Digital Transformation Brand

Stop, shop and scroll: How social is optimizing for shopping

By Emily Williams | Senior strategist

January 13, 2022 | 7 min read

Consumer behavior and preferences are constantly evolving, largely in response to technological innovation. It’s important for brands to be able to keep up if they’re aiming to maintain engagement with their audiences.

Social and shopping, shopping and social — two phenomena that used to exist in separate realms, but are now deeply intertwined. Why have our shopping habits changed and shifted towards social media, and how should brands be adapting to this new landscape?

Taking stock of the landscape

From a macro perspective, online shopping has skyrocketed over the past two years — driven online by Covid and pure necessity. But interestingly, we’re not seeing an exodus back to the shops now that social restrictions have loosened. In fact, the growth of online shopping is continuing — now accounting for nearly 26% of all sales in the UK, up from 18% in late 2019, per data from the Office for National Statistics.

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An adage from the mid-2010s says: “The internet lets you buy, but doesn’t let you shop” — a sentiment that has aged poorly. Today, the internet does let you shop — and very effectively. We shop online for retail therapy, to kill time, for convenience — we’re always in shopping mode. Second-screening is a global pastime, and while second-screening, 63% of people are scrolling social, and 38% are shopping for products, according to research from audience targeting firm GlobalWebIndex. Online shopping has absorbed our browsing habits. We’re no longer heading to the shops — our phones enable us to window shop from the comfort of our sofas.

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What does all this mean for social? It means that every moment is an opportunity for conversion. Social has disrupted the purchase journey and allowed for discovery, consideration and conversion to occur almost simultaneously. We know our realistic purchase journey doesn’t fit neatly into a funnel in practice. In fact, it could be argued that the funnel is collapsing. This reality, and people’s always-on shopping habits, mean that we need to be building multiple brand touchpoints across a variety of platforms to nudge users towards purchase within this messy environment.

So in this environment, how should brands be adapting?

1) Fuel the Browse

We know that browsing as a behaviour is something we do all the time. It’s not a separate activity that we make time for. We’re in always-on shopping mode, and we’re always open to discovering new products on social. Brands need to fuel this behavior by making everything browseable and everything shoppable.

That doesn’t mean just pushing product at the expense of all other activity, however. It means going truly full funnel with your content, and integrating product at all levels through authentic creativity — enabled by social commerce capabilities.

Social commerce has evolved to the point where bridging the gap between discovery, browse and purchase is more seamless than ever. Tiktok’s shopify partnership, Facebook and Instagram shops, product tags, Pinterest, Snapchat and augmented reality — the opportunities are growing day by day.

Making everything shoppable means more browsing, nudging customers towards purchase and smoothing that messy journey. Brands need to be fuelling that browsing behaviour.

2) Community Commerce

If social commerce is the mechanism that’s enabling brands to bring their products closer to their shoppers, community commerce is an extension of this. It sits at the intersection of community, shopping and entertainment.

Creators are key to this. They hold the relationships with their community and have the authenticity to really blend product and entertainment; Shopify’s Director of Product Amir Kabbara even referred to them as “next generation entrepreneurs.” ISawItFirst is doing a good job at using creators to power their online shopping offering, while also blending in entertainment. Think weekly shoppable TikTok Lives, with discounts and exclusive offers, hosted by creators.

Shoppable experiences are also becoming a reality. In May this year Gucci organised a two-week art installation on Roblox, featuring a fantastical virtual garden to wander through and interact with. This blended shoppable features with building brand awareness in a new young target audience, building a world for the game’s community to interact with. And as futuristic as this sounds, it’s happening now. We all know the metaverse is coming, and these virtual experiences are just the first steps.

Brands need to build a community to shop with — not just sell to — using creators and experiences as their means of bridging the gap between shopping and entertainment.

3) Craft for Channels

It’s not news that we need to adapt content for different social channels, but it’s all-important when it comes to shopping. Our shoppable content needs to weave through everything, but it needs to flex to the cultural codes of each place in which it appears. What works on TikTok won’t necessarily convert on Pinterest.

TikTok drives impulse purchases; it takes 10 to 15 seconds to introduce a product to millions of people and convince them to buy it. According to Adweek, 49% of TikTok users said they’ve purchased something after seeing it advertised, promoted or reviewed on the app (compared to 41% on Facebook). For example, earlier this year Maybelline’s Sky High Mascara drove sales and 400 million+ views through seeding out products to creators, and creating this snowball effect of trial and recommendation. All for a makeup product that wouldn’t stand out on the shelf.

Pinterest, however, is not about impulse buying. It’s about planning. 90% of users on the platform are there for purchase inspiration, and they start searching on the platform before they would on traditional search engines. It’s where they go when they’re planning a new project, or preparing for an occasion. Products need to appear at those moments when users are looking for inspiration.

When designing shopping content, it’s important to be able to adapt to customer behaviours, and also to create a sticky social ecosystem that serves layers of shoppable content adapted to a specific consumer mindset and platform behaviour.

To optimize for their social shopping landscape, brands need to be fueling that browsing behavior, shopping with their community, and crafting for their channels. None of this is slowing down anytime soon — it’s time to stop, shop and scroll.

Emily Williams is a senior strategist at Born Social.

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