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Combining high-quality mobile survey technology, a robust polling methodology, and expert data analysis,
our bulletins will be essential reading to get the pulse of the nation

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Published July 14th 2016

The Buy Button Invasion: Is Social Commerce Finally Taking Off?

Chatbots, Buy Now buttons and an increased emphasis on selling through social media leads us to ask: is social commerce actually going to work?

The last few years have seen the prospect of social commerce bubbling away without really taking off.

In the process of monetizing social connections, it was surely only a matter of time before the networks took to embracing transactions too.

Despite various early tests and attempts, s-commerce is yet to take off in a big way.

Yet the increasing emphasis on shopping through social media, and the recent proliferation of Buy Now buttons, suggest that our social media overlords are pretty keen on making this a reality.

Simply put: is social commerce actually happening?

The current state of social commerce

Social commerce is a subset of electronic commerce. It harnesses social media, user interactions, and content to facilitate the buying and selling of products and services.

This should happen on the social platform itself, rather than referring a customer to the brand’s e-commerce platform.

For retailers, the wealth of user information on social networks adds to the desirability of s-commerce. Valuable consumer insights will be collected to feedback into sales, marketing, product development and more.

The actions of each sale will be carried out by someone logged in, with a trail of data about their interests, purchases, likes, and friends.

For smaller retailers, there is an additional attraction of having a shop front on the busiest online street without the cost of building your own.

While the retailers and networks are largely backing this new form of selling, commentators seem unsure if it is going to take off or not.

In its current state, social commerce takes up only a small proportion of online sales. The Washington Post has reported s-commerce as representing 2% of online sales.


However, it is growing at a healthy rate and is being backed by all of the major social networks.

eMarketer states that social commerce revenue grew from $5 billion in 2011 to over $30 billion in 2015, and they predict it will rise to $491.5 billion by 2018.

Social referrals

While sales made on social networks take up a small proportion of total sales, this does not take into account the invisible hand of social in a buyer journey.

While people do use social for research and discovery, it seems that they may not yet be comfortable processing the actual transaction on social.

They may use social media to research a brand. They may discover a product through word of mouth. The problem for the moment is that they then tend to leave, later on firing up a laptop to head to the brand’s main e-commerce site.

That doesn’t mean that social hasn’t played a part at all though.

Business Insider reports that social increased its share of e-commerce referrals by nearly 200% between 2014 and 2015, faster than any other channel. Then there’s the unmeasurable dark social to consider, which could be driving 69% of all online traffic, further hiding the impact of social on commerce.

s-commerce crowd

There is an important, if obvious, point to add here.

Current social commerce offerings are limited. The number of retailers and the product ranges currently available cannot compete with the huge range of choice across several online stores.

And when you consider a recent survey showing more than 60% of users are open to purchasing products through social, it seems likely increased purchasing is being held up, at least in part, by availability and functionality.

The increase in social referrals and the growing number of sales point to a user base that is already using social as a discovery tool.

This touch point on the buyer journey may prove to be the beginnings of making social commerce mainstream. If the buying options increase and people become more familiar with the social commerce, it might just start to take off.

New social commerce features rolled out

It seems every social media site has introduced s-commerce features in the last year or so.

Before that, most of them were experimenting with different advertising options, hoping to show the potential impact of social on commerce.

Facebook – It started with Call to Action buttons, which directed users off-site. It then introduced charity Donate buttons in 2013, where the donation was completed on Facebook.

Buy Now buttons are currently being tested. There also are several advertising options, including rumoured upcoming Shoppable Videos.

Facebook social commerce advert

Instagram – Having experimented with several forms of advertising, Instagram has now introduced interest and demographic targeting, as well as Shop Now, Install Now and Sign Up buttons.

Twitter – Twitter has partnered with several ecommerce platforms to introduce Buy Now buttons, allowing users to shop from within their timelines.

SnapChatBoard member Joanna Coles revealed that Snapchat’s Discover feature will soon expand into e-commerce, allowing users to buy products direct from selected brands.

Google – Google is introducing a Buy on Google button that will appear on the adverts at the top of your mobile search results, and link directly to a Google checkout page, enabling one-click purchases.

YouTube – YouTube is adding Shoppable Ads into videos. Users will click on an icon which will display information and a link to the retailer’s website. While this isn’t native shopping, it’s a step in that direction for YouTube.

Pinterest – Pinterest’s offering is in the form of Buyable Pins, of which there are currently 60 million. Their new visual search feature seems a great fit for allowing people to discover where they can buy an item seen on a pin.

social commerce involves word of mouth marketing

What’s next for s-commerce?

When trying to work out what the future holds, it is worth looking to mature markets.

In this case, China is where it’s at. WeChat has opened up its platform to allow developers to build ecommerce stores. Instead of having to build their own standalone shopping apps, retailers can build storefronts within WeChat.

Part of this attraction is that WeChat has a much broader functionality (in China) than other messaging apps on the market.

WeChat’s wallet feature makes one-click purchasing easy. It’s social networking allows word-of-mouth marketing, influencer identification, and allows for social media analytics.

At Facebook’s F8 conference it was announced that Facebook Messenger is opening up to chat bots, introducing automated customer service, content, and e-commerce guidance.

Google’s upcoming chat app Allo will feature Google Assistant, which will suggest nearby pizza restaurants if you and your friends start discussing your favourite place to grab a pie.

It will offer a variety of information, and even go so far as to book the table for you.

With the rise of social referrals, escalating sales, the proliferation of Buy Now options, and automated chat bots on the horizon, social commerce looks likely to take off eventually.

Shifts in buyer habits can be slow to materialize, but the evidence suggests that the interested parties will keep trying to find the magic formula until it’s either proven to not work, or we’re all shopping for shampoo on Twitter.

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US Election Bulletin: Get weekly polling data, insights & trends

Combining high-quality mobile survey technology, a robust polling methodology, and expert data analysis, our bulletins will be essential reading to get the pulse of the nation.

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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.