When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many consumers raced online to buy products they couldn’t get in-store. As of July 2020, the global retail e-commerce websites were seeing a record 22 billion monthly visits.
As brands struggled to bring more products and services online, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp began adopting ecommerce tools that enable businesses to sell more items directly from their social pages.
Now that social media networks continue to expand cross-platform shopping tools, it is clear that social media e-commerce is gaining traction. But as with any new marketing trend, you might be asking, “Are consumers actually buying products while browsing social media?”
The above question is worth asking. As a marketer, creating an online catalog or e-commerce process – even using an intuitive social media platform – takes time and effort.
Not only do you need to determine what products are being sold online and how you will deliver them to customers, but there can be a technology learning curve for your team. You probably want to know that consumers are actively using social media shopping tools before turning them on
To determine if social media shopping features were worth considering, I asked 467 consumers if they had ever bought products on social media platforms.
Are consumers actually buying products on social media?
There are now more ways than ever to buy products on social media. Since some social media shopping tools are still fairly new to buyers and brands, you might think that consumers have hardly used them.
But when we asked, “Have you ever bought a product directly from a social media platform? If so, which one?” More than 50% of consumers had bought a product on at least one platform.
Of the 49.5% of respondents who did not buy a product directly from a social media platform, 9% said they still plan to do so in the end, while 40.5% said they prefer to buy products from E -Commerce websites to buy. While 9% of consumers looking to shop on social media one day seem like a small number, it could increase as social media shopping tools gain more usage, popularity, or trust in the months to come.
While social media shopping features are still fairly new to consumers, they could ultimately make sense for brands looking for a scalable way to enter the e-commerce world.
Below, I’ll dive into the four social media platforms that consumers say they bought products about and how they could be useful for brands.
On which social media platforms do consumers really shop?
More than a third of the above survey participants bought a product directly from Facebook.
Facebook’s popularity in online shopping is not surprising. Even before Facebook Shops launched in 2020, users flocked to the Facebook marketplace to find items or products sold by nearby residents, independent sellers, or even local stores.
While the Facebook marketplace is more like Craigslist than an ecommerce store, and you need to contact a seller or visit their website before buying a product, years of success likely helped justify the launch of Facebook’s latest shopping features.
Here’s a quick rundown of the latest ways people are shopping on Facebook:
With Facebook Shops launched this summer, company page administrators can create a “shop” with a list of products or collections of products.
Users visiting the brand’s Facebook business page can tap or click a View Store button to view products, add items to cart, and purchase directly from a Facebook checkout page.
Social media users who are not interested in browsing a store’s product list can also notify brands through Facebook Messenger. Once a brand has created a Facebook store, they can integrate it with their Messenger account, WhatsApp account, or Instagram account for a smooth shopping experience for customers right in their threads.
When customers send messages to brands with shop integrations to learn more about specific products, they receive automated messages with product suggestions from the shop owner – see image below.
The Messenger integration of the Facebook Shops is not the first feature that Facebook offers that enables consumers to shop via a message thread. Between 2016 and 2019, Facebook allowed Company Pages to send messages that included a product intake, a basic description and a “Buy Now” button that customers could use to purchase products in the Messenger app through their phone’s payments feature. This is what it looked like:
Food stalls for marketers
Right now, starting a Facebook store may be one of the best ways to sell products on social platforms. Not only does Facebook have the largest and broadest reach of any platform on this list, but Facebook Shops can also be integrated with Instagram and WhatsApp, so you can easily expand to multiple social media platforms if necessary.
Even if you already have an ecommerce website, Facebook stores can still be beneficial if you have a large social media audience that primarily uses cell phones and apps for web browsing. For example, if a new prospect comes across your brand on the Facebook app, they can simply click into your shop, view some products, and even buy some using their phone’s payment tool. This can cause a lot less friction than they would get if they had to leave their social media app to browse a large list of products displayed on your ecommerce store.
Ultimately, the versatile options of shops could be a good fit if you sell to a wide audience, are interested in an extension on Instagram or WhatsApp, or are an experienced online seller who also wants to turn social media followers into customers.
Although most of Instagram’s shopping features were added after Facebook Shops launched, almost a quarter of those surveyed bought products on Instagram.
Below are Instagram’s most notable shopping features:
Instagram Shops use essentially the same design, layout, and technology as Facebook Shops, but are specifically linked to Instagram Business Pages. As with Facebook Shops, you also need administrator access to a Facebook Business Page and a Facebook Shop in order to use this function.
To use this feature, all you have to do is go to your Facebook Commerce Manager settings, link your Facebook and Instagram Business pages and activate your shop in your Instagram Business profile so that your visitors will see a “View Shop” button. Once this shop is activated, the viewers of your Instagram shop will see the same mini online shop that they would see if they entered your Facebook shop on this platform.
Instagram shoppable posts
While you still need a Facebook catalog that lists your products, you don’t need a Facebook shop to start Instagram shoppable posts. This feature allows you to link your Instagram feed posts and images directly to the product’s Instagram checkout page.
