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Jun 06

The Future of Social Media and E-Commerce


In: Strategy Insights

For years now social media has lagged far behind email and organic search as a driver of revenue for e-commerce sites. Social media has been great at creating a brand presence, driving traffic, and connecting with consumers. But where is the disconnect with purchasing? If users love your brand on social, why have we continued to see low conversion rates when it comes to making a sale?   

The general consensus is that people don’t go to social media to buy things. But over the past three years that paradigm has shifted. Seeing advertisements on Facebook is no longer an affront, though still most don’t visit social with the intent to purchase. This shift towards accepting and embracing Facebook as a place for branded content is the first step towards solidifying social as the beginning of the purchase journey.  

Attribution Tells a Story

While Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram have shown low numbers when it comes to driving direct sales, we can’t discount their existing role in the purchase journey. What about users who visit your site from a Facebook ad, but then purchase after receiving an emailed coupon code? Or those who find your product on Pinterest, but then buy it in the store?

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 21 percent of the Pinterest users surveyed said that they bought an item in-store after pinning, repinning, or ‘liking’ it, and 36 percent of users under 35 said they had done so.

Tracking and assigning appropriate credit to those sales isn’t always a simple task, but it’s important to have an attribution model in place that accounts for this. In this way, social is already driving more sales than it’s getting credit for.

Targeted Audiences Hit the Mark

In the last quarter of 2013, Facebook released their custom audiences feature. These targeted audiences are created based on any number of variables. You can create a lookalike audience based on other users with similar profiles to those who already like your page. You can create an audience of users who have already visited your site or watched a product video. We recently covered in detail how you can utilize Facebook marketing to increase conversions. In just over two years, we’ve already begun to see the impact these tools are having. Brands are spending less to see more conversions across the board. As businesses continue to refine these audiences over time, social ROIs will continue to increase.

Remarketing Made Smarter

One of the most effective tools made possible with targeted audiences is remarketing. When a user views a product or abandons it in their cart, they see that same product the next time they visit Facebook or Instagram. Remarketing can boost your ad response by up to 400% and users who are retargeted are 70% more likely to convert on your website. Remarketing isn’t a new concept, but its implications for social media are enormous.

The Future of Integrated Purchasing

The advent of integrated mobile social purchasing is easily the biggest change in the path from social to purchase.  Utilizing visually enticing images with a “Buy Now” button, and the power of Google Wallet and Apple Pay, users can instantly purchase a sweater that pops up in their Instagram or Pinterest feed without the hassle of filling out form fields on a mobile screen.

Though Twitter recently dropped its development of a “Buy” button, Facebook and Pinterest have continued to test the waters of integration. Facebook rolled out in-site shops that let consumers purchase directly through a store’s Facebook page. Pinterest as well released “Buyable Pins” to allow users to instantly purchase specific items utilizing Apple Pay or a credit card. LiketoKnow.it is another integration where liking an Instagram photo sends an email with ready-to-shop links, as well as “Shop Now” buttons on photos in your feed.

This ability to take advantage of impulse purchasing is unparalleled. Especially considering the value of highly visual networks like Pinterest and Instagram where users go specially to see things they desire. While “Buy Now” buttons haven’t yet shown the magnificent growth that was predicted at launch, it isn’t time to give up on the idea yet. Consumers require time to develop trust with new payment structures and to adjust their concept of where it’s safe to make purchases. It wasn’t long ago that the majority of consumers were too fearful to buy anything online, much less store credit card data across multiple platforms accessible with a single click.  

While some naysayers are predicting the quick demise of purchasing through social, the more likely scenario is that we will see it develop and adapt with consumer demand. Facebook recently released chatbot capability through their messenger app, allowing users to look up flights or buy flowers for Mother’s Day by chatting with third-party bots. This sort of “necessity shopping” could foster even more impressive growth than impulse purchases as convenience for consumers dominates the industry.

With all of these developments, it’s easy to see the future of social and e-commerce. More important to note is that many of these changes are poised to benefit mobile. Though 50.3% of all e-commerce traffic is coming from mobile, the conversions have continued to lag. With better targeting, and increased ease of purchase and consumer trust, the 29% of mobile usage time that is spent on social media could very soon be a standard gateway to purchasing.

If you’re an e-commerce business and you’ve previously disregarded social as a wasteland for conversions, it’s time to rethink your strategy and embrace the long-awaited union of mobile, social, and e-commerce.


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