Social Commerce Trends to Experiment with in 2021

Like so many things in 2020, the rate of online shopping was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. eMarketer reports that US e-commerce is expected to have grown 32% in 2020 (from a base of $600B), accelerating the shift to online shopping by nearly two years.  

Entrepreneurs and SMBs (small and medium sized businesses) who weren’t transacting with customers online raced to meet the demand. As a result, e-commerce platforms like Shopify soared, drawing Q2-Q3’20 revenues nearly double that of comparable quarters in 2019.  

Social commerce, the act of transacting on or through social networks, attracted interest and trial in 2020. Here are four social commerce trends to watch and experiment with in 2021.

New features minimize friction at checkout 

Social networks are no longer happy to just have merchants use their platforms to drive discovery and interest. Now, they want to help them drive sales. They hope to see American companies and consumers mirror the long experienced popularity of social commerce in Asia. A 2020 Bizrate Insights and eMarketer study indicates that we have a long way to go: 70% of US adults say they’ve never made a purchase via a social media platform.

hellbent (@stayhellbent), a Skaneateles, NY-based apparel brand, frequently links Instagram posts to products on shophellbent.com

Asking consumers to navigate from a social network to a brand’s website, and then scour that website for the product they saw in a post is much too cumbersome of a process. Making the buying experience more seamless is an important step in optimizing social media platforms for commerce.

In 2020, newly announced features did just that. All mainstream social networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok, now allow retailers to upload their product catalog in order to facilitate dynamic social commerce. Product catalog integrations within social platforms allow for shoppable posts and ads reflective of real-time pricing and inventory. Think of these integrations as the infrastructure needed to facilitate social commerce.

On the more advanced side, Instagram released two new shopping features. Checkout on Instagram enables people to buy products without leaving the app. Live Shopping allows checkout-enabled businesses to sell products through Instagram Live.

It’s worth noting that most shopping via social media platforms happens on the merchant’s website (vs. in-app). It remains to be seen if in-app shopping will be made widely available by social networks and adopted by merchants. Possible hurdles include weariness among consumers to share payment information with social networks and commissions charged by social networks to merchants.

Content marketing levels up

The Local Branch (@thelocalbranch)

Likewise, product catalog integrations make true content marketing on social media possible. A live product catalog allows merchants to lead with storytelling while simultaneously offering a simple path to purchase (just two taps away).

The benefits? Storytelling, rather than in-your-face sales copy, deepens connections with current and prospective customers. At the same time, merchants don’t have to worry about alienating those who may be discovering their brand for the first time, or those loyal customers who are ready to take out their credit card.

The Local Branch, a Skaneateles, NY-based leather and artisanal goods boutique, does so artfully. Rich lifestyle imagery and copy dominate their Instagram feed.

Live shopping fills a void

Live shopping, a real-time commerce experience on social media involving reviews, recommendations and try-ons from store owners and influencers, took off in 2020. Think: modern QVC in your feed.

Gypsy Freedom (@shopgypsyfreedom)

While live video isn’t new, using the format to sell is. Part of its rise is likely attributable to the resemblance of in-person shopping and human interaction that we all yearn for during these isolating times.

From large brands like Rebecca Minkoff to a sustainable fashion boutique in Syracuse, NY, Gypsy Freedom, merchants experimented with live shopping in 2020.

Want to see it in action? Gypsy Freedom store owner, Caeresa Richardson, and Syracuse-based influencer and Lululemon ambassador, Amanda Hughes, host a “sip and shop” promoting curated holiday looks (complete with a promo code for 20% off) here.

Exclusive drops reward communities

 

The Arrivals (@thearrivals)

In 2020, merchants experimented with making new products or discount codes exclusively available to their social communities.

Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, notes that scarcity and exclusivity make consumers feel like insiders and products more desirable.  As such, this is a fantastic way to excite and reward your social community.

The Arrivals, an outerwear apparel company, made limited batch products available to their Instagram community. The combination of teasing the product release, scarce product and clear direction on how to buy, led The Arrivals to sell out in 48 hours. I suspect the super cute tie-dye products didn’t hurt, either 💁‍♀️

In closing, while social commerce has a long way to go toward a completely frictionless, single tap buying experience, 2020 was a giant step in the right direction.

To start experimenting with social commerce, upload a product catalog. Be warned, the process isn’t for the faint of heart. Though once the infrastructure is in place, the opportunities to sell are plentiful. Begin by reading up on the process on your social (eg Instagram Shopping setup guide) and e-commerce (eg Shopify help center) platform of choice.

For more on media, tech and digital wellness, check out @caliyorkconsulting on Instagram. 

Daniela Molta

Daniela Molta

Daniela is the principal consultant at CaliYork Consulting and a professor of digital advertising at Syracuse University.