Shopping is a social experience.
This was true long before social media platforms. Just look at the in-person retail experience that flourished over the last century: Shoppers flocked to major downtown thoroughfares, and malls. They made trips in groups, spotted the styles of others to add to their own and leaned on the advice and camaraderie of each other as they decided on purchases. Often, they came with a list of items they intended to buy, but there were plenty of opportunities to happen upon products they weren’t expecting to purchase. The surprise was the thrill of it, and showing off a new find to friends only added to the fun.
Social media reordered how we interact with each other in a public forum in many ways. But when it came to shopping, several of the same principles emerged once again. Over a decade, the social platforms became a place where many people gathered, except in this case it was online rather than in-person. With improving mobile phones and the ability to share photos and video, users saw each other and drew inspiration for looks, routines and living environments. Gathering engaged audiences of unique scale, these platforms presented an ideal place for users to discover a product they didn't know they wanted. Put that together with rising comfort levels with shopping through ecommerce channels, and it added up to a big role for social media platforms as the consumer brands of the internet generation built direct-to-consumer models.
Now, finding goods on social media is commonplace. According to research by social media management and intelligence company Sprout Social, 68% of shoppers made at least one purchase directly from social media in 2021. In 2022, 98% of shoppers plan to make at least one purchase through social shopping or influencer commerce, the research showed.
“For consumers, social commerce has become too convenient to ignore,” said Rachael Samuels, Senior Manager of Social Media at Sprout Social. “As social platforms enhance their commerce features and more brands create digital storefronts, social media has become a place where consumers are able to discover and purchase products from communities and brands they trust. As the digital marketplace continues to expand, more and more consumers will expect brands to meet them where they are and provide engaging, meaningful content along with easy, in-app purchases.”
With users already finding products via ads and influencers, these new expectations are leading companies to take new steps to make it easier to complete the full shopping experience without leaving a social app. Many of the largest platforms are testing new features aimed at making it easier to discover, browse and purchase products within a social media app, allowing users to buy an item as soon as they see it, as opposed to following a link or searching for it at another site. Carts and buy boxes are right alongside shares and likes.
“The way we use social media is constantly evolving to meet the needs and interests of our communities, and social platforms have often been quick to adapt and innovate their features accordingly,” Samuels said. “While consumers are embracing social commerce, consumer-facing brands are looking at social commerce as a way to drive revenue and grow awareness around their products. This puts social media at the forefront of the business-to-consumer relationship and platforms are quickly adapting to make this transition easy and possible for both brands and consumers.”
To be sure, the new round of releases are steps on a longer journey. Most are in pilot mode, indicating the companies are still in learning. Plus, they’re not the first in-app shopping features to roll out. Platforms have tested plenty over the last five years, only to shelve them later.
Yet, with lots of features rolling out in a period of months, these product updates say a lot about where social commerce — and our lives online — might be heading.
Let’s take a look at the latest releases:
The blue bird app is testing a new tool for in-app shopping. Launched in March, Twitter Shops is providing a dedicated space for merchants to showcase up to 50 products. It has the following features:
- Users can click “View Shop” within a brand’s profile.
- Within the shop, users can scroll through products.
- Clicking on a product opens an in-app browser, offering the opportunity to learn more and checkout through a merchant’s website.
Twitter said Shops designed as a “larger, fully-immersive” offering than its currently-running Shops Module.
“People are already talking about products on Twitter," Twitter Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck wrote in a post announcing the beta. "We want Twitter Shops to be the home for merchants on Twitter where they can intentionally curate a catalog of products for their Twitter audience and build upon the product discussions already happening on our service by giving shoppers a point of action where a conversation can become a purchase."
Currently, it’s in beta with US iPhone users. It’s available to a select group of brands, including Verizon, Arden Cove, Gay Pride Apparel, The Latinx in Power podcast and All I Do is Cook. Twitter said it will seek to expand with storytelling tools and opportunities to offer more products.
Seeking to further engage shoppers on its platform, Pinterest rolled out a new set of tools to brands at its Pinterest Presents advertisers summit on March 10. They aim to help users shop directly on the inspiration-focused social platform, and allow brands to expand their presence.
- Your Shop: A personalized shopping page for users that displays the latest items based on their activity and preferences.
- Merchant details: Verified merchants can display values-based connections at the top of a profile. It’s designed to help brands attract consumers that align with their worldview.
- In-app checkout: Pinterest now allows users to checkout without leaving Pinterest, creating a more seamless experience between the decision point. The feature is currently in beta with select Shopify merchants in the US.
- Idea pins: Pinterest has Idea Pins that show products in a story-like display. Now brands can promote these through ads. This is also available for Idea Pins generated by creators in which a brand’s product is tagged.
- Pinterest Trends: Updates to Pinterest’s trend feature will include real-time search data, more granular audience data and trend types, as well as personalized trend recommendations for a business.
- Pinterest API for Shopping: This dev tool is designed to help merchants make it easer to keep their product catalogs up-to-date within Pinterest.
YouTube has long been a home to a pair of the key ingredients powering the current wave of social commerce: creators and video content. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the Google-owned platform is planning a number of shopping features this year.
