in other eras of media.

Factor in how platforms like TikTok and YouTube are using video to make content from influencers and users shoppable, and there’s even more potential to create opportunities for engagement that don’t require navigating directly to a brand page.

The trust factor

Digital adoption often requires reaching a point of trust with users, especially when it comes to purchase and delivery of items. According to Mintel, current barriers include security and shipping:

  • About 38% of consumers say they haven't made a purchase directly on a social media platform due to concerns about the security of payment information.
  • Meanwhile, 23% of consumers say they haven’t made a purchase because they are worried they will never receive a product.

This offers a message for brands and platforms: Alongside new technology and great shopper experience, education about social commerce processes are necessary.

"As with any new concept, consumers still need a fair amount of education and reassurance on the process, as they are concerned that their data might not be secure and/or that they'll never receive the item they purchase,” said Katie Hansen, retail and ecommerce analyst at Mintel, in commentary issued with the report. “Brands will need to demonstrate to consumers how shopping on social media is quite similar to shopping via a website or mobile app and how, in fact, social commerce can even further streamline the process.”

Inspiring a purchase goes beyond getting the attention necessary for a like or share. This means brands must also forge a connection with users. One important step toward doing so is to ensure that users see themselves reflected on social media. That means reflecting the diversity of audiences present on these platforms, Hansen said.

Growing alongside ecommerce

Change can take time. Ecommerce grew steadily over 20 years as platforms like Amazon and Shopify built, with rapid acceleration in the last two years.

When judging the adoption curve of this area, consider that many of the tools for social commerce are just being put in place now. The factor that will push them into wide use may have yet to arrive.

When it comes to decisions about investing time and energy toward social commerce, it’s also worth remembering that shopping is likely to take place across multiple channels. Shoppers want options to buy an item easily and have it delivered to them wherever they are. Social platforms are where many potential customers are gathering, so they stand to be a viable option for shoppers. Yet it's worth pointing out that this is one of a growing number of choices consumers have about where to shop. They're also seeking out ecommerce marketplaces, Shopify sites, delivery services and brick-and-mortar stores, as well. And all of those channels are making digital upgrades to work together more seamlessly, as well.

“As with the adoption of online shopping, it will take time for consumers to become comfortable purchasing items via social media, and even more time for them to do so on any kind of regular basis, but the category will see a boost as a result of increasing engagement from younger consumers as they grow into adulthood and earn more money,” Hansen said. “That said, social commerce will in no way replace traditional ecommerce or in-store shopping, but it will become a key part of their shopping repertoire.”

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