E-commerce is at an all-time high and there is no expectation for that trend to reverse. In 2020 alone, assisted by the societal shifts caused by the pandemic, e-commerce in the US grew by a whopping 44%. In the same year, two of the world’s hottest companies, TikTok and Shopify, announced a partnership. This was hardly a coincidence. Social commerce has seen huge growth, driving up profits, and contributing to the rapid growth of online sales.
So here is a refresher on social commerce, how we got to today, and what lies “in store” for our future.
What is Social Commerce?
Social media has traditionally offered brands a cost effective and efficient advertising platform, but over the years there has been a push to keep consumers on these platforms for all of their needs, from product browsing to checkout.
Social commerce is exactly that, a hybrid of social media and e-commerce. It is the ability to sell products to consumers in their natural social setting, where people and brands interact, without ever having to leave the native platform. You see that hot new water bottle while scrolling through your feed, you hit the “buy now” button, and then continue consuming your memes. Truly frictionless.
It’s no surprise that social media is especially popular with the younger generations, perhaps even more than some realized. According to Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Media Trends survey, Gen-Z (those currently aged between 14-24) ranked playing video games, streaming music, and engaging on social media as their top entertainment activities, with social media replacing TV and other traditional forms of publication for consuming media and news. So it’s no wonder brands are pushing to cut through the noise and make their products available on these channels, where the internet-savvy generation can be found.
Social commerce is currently an $89.4 billion market and has been predicted to cross the $600 billion mark in the next seven years. Yes, you read that right, $600 BILLION. So, I think you’d agree, it’s worth paying attention.
Here is an obligatory trusted 3rd party source to prove my point
Facebook & Instagram
Instagram is arguably the most advanced social commerce platform today. The nature of its content is heavily focused on fashion and lifestyle, and the platform essentially created the influencer marketing industry, so it made sense to heavily pursue commerce.
In March 2019, Instagram released its Checkout product, allowing users to view products from a shoppable post and purchase all within the native app experience.
Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, control social advertising. The power of Facebook’s targeted advertising, coupled with the ability for consumers to directly purchase the products they have been targeted with, is of huge value to brands and dominates DTC marketing.
However, the conversation is shifting and a new platform is on the rise, with skyrocketing popularity no longer limited to Gen-Z. Is TikTok the future of social commerce?
Social media is becoming more and more focused on visual experiences and that is where TikTok excels. Short-form video content gives freedom to creators and has proven to help build large, dedicated, and engaged audiences.
TikTok has consistently been the most downloaded app on the Apple App Store for some time. It won 2020 with 850 million downloads, beating WhatsApp by a staggering 250 million. As of January 2021 TikTok has more than 689 million active users, not including China where the application operates under a different name, Douyin. These are impressive numbers for an app launched in 2016.
The team at TikTok has built an algorithm that ensures they consistently serve up the content that is most engaging on your “For You Page” (#fyp) and to keep your dopamine levels high. For those that have not seen it, check out the Social Dilemma.
On top of this hyper growth, TikTok recently announced an official move into the social commerce space, and with none other than the one of the world’s hottest companies powering the boom in e-commerce, Shopify.
Shopify is not bashful about who they are. They are the anti-Amazon giving power back to small businesses. The apt Shopify partnership with TikTok created a whole new medium for social commerce. It allows Shopify merchants to run TikTok marketing campaigns directly from their Shopify dashboard, connect with new audiences using content that feels authentic and genuine to the platform, and sell products via in-feed shoppable video ads.
Shopify merchants can target audiences on TikTok based on age, gender, and user behavior, and they can install the TikTok pixel to track interactions and conversations from their campaigns. Again, all from the Shopify dashboard.
Although businesses have been able to run targeted campaigns on TikTok for a while, this partnership represents a big step forward for the integration of e-commerce into the TikTok platform, as well as Shopify’s commitment to social media as a commerce channel.
So while TikTok may be the near-future of social commerce, there’s a lot that lies ahead. Social media is going to continue to play a bigger and more native role in our lives and purchasing habits. The future is exciting for consumers and marketers alike.
The future of social commerce
To get a glimpse into the future of social commerce in the US we need only look across the globe. China, where TikTok’s parent company ByteDance was founded, leads the world in the development of social commerce, with an estimated 13% of total retail sales attributed to social media.
WeChat is the leader in social commerce, with roughly 1.2 billion active monthly users. It’s a monolithic app and provides a wide range of features that cover multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payments. Primed to control social commerce.
“Live shopping” is another cultural phenomenon in China that we are less acquainted with in the US. It refers to promoting and selling products through influencer-led live streams on social media. It’s like QVC meets Instagram Live and wild. Alibaba’s Taobao Live controls the medium, however WeChat also recently entered the space, as did Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese counterpart.
Louis Vuitton’s homepage (left) and livestream campaign (right).
Live shopping is growing at a rapid rate and is estimated to already be at over $60 billion annually, so it’s no surprise US companies are keeping a watchful eye on the trend. We will likely see similar features hit TikTok and Instagram soon, especially with Amazon getting ahead on the trend with “Amazon Live”.
Even further ahead…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that augmented and virtual reality technology is advancing extremely quickly and is bound to take over our lives in more ways than we could ever imagine.
One way we are sure to begin leveraging AR / VR sooner rather than later is in commerce. Shopify is already leading the way with their impressive “Shopify AR” feature, allowing brands to create immersive experiences and give shoppers a new way to experience products before they purchase.
Social VR is also on the rise and Facebook is set to lead the charge with the release of “Horizon”. Facebook Horizon allows people from all over the world to connect, socialize, and share experiences together in VR. Horizon is live now and available to Oculus users and really is a glimpse into the future. It won’t be long before groups meeting in virtual social settings is a norm. Perhaps we will see the rise of the mall once again, only this time in virtual social media.
One thing’s for certain, social media will continue to grow and infuse itself into our lives in ways we can only imagine. If brands want to win, it’s critical to stay on top of these tidal shifts, not only in technology and marketing, but in society at large.