The power of social – an untapped resource for eCommerce

Social media has fast become an integral part of any marketing strategy, and it’s progressively becoming a pivotal platform of discovery, inspiration and customer care – offering brands a direct channel to communicate with their customers. It was incredibly interesting and surprising, therefore, to see cosmetics company Lush recently announce that it was turning away from its social media channels altogether.

When social media – and increasingly social commerce – is used in the right way, it can deliver serious value outside of the more “typical” online approaches. Let’s take Instagram Checkout, for example. This new feature is a significant opportunity for brands to take advantage of social commerce and reach a whole new audience of millennials and older ‘Generation Z’ consumers (between 16-24) who spend the majority of their time online.

I would argue that brands should be turning towards these new channels, rather than turning away from them.

Why do I say this?

With social commerce maturing, it presents brands with another channel to incorporate into their sales strategies. However, while it is an opportunity to grow sales, it is also another cost point; as they must pay for the privilege of selling through social platforms on top of existing investment in marketing and advertising. But with social media companies commanding a user base of three billion people worldwide, no brand can afford to ignore the enormous reach that selling via social media platforms offers their business.

Who is doing it well – Topshop and Asos

Topshop is without a doubt one of my favourites when it comes to its presence on social media and how it uses the channels to further its commerce arm. On a basic level, it does all the essentials for its social media accounts and posts regularly. Over the years, this has seen the company gather a huge fan base of 9.7 million followers.

Delving into the details, it’s shoppable feed makes it super easy to click on an item you love, shows you the item with a description, and then has the option to view it on the website to make the purchase. Topshop also has integrated a tool that you can click on in the bio, and you can see all the images that are ‘clickable’ to shop. This tool makes the buying process extremely easy for shoppers.

Topshop also uses its Instagram stories and highlights on its page to group relevant content together such as promos, what’s new, back in stock etc, and is even starting to experiment with Instagram TV.

What’s more, Topshop encourages shoppers to share their looks by tagging them and using #TopshopStyle to feature on the Instagram feed. This is a great way to encourage community collaboration and feature user generated content (UGC). UGC is an invaluable asset, as people love to know how the item looks on their peers – and creates a better connection between people and the brand.

When viewed together with a full sales strategy, Topshop’s work is a real demonstration of how to use a social media presence smartly.

Another brand that needs to be mentioned for its prowess on social media is Asos, which has an Instagram following of 9.3 million. Asos is an interesting case study, as while they do shoppable posts similar to Topshop, its posts are not as frequent. However, it is a big fan of IGTV and Instagram highlights.

The company’s Instagram feed is a great place for inspiration, using a lot of imagery to portray the brand and create a lifestyle. However, rather than having clickable posts, Asos encourages its followers to go onto its site to purchase. Something Asos does particularly well is creating a more personable connection with is followers. It does this through often tagging the model in the post and using emojis in its descriptions.

Moreover, Asos does something very simple but very effective, which makes all the difference for when people are scrolling through their social media feeds. It includes the product name, description and number! It may sound basic, but it is this type of useful information that makes it incredibly easy for shoppers to find a product on the website.

While the two companies may have slightly different approaches, what Topshop and Asos both achieve through their presence on social media is a place for shoppers and their followers to feel inspired and connected to the brand. And most importantly, they use social platforms as a way to give their customers an easy, convenient and one-stop-shop for their purchase experience.

So, what should you do if you’re a brand or retailer looking to explore the opportunities social media and commerce has to offer?

  • Prioritise your pictures!

Visual branding and presentation of products is key. Thanks to their immediate and often emotional, appeal, images are to social commerce what user reviews are to Amazon. They are the key point of difference in the discovery phase that draws consumers onto the platform.

  • Align sales with social content

While social media is of course very content focused, using it for social commerce will require brands to rethink the role of content on the platform. Previously social media has been used as a platform to generate consumer engagement, building the profile of the brand and driving traffic to the site. Now, however, as social media develops with more commerce and checkout functions, brands will need to think about how they align their social media content more closely with sales. For instance, if social commerce follows in the steps of Instagram Checkout, brands will need to think about how they convert their traffic on the platform there and then, rather than making them leave the platform and go to the website.

  • Create a smoother sales journey

This leads me on to how shorter journeys lead to smoother sales. The more friction points there are for a shopper, the more chances there are for them to get bored and disconnect. One of the most pressing reasons for having commerce functions within social media is convenience. Shoppers already use social platforms for inspiration, product suggestions and discovery through influencers; and the next logical step to a seamless journey is to be able to buy through that channel too.

  • Tap into the influencer phenomenon

Thanks to social media, influencer marketing has now become a staple component in a brand’s strategy. They play a huge role in reaching new audiences, generating brand engagement and inspiring interest in products. As a brand, you will want shoppers to be able to buy the item as soon as they are inspired. And part of this is to make sure you are aligned with the influencers in the market. One way to do this is by using screen shots of influencer’s posts and including links and buying tags to make it easy for followers to click through. Another is to capitalise on Instagram’s new Checkout feature where consumers can shop from influencers’ feeds directly.

  • And finally, get social!

Make sure you’re actually using your social media channels to speak to your customers and, in doing so, provide a level of customer service and interaction that previously has been out of reach. By using a social platform not only to inspire and as a place to shop, but also answer any questions on products and resolve issues, then brands can create a true end-to-end customer experience.

The day when the whole transaction can take place natively within the social channels is coming, and it’s coming quickly. When this day arrives, brands and retailers are going to be faced with a whole new set of marketplaces, retailers, and shopping journeys. With the changing demands of consumers and the increasing number of features on social platforms, brands need to be taking action now; so, they can make sure they are ahead of the game when their audience comes searching on social.