Within five years of Facebook's launch, it had eclipsed more established platforms like Myspace to become the largest social media network in the world.
Many attribute at least part of this amazing success on Mark Zuckerberg’s resistance to commercializing the platform with big, obtrusive ads too early like other platforms had done to generate revenue. This was part of the “cool” factor which, when combined with a more user-friendly experience, attracted a large number of users very quickly.
But while Facebook may owe much of its early success to avoiding the commercialization of it’s platform, those days are over. Facebook, and every other social media platform, is looking at how commerce can be integrated into their networks to generate revenue.
Companies looking to attract shoppers know they need to be engaging where their potential customers are and that is increasingly online and, more specifically, on social media. About 28% of all online activity is on social which translates into 1.72 hours a day for the average user. And the younger the user, the higher the amount of time on social.
In 2014, the top 500 online retailers earned $3.3 billion from social shopping – a 26% increase over 2013, and 10% higher than the overall ecommerce growth rate. In 2015, it is estimated that social generated $30 billion of the total global ecommerce revenue, a $10 billion increase from 2014 and a more than $25 billion rise since 2011. One can only expect those numbers to increase as social media continues to mature and more brands begin to understand how they can utilize it to connect more successfully with their potential customers.
Unfortunately, social is still often relegated to a supporting role in ecommerce. But with consumers clearly shopping more through social channels and becoming more open to completing their transactions through them, it’s clear why many marketers have listed social as one of the biggest ecommerce trends to keep an eye on as we move forward.
A report released by GlobalWebIndex states that 37% of Internet users follow their favorite brands on social media. Not only that, but 30% of them use social networks to research products and services and 10% say that a “Buy” button on a social network would make them more likely to purchase a product.
So, with the clear interest consumers have shown in buying through their social accounts, what have the social platforms themselves been doing to satiate that potential?
Currently the giant of social commerce, Facebook holds an average of 85% of all ecommerce orders from social media. Despite the stranglehold they currently have on market share, they haven’t exactly been sitting back. In 2014, Facebook rolled out their carousel advertising format, which allows companies to showcase multiple product images and links within one single ad.
Last October, the company began experimenting with Canvas, a fast-loading, immersive experience designed to drive users back to the company’s website to complete the sale. Then during the holiday season, a new targeting method was unveiled to allow brands to target seasonal holidays and special events, just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Most notably, Facebook was one of the first social mediums to integrate a “Buy” button directly on its platform, allowing consumers to make purchases without ever leaving Facebook.
Twitter spent the tail end of last year working hard on their own “Buy” button, which they first launched to U.S. retailers in 2014 and functions very much the same as Facebook’s.
Even though they may no longer be the sole proprietor of the hashtag, the ability to invest in paid support to target and promote a specific hashtag - although quite costly - is still an unique and effective way for (U.S) ecommerce companies to display their products and services directly to customers. In addition, it can add hype to special sweepstakes often producing significant brand exposure and fan advocacy.
Despite having a much smaller user base than Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest has proven to be one of the most successful drivers of social commerce. Their “Buyable Pins” currently have an average order value of $50, which is one of the highest among the mainstream social channels.
Additionally, orders made on Pinterest via mobile devices have been on the rise. Much like Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest has also made a recent announcement stating they will be expanding on their social commerce program.
Google’s video streaming behemoth isn’t shying away from the direct shopping trend either. After implementing their cards feature in 2015, YouTube took things one step further by revealing their “Shopping Ads” program.
Shopping Ads will match relevant products in the new card format based on the type of video being played, which can then be purchased within the stream. Ecommerce merchants can now sell their products directly through YouTube without even needing to drive people to their website.
The surge in ecommerce-related enhancements doesn’t only apply to the major channels. Instagram (owned by Facebook) has adapted its parent’s “Shop Now” button feature. Polyvore, a social medium for fashion enthusiasts owned by Yahoo, has shown to be extremely promising in its niche, being dubbed the average order value champion by Shopify in 2014.
Speaking of fashion, Snapchat’s recent partnership with ShopStyle suggests that even social channels geared for mobile devices are working diligently to craft successful social commerce models. But it doesn’t end with fashion. China’s ecommerce giant Alibaba made a substantial investment in Snapchat and has also formed a partnership with Weibo – China’s version of Twitter. But Alibaba is facing fierce competition from WeChat, one of China’s most popular mobile messaging platforms. And with Facebook paying $22 billion to acquire WhatsApp messenger - which has a lot of similarities to WeChat – it’s not a stretch to assume there will eventually be a commerce component added to these as well.
With 35% of millennials admitting that they’d likely use a “buy” button on Facebook, another 24% saying they’d use one on Twitter, and the increased trust consumers have in converting on social, it’s no surprise why so many of these mediums are scrambling to produce a winning formula to help companies tap into their networks.
While there is still an extensive amount of ground that needs to be covered before the majority of consumers will feel accustomed to shopping on their preferred channels, the development of social commerce is continuing to gain momentum. It will be very interesting to see how social commerce continues to evolve in the not-so-distant future.