“We’ll bring shopping to more creators and brands by partnering with commerce platforms like Shopify as we build a more interactive and entertaining experience for users,” CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in a letter in January on the company's 2022 priorities.
In a post weeks later, Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan laid out a few of the features coming to the platform in 2022:
- Shoppable video: This feature gives users the opportunity to shop tagged items in a creator’s video. YouTube is in the “early stages” of how shopping can be integrated with its short-form video format, called Shorts, Wojcicki wrote.
- Live shopping: Building on YouTube’s livestreaming capabilities, the platform is offering creators the opportunity to introduce brand products. YouTube is going to roll out tools that make shopping easier in 2022, Mohan said. The platform has been testing capabilities in the U.S., South Korea, and Brazil.
- Creator tagging: YouTube has also introduced a pilot that allows users to browse, learn about and shop products.
Colllaborative livestreaming on YouTube (Courtesy photo)
In many ways, Facebook is the original social commerce platform. After all, its scale meant that sales happened alongside connections. Plus, its advertising powered a new generation of DTC brands in the last decade. Now, the company is looking to upgrade its capabilities in a few key areas. Meta announced shopping features in the following three areas of Facebook in November:
- Groups: Facebook rolled out features that allow product recommendations within groups. Additionally, organizers of groups can create shops to sell merchandise and other goods.
- News Feed: Facebook is surfacing top product mentions in groups that users are a part of within the news feed.
- Live shopping for creators: Facebook is beginning to test features that make it easier for creators to partner with brands and highlight products.
- For merchants: Facebook added community replies, and upgraded ratings and reviews.
- Instagram tagging: When users tag brands from whom they’ve made a purchase on Instagram, businesses can add the images to their shop’s product detail pages.
Instagram is becoming more shoppable by opening up a feature that was initially available for brands and creators to all users. According to The Verge, users can follow the same method of tagging people to tag products. In turn, business owners get notified when a product is tagged. Users won’t make revenue, but Instagram is testing a program in which select affiliates can make commissions for making sales through recommendations.
The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt showed the power of the short-form video platform to influence sales. In late 2021, the platform took steps to add features around its creator-led shopping. In August, it announced a partnership with Shopify that showed it was testing with brands. That set the stage for a host of product additions a month later. These include:
- Shopping integrations: Merchants can manage ecommerce operations including their product catalog, shipping, fulfillment and point of purchase within TikTok. There are also integrations with third-party commerce partners including Shopify, Square, Ecwid, PrestaShop.
- Product links: Brands can offer a link within an organic video that leads to a product detail page.
- Live shopping: This allows brands to livestream sessions and offer links directly to products.
- Ads: TikTok has ads that allow for swipeable product cards within an in-feed video ad, or the ability to serve users targeted ads based on their interests.
Instacart's Shoppable Recipes (courtesy photo)
In March, the online grocery platform recently unveiled Shoppable Recipes, a new feature that allows food creators to enable a path to buying ingredients through a recipe. The feature is made possible through a mix of integrations: A “See Recipe” button on TikTok videos, and a “Shop with Instacart” button within recipes on Hearst Magazines’ food properties, (including Delish and Good Housekeeping) Creators can choose from recipes available on Tasty.co and other select sites. Users, in turn, can click the buttons and add items to their cart on Instacart and queue it up for ordering.
Notably, it’s a sign of social media platforms partnering to enable in-app shopping.
Shopify is the platform that powers many of the websites of DTC brands that advertise on social media, so it has an important role to play in this sphere. With a new tool released in March called Linkpop, it is looking to enable a “commerce-first” connection within social media for creators. Here's a look at how it works:
- For creators and merchants, Linkpop enables them to share a single link within a social bio that connects users to a Linkpop page.
- Users can shop without having to navigate away from a social media app, browsing products, making purchases and finding other links to websites and videos that the brand displays.
- To get started, merchants set up an account, link it to their Shopify store to sync with their product catalog and add up to 200 links, whether they are shoppable or links to other types of media. Linkpop also includes a built-in analytics tool.
“Merchants and creators today are using multiple channels to engage with customers, and that number of touchpoints will only continue to grow,” Amir Kabbara, the director of product at Shopify, said in a statement. “With Linkpop, we’ve created a surface that unifies all links merchants post across social channels."
Linkpop graphic (handout via Shopify)
How can brands find success?
For brands, the new releases are tools to explore. Yet it’s clear that creating an effective social commerce operation also requires engagement with the full landscape of ecommerce, and strategy. We asked Samuels about how consumers can find success. Below is what she shared:
“To be successful, businesses must invest in their customer’s entire social journey and truly understand what their path to purchase looks like. Consumers are now looking to social media as a way to meaningfully engage and dive deeper into their online communities. Brands should be thinking about ways to tap into this and engage their customers with meaningful, interactive content, strong customer support and a firm awareness of what they need. Once brands develop a deeper understanding of social influence, the creator economy and how their audiences experience their products and commerce system, they will be able to continuously grow and refine their strategies to meet their customers’ needs. This may mean interacting more closely with influencers and creators, reading reviews for product development or creating a more seamless checkout experience. The more tapped in a brand is with their social presence and that of their customers, the more likely they’ll be to capture the opportunities presented by social commerce.”