Were you surprised when Instagram removed the Shops logo from its homepage? Social commerce was supposed to be the next big thing in e-comm! Did Meta’s step back mean it was all just hype? Definitely not. Social commerce is still going to explode in the next several years, because the prize for succeeding is too enormous not to make it work.
Fits and starts
A 2022 Accenture study predicted social commerce would grow exponentially to become a $1.2 trillion industry by 2025, “affording new opportunities for people to participate in the global economy as consumers, creators, influencers and sellers, resulting in a power shift from big to small.” Sure enough, Instagram added product tags to posts, and TikTok launched TikTok Shop.
But then the tide turned. Meta (the very birthplace of influencer marketing and the larger creator economy) obscured the Instagram Shops page, discontinued live shopping, and turned its attention toward the metaverse and AI instead. Maybe Meta felt it was investing too much money and screen space in social commerce and decided to retrench? It’s not exactly clear.
Battle of the platforms
TikTok is spearheading the social commerce movement, knowing Gen Z now uses it as a search engine for product recommendations and cultural trends. TikTok is developing visual search capabilities to compete with Google and even inspiring the feed interface of Amazon.
Alphabet bit back with shoppable video ads on YouTube (even from TV!) and Google Perspectives, an AI-driven search tool that collects real human responses to queries a la Quora or Reddit. Pinterest has shoppable Pins, and Snapchat has AR try-ons for CPG brands.
So, what’s the holdup?
The Accenture research showed consumers felt apprehensive about the security of their credit card information and frustrated with the difficulty of returns and exchanges. Perhaps it’s fitting that social networks which spread disinformation and have eroded public trust are the ones struggling most to break through. It’s up to social media networks to engender consumer trust and provide the infrastructure for brands to succeed.
What brands need to know
Yes, we want an immediate sale. But first, we need to design aspirational, visually appealing ads that elicit user interaction and take advantage of the platform’s call-to-action features. Walk through your shopper’s journey from post to product to checkout to returns. The whole experience should feel seamless. Agencies should facilitate easy collaboration between ecommerce and paid-social experts. Leverage each department’s expertise wisely to realize the potential of social commerce as an omnichannel approach to marketing.