Shopping is changing drastically. Our entire customer journey – from discovery to research to the point of purchase – has moved online and become intuitive and social. In many ways today, products find us just as much as we find them. The advents of mobile technology and social media have been crucial factors in this shift – their combination means the birth of a new kind of online retail: social shopping.
While social media builds communities where people share their likes, dislikes, tastes, and preferences, mobile devices make it faster for consumers to move from discovering a product to purchasing or rejecting it. In response, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have found ways to integrate the option to purchase a product or contact a business within their platforms.
Statistically, this is a big deal for both social media and mobile. According to a recent GlobalWebIndex study, 40 percent of global shoppers between the ages of 16 and 24 use social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to research products before they buy them, compared to 30 percent overall.
Forrester Research further predicts that 270 million American consumers will purchase goods online by 2020, with U.S. online sales expected to reach $523 billion in the next five years. A large portion of this activity is being driven by mobile: The number of smartphone users is expected to reach 6.1 billion by 2020, which is why marketers are rushing to figure out the best ways to engage with customers on their mobile screens.
In 2015, Facebook teamed up with e-commerce platform Shopify to launch an in-app shopping feature for businesses with Facebook pages. The feature allowed businesses and marketers to showcase their products right on their pages, where they already engage with new and old customers, while allowing shoppers to purchase items entirely on Facebook, without leaving the platform. The idea was to bring an element of sociability to the online shopping experience and to make seamless shopping part of using Facebook.
Facebook-owned Instagram has been balancing personal user-generated content with branded content since it introduced advertising in 2013 – its latest stab being embedding skippable ads in its Instagram Stories feature a few weeks ago. As the has platform evolved, it has followed Facebook’s lead in siloing branded content. Instagram for Business accounts include metrics and insights on how well a given company’s content is performing, a “Contact” button for interested customers, and even a “Get Directions” feature that provides users with the location of the closest brick-and-mortar store. These updates are part of a much larger effort to make shopping more social and mobile-friendly. At a time when a Facebook newsfeeds feel more like an actual place where users engage with brands and each other on different levels, it makes sense to have a brick-and-mortar equivalent in the form of a button or an e-commerce page on the platform itself.
This past year, Snapchat also confirmed plans to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon. The photo and video-sharing platform is working to launch an e-commerce segment where users can shop without leaving the app. For a platform that has become synonymous with the younger, mobile-native generation, e-commerce on Snapchat has the potential to reach a unique and largely untapped consumer demographic.
The tricky thing about predicting a trend is, well, predicting just how it will play out. But we’re sure about certain things when it comes to social shopping. Marketers and retailers will meet customers at more points in their lives than ever before, and for those who get it right, the opportunity to build new brands and new relationships with younger consumers is exponential.