Bizrate Insights· Author
Last year’s abrupt government lockdowns due to COVID-19 triggered innovation and rapid growth for ecommerce that are still going on almost two years later. But even as ecommerce sales show no signs of slowing, many consumers still crave the social experiences that only in-person, brick-and-mortar shopping can provide. This has led many to try social commerce, a form of ecommerce offered within popular social media apps like Facebook and Instagram.
As consumers relied on social media to stay connected in 2020, social commerce sales in the U.S. reached $27 billion — a 38.9% increase compared to 2019 totals. In 2021, eMarketer forecasts social commerce sales will reach $36.6 billion, a 35.8% year-over-year increase.
Despite accounting for a fraction of the nearly trillion-dollar ecommerce market in the U.S., social commerce gives small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) the tools to potentially reach and sell to millions of consumers. Read on for a comprehensive overview of social commerce in the U.S. and better understand the relationship between social media buying and ecommerce.
The Difference Between Social Commerce and Ecommerce
Social commerce is a subset of ecommerce that combines the interactivity of social media and the convenience of online shopping. In addition to using social media as a marketing channel, a retailer practicing social commerce creates a complete shopping experience within a social media platform. While a social commerce strategy can follow many of the same basic principles as an ecommerce one, there is one key distinction to remember: In a social commerce model, the point of sale takes place entirely within a social media platform.
By keeping customers within a social media platform’s ecosystem, ecommerce retailers can build a more convenient, personalized shopping experience. This streamlined customer experience reduces the risk of losing shoppers while they’re redirected from a social media platform to an external online store.
Social commerce also provides unique opportunities for customer engagement beyond watching a video or commenting on a post. Since the start of the pandemic, many of the major social media platforms have rolled out new tools that make digital product discovery more interactive and fun — such as try-on features for clothing, accessories, and make-up using augmented reality and shoppable livestreams featuring influencers. While not yet widely available for all retailers to use, these advanced features could give SMBs with limited budgets or technological resources the ability to showcase their products and reach new customers in unique ways.
The Social Commerce Market in the US
Total social commerce sales represent a small percentage of the overall ecommerce market in the U.S. However, current average order value (AOV) projections of $400 per social commerce buyer are relatively high, according to eMarketer. By 2025, the AOV per social commerce buyer will surpass $700, while overall social commerce sales will more than double to $79.6 billion compared to 2021 totals.
A significant portion of the population is forecasted to purchase products using social media platforms. By the end of 2021, 90.2 million consumers — 36% of all internet users in the U.S. — will have made at least one social commerce purchase. These totals trail only China, the world’s leading social commerce market.
While social commerce has vast potential, it’s important to understand that social media may not be an optimal sales channel for every retailer. Half of U.S. social network users ages 18 to 34 say they will make at least one social commerce purchase compared to only a third of those ages 55 and older. With these numbers in mind, retailers must factor in their customer bases and target audiences when deciding whether it’s worth investing in a social commerce strategy.
3 Social Commerce Features to Try Right Now
It may be several more years before both businesses and consumers in the U.S. experience the full promise of social commerce. But in the meantime, there are several ways ecommerce retailers can maximize social media platforms as sales channels. Here are three widely available social commerce tools you can start using today.
1. Set Up Shop with Facebook
Facebook’s platform is ideal for ecommerce retailers looking to get started with social commerce. Facebook Shops are free to set up and offer a complete social commerce experience for customers. Shoppers visiting your digital storefront can browse inventory and complete a purchase without ever having to leave Facebook’s app.
2. Get Creative with Instagram Shopping
Instagram Shopping lets companies showcase their products using interactive photo and video content. Ecommerce retailers with an Instagram business account can add tappable product tags to a post or dynamic shopping stickers to a Story. From there, shoppers who engage with this content can be redirected to in-app product pages and complete a purchase directly on Instagram.
3. Stand Out with Pinterest
Pinterest has always been a popular platform for product discovery. While it currently does not offer an in-app checkout process like Facebook and Instagram, Pinterest’s Product Pins are a valuable tool for reaching new buyers. Ecommerce retailers can set up their Pins to share product information, including pricing and availability, then redirect shoppers to an external page to complete a purchase.
The Outlook for Social Commerce
Ecommerce retailers should always consider their target audience, business goals, and existing customers before investing in any new strategy, including social commerce. If social commerce is a feasible strategy for your business, the three tools mentioned above offer SMBs exciting new ways to engage their customers while more robust features like AR try-ons are refined. However, the more immersive aspects of social commerce are where retailers may see the true potential for social media to bridge the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the experience of going to a physical store.