While this feature began specifically with feed-style posts, it has now expanded to Instagram Stories, Instagram Live (see below), and – most recently – Instagram Reels.
While an Instagram shop allows your followers to see any major products or collections you sell, Instagram shoppable posts let you highlight your product with creative content like reviews or demos, while also linking directly to a buy page. That way, users can discover a product, watch it in action, and buy it almost instantly if they like what they’ve seen.
Instagram’s shopping tab
You can also optimize the content of your Instagram product so that it appears in the “Shopping” tab of the Instagram app. This tool enables potential customers who may not know about your brand to search for products, find your branded items and put them in their pocket. From there, they can tap the bag icon in the corner and buy these products directly from the Instagram app.
Food stalls for marketers
Instagram’s shopping features can be useful for your brand if you already have an Instagram presence, target Gen Z or Millennials, and have interesting or fascinating photo or video assets to sell your product, brand, or service market.
If you already have a Facebook store and want to expand your social media ecommerce strategy to Instagram, this is scalable and easy too. Since Instagram Shops are copies of pre-made Facebook Shops, you only have to take a few steps to place a shop button on your Instagram Business page. However, if you are not interested in a Facebook account, you can still use Instagram Live Shopping and Shopping Posts and highlight your products on the Instagram Shopping tab.
In this post, you’ll learn more about each tool, how it works, and how brands can use them.
While WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook, doesn’t have its own shopping platform, users can still chat with brands, request a product from the company’s WhatsApp for Business catalog, and pay for it directly on the message thread.
The WhatsApp payment feature shown below is similar to the older Facebook Messenger “Buy Now” feature shown in the section above:
Food stalls for marketers
While buying products on WhatsApp may take a little longer than on a Facebook or Instagram shop, around 13.5% of respondents have still done so.
As WhatsApp continues to grow and expand its business capabilities, it may be worth keeping this app updated if you want to build a chat-based community and social revenue stream at the same time.
While this app can be opportunistic for conversation marketers, this app can also come in handy if you want to sell internationally. While Facebook and Instagram also have audiences around the world, most of the WhatsApp user base lives outside of the United States. In fact, WhatsApp’s biggest audience is from India and Brazil.
Until recently, Pinterest users could buy some of the products they saw right on the Pinterest app. Interestingly, the tool was launched and discontinued before Facebook and Instagram introduced similar features.
From 2015 to 2018, brands were able to use Pinterest to create Buyable Pins that allowed them to purchase pinned products directly from the app. Next to the “Save” button of each Buyable Pin was a blue “Buy” button. When typing, users were taken straight to a Pinterest purchase screen.
While Pinterest offered its in-app purchase functionality for years, the brand converted Buyable Pins into more scalable Product Pins in 2018.
Product Pins the platform now uses send app users to a company’s website checkout page rather than a Pinterest app page.
While the move to Product Pins prevented Pinterest from managing millions of transactions annually, it was also more beneficial for the brands. In a 2018 AdWeek statement, Pinterest revealed that Product Pins received 40% more clicks than Buyable Pins.
Although Buyable Pins are no longer active, 10.5% of those surveyed state that they have bought products directly on the platform.
While respondents may have purchased items from Buyable Pins in the past, they could also have made purchases from Product Pins, which open an in-app browser to a brand’s checkout page without users having to leave Pinterest. Although the transaction itself doesn’t take place on Pinterest’s servers, this feature allows users to shop quickly without disrupting their social media experience.
Food stalls for marketers
Although Pinterest no longer allows consumers to make purchases directly from the platform, you should still take product marketing opportunities like Product Pins seriously.
After all, a lot of different audiences use Pinterest to create inspiration boards with products or items they might want to buy. And Pinterest data shows that users enjoy searching for or learning about products on the platform
In addition to the brand-friendly nature of the Pinterest platform, marketers should also take note of the constant growth. By Q3 2020, Pinterest had exceeded 442 million monthly active users, up from 322 million in Q3 2019. While it doesn’t look like Pinterest is the right platform for your brand now, it could be useful in your strategy later Audiences keep growing, evolving and using the platform to search for products or inspiration.
Which social platforms should you sell on?
While many of the above respondents have not yet purchased a product through a social media platform, that may change as shoppers continue to make online purchases.
As more brands adopt social shopping tools instead of ecommerce stores, shoppers may get used to using social media shopping options.
If you decide to start a social media shopping feature for your brand, it is a good idea to look at your audience to find the right place to start.
For example, if your audience is of many different ages, Facebook might be the best place to set up a shop. If your audience is mostly Gen Z, you may want to take advantage of Instagram’s tools.
Additionally, you should prioritize social media buying tactics on platforms that you’ve already built a following. For example, if you have a large, engaged WhatsApp audience and you are selling products, it can become a scalable extension of an already strong social media strategy.
Ultimately, the best strategy is to determine where your target audiences are most likely to shop or browse social media, and then meet them where they are with your product lists or online store
Learn more about where your social media audience might be with this helpful post on social media demographics.