From automobiles to television to the internet, changes in consumer social behavior drive changes in buying behavior. The reason many brands dismissed or underestimated the disruptive power of Amazon early on because they miscalculated the extent and speed at which those social changes in the internet age now impact commerce decision making. What’s been made clear over the past ten years or so is that while consumers may still love touching and feeling physical products, modern e-commerce sites have transformed their ability to discover new products, compare, read reviews, and get recommendations – and they like it that way.
Today, the time U.S. adults spend on their mobile devices is estimated to outpace the time they spend watching TV, and social channels are taking up large shares of that time. For brands that don’t want to get caught flat-footed again, it’s critical to begin laying the groundwork to execute on social commerce.
This requires a strategic mindset that reflects the future of shopping experiences, which you can generalize as coming in four separate stages:
- Shopping as play
- Shopping as exploration
- Shopping as entertainment
Today’s e-commerce channels mainly fulfill items 1 and 2, while 3 and 4 are more future-looking trends to build towards. Social commerce delivers on both of them much more readily than traditional e-commerce channels because it is a much more natural extension of existing consumer behavior.
As Mary Meeker pointed out in her most recent Internet Trends report, the ongoing shift in how consumers are spending their time online has already made them more comfortable with newer methods of transactions. Buy buttons, mobile payments and P2P transfers – functionality only recently made widely available – are already capturing meaningful portions of transaction activity.
Additionally, while brand names are still meaningful, consumers increasingly are looking for outside validation on product quality, fit, design, etc. E-commerce and social platforms have opened up access to influencer endorsements or reviews, the latter of which are more frequently used by consumers across all ages to assess products, and particularly popular amongst younger demographic groups.
This preference for external validation, combined with those changing media consumption habits, means that consumers are increasingly discovering, and later buying, products they first saw on social channels.
Brands that want to take advantage of these trends have, thus far, needed to operate within a range of relatively traditional direct-response style ad formats on social channels – targeting specific groups of consumers likely to be interested, and hopefully pushing them to purchase on a separate retail site. But Facebook and other channels are aggressively testing new ad experiences on their platforms, including the ability for users to go from seeing a post to buying an item without ever leaving the platform.
On Instagram, these tests have thus far been relegated to pre-selected apparel brands. Among brands my employer has worked with using these experiments, feedback so far has been positive, but Instagram is understandably moving cautiously before rolling these ad products out more generally. For brands, take this as an opportunity to work with paid media contacts you may have at Instagram and other social channels. Gain a better handle on when your brand may be eligible to test out these ad units, along with getting your internal organization prepared to execute on the front- and back-end elements these ads require to be successful. This also extends to marketing budgets, which should be allocated based on intertwining trade and brand marketing to execute more effectively on these emerging channels.
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