Headline | March 14, 2017

Social commerce: do you buy it?

ipad-tablet-technology-touch (2)We know that social media is a hugely impactful influencer of buying decisions. But how many people actually want to then go on to buy in social?

With brands growing their advertising spends, platforms trying to find the next big thing to draw in new users, and ever more data available to target those users, it’s becoming more of a challenge for advertisers to pinpoint the right platform to reach audiences.

The average time we spend on social media increases year on year. And, while many brands are now fully clued up in the virtues of generating reach and engagement in the social space, the next question is: how does this help towards driving sales?

What are platforms doing?

A bunch of platforms are experimenting with click-to-buy options – the intention being to cut down a consumer’s path to purchase and capitalising on impulse buys.

Facebook rolled out their shopping feature globally, allowing brands to make their own shop within their page, so users could purchase stuff without having to leave Facebook. Smart move. And, while the platform claims it won’t make money out of the service, a question mark remains over the kind of data it’ll collect and how okay people will be with it. (Our view is, pretty okay.)

Pinterest also integrated their buyable pins and visual smart search to identify similar products in a step towards AI and machine learning. The ability for this kind of visual analysis allows for an intuitive form of social commerce by being much more bi-directional – people might actively be looking at their fave celeb, fall in love with a top they’re wearing and then visually search for similar ones which they can instantly buy.

All this is impressive and great news for the platforms. They get to keep consumers in their ecosystem for longer and offer them an enhanced social experience.

But is attempting to advertise and push products in a social environment the right thing to do, or is it being used out of context? Are people are in a different mind-set when browsing social media versus online stores? Do they want to see an advert attempting to coerce them into buying a kettle after just watching a video of a cat falling off a chair?

Well, with social platforms the perfect place for discovery and movement (a whopping 75% of people inspired by a post on Instagram take a direct action afterwards), we’d hedge our bets on people being super excited about social commerce – as long as it’s relevant. No one wants to see adverts that jar, or content that isn’t relevant. But if it’s intuitive and easy to access? We’re in.

What’s on the horizon?

Worldwide social commerce revenue hit 5 billion in 2011 and 30 billion in 2015, so the model is definitely working.

It’s likely that experimentation with new forms of social commerce tools will be dependent on how rapidly technology can keep up and adapt to such levels of integration. Making the process of click to buy as seamless as possible will be at the forefront of all platforms’ minds. If implemented in the right way, it’ll lead to people being more accepting of in-feed ads and encourage one-click buying.

Also, as the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence develops, brands will begin to be able to use social not just to promote products that they know consumers want, based on their search history, but begin to use machine learning and algorithms to help guide and understand their needs. Online retailers such as Spring have already started to explore the possibilities of AI in the retail sector – their Messenger bot recommends products based on a series of multiple-choice questions, but tools like this are destined to get even more intuitive as the technology develops.

Indeed, the potential of AI is massive for retailers themselves. As Instagram feeds full of a buyer’s latest purchases become an ever more powerful indication of their buying behaviour, so image recognition technologies will be able to interpret these images and provide data that could inform anything from sales promotions and next season’s trends to manufacturing decisions. If a retailer knows that people are snapping blue dresses at three times the rate they were last quarter, why wouldn’t they make sure their shelves are full of blue dresses?

So, while developments from all the major platforms are bound to make the path to purchase on social ever smoother, it’s the potential of social data and artificial intelligence to interpret, inform and benefit the social shopping experience that the real potential lies.

Jess Rowntree, Head of Socialyse UK