Social media platforms have increasingly taken the position of being internet consolidators, often gobbling up features and functions of standalone apps into their platforms. The idea being the more features a social networking platform can provide, the more likely a social media user will return to it on a daily basis. The more eyeballs, the more advertising dollars these platforms can command.
One of the latest areas social media platforms are expanding into is offering in-app shopping. This shift is partially in reaction to the retailers - and advertisers - themselves that are looking to remove as much friction from the buying process as possible. The standard way of engaging shoppers is through ads, which then require customers to click through and decide if they want to convert.
Of course, the question has long been - do shoppers actually convert from social commerce?Social media platforms are experimenting with offering more native ecommerce shopping capabilities to drive more sales, ranging from tagging specific products in ads to setting up entire ecommerce stores within a social media platform. On top of that, livestream shopping is becoming an increasingly popular area for consideration, leveraging the power of video with a captive audience to drive more sales.
While livestream shopping events are growing in popularity, there are some things retailers need to consider before they plan to fully embed their live shopping events on social media.
As the global social commerce market expands, it's time to take a real look at the viability of taking online shopping from a merchant's website to a social media platform. In this article, we’re going to review:
- What social media shopping capabilities currently exist on major platforms
- The benefits of hosting livestream shopping on social media
- The drawbacks of hosting livestream shopping on social media
- Alternatives to hosting livestream shopping on social media
Current social media platform shopping capabilities
Pretty much every social media platform has started exploring the possibilities of offering the ability to shop with a brand more directly, as opposed to always being redirected to a retailer’s website.
In general though, all social media commerce can be categorized under one of three offerings:
- In-app purchases or native ecommerce
- Livestream shopping
Facebook and Instagram social shopping
Unsurprisingly, Facebook has one of the largest social shopping platforms available, in part because of the baseline created with Facebook Marketplace. Today, Marketplace has expanded from a local buy and sell platform to the ability to ship products across the country. Both Facebook and Instagram have taken things a step further by allowing brands to set up a Facebook Shop or Instagram Shop with the ability to use Instagram checkout to complete transactions within the app, on a retailer’s website, or through messaging. In the U.S., brands with a Facebook business page and Shop can also sell on Marketplace.
Facebook Live and Instagram Live were originally conceived as ways for individuals, creators, and brands to connect with their networks through live video. One of the ancillary use cases for these platforms was to enable live shopping - at least until the fall of 2022, when Meta discontinued Facebook Live Shopping. Instagram Live Shopping is still going strong however.
With Instagram Live Shopping, products are tagged during a livestream event, which enables social media users to check out on the spot, without ever having to leave the app (at least in the U.S.). Livestream hosts are able to interact with fans on a limited basis through chat and reactions. In a lot of ways the live shopping events are like a modern day Home Shopping Network or QVC show, with a dedicated host or hosts selling a product with authentic enthusiasm - whether employed by a particular brand, or a creator / influencer speaking to their fans.
There are some unique Instagram shopping features as well beyond Instagram Live shopping events. For example, products can also be tagged in stories, essentially creating Instagram shoppable videos. Instagram Shoppable Ads are also a thing. A brand can take a shoppable post with product tags and run it as an ad. This tactic allows brands to test which posts are gaining traction for $0 in ad spend, before putting dollars behind a high-performing post and driving more conversions and visibility.
Update for 2023: As of spring 2023, both Instagram Live Shopping and Facebook Live Shopping have been sunset by parent company Meta. Brands can still have Facebook Stores and host livestreams on both platforms, but the ability to transact during a livestream is no longer available.
YouTube social shopping
In 2020, 70% of YouTube viewers said they bought a brand as a result of seeing it on YouTube. As the world’s most popular video platform, YouTube has naturally started dabbling with social commerce and shoppable video. Creators and brands can tag products in a video and shoppers in select regions have the ability to browse them, although only U.S. shoppers can buy items from directly within the platform; everyone else has to complete their purchase by visiting a merchant’s site.
In 2021, YouTube also tested offering this same type of social commerce functionality through livestream shopping events around the holidays. The video social network has said they plan to continue to invest in and expand their shoppable video capabilities in 2022 and beyond.
YouTube also offers what it calls shoppable ads, that allow brands to feature a product feed alongside their ads that pipes customers directly to product detail pages on a merchant’s website.
Twitter social shopping
Twitter may be a massively well-known social channel, but they're still new to social commerce. It was only in March 2022 that a new consumer outreach feature was announced, called Twitter Shops. Merchants can create mini-storefronts through Twitter’s mobile app, allowing shoppers to browse products and complete their checkouts on the retailer’s website.
SnapChat social shopping
SnapChat is gaining ground in presenting wholly unique brand exposure experiences that audiences will happily interact with - if not share. SnapChat's best-known form of social commerce lets advertisers create branded lenses to give shoppers a taste of augmented reality before hitting ‘buy’, taking them to an off-app experience. The platform also offers dynamic ads that sync to product catalogs to showcase accurate pricing and availability.
Finally SnapChat users can use the app’s Screenshop function to take a photo of a favorite outfit or item and shop similar items from thousands of retailers. As SnapChat puts it, it’s like ‘having a personal shopper right in your camera.’
While native ecommerce functionality isn’t an active component of Snap, the platform’s popularity with the digitally native younger crowd makes it a candidate to offer more social commerce features in the future.
TikTok social shopping
Billions of TikTok users have already tagged their videos with #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, so it’s no wonder the mobile video platform is exploring ways to make videos even more shoppable by adding new social commerce capabilities. TikTok Shopping, while still in early days, allows content creators and merchants the ability to run an ecommerce business directly on the platform, including a full browsable catalog and the ability to checkout, manage orders and returns, and customer management, all without ever leaving the app. Alternatively, brands who want to continue to own their checkout experience can funnel traffic directly to their brand websites, or through TikTok’s partnership with Shopify.
Like Instagram, TikTok lets creators add Product Links to videos, creating a shoppable video experience. And TikTok is also experimenting with livestream shopping, with TikTok creators sharing links to products or services for purchase while their content is streaming live.
Finally TikTok has a trio of advertising options that any brand can use to drive more in-app sales, including Collection Ads, where shoppers can browse and make purchases; Dynamic Showcase Ads that generate video ads tailored to each user’s individual buying preferences; and Lead Generation ads that allow brands to capture contact info for off-app outreach.
Benefits of social media livestream shopping
Merchants are always looking for new channels to transact with consumers, particularly ones that remove barriers to purchase. Social commerce definitely shortens the time to purchase and reduces friction from seeing a product of interest on a social media site, then needing to hop over to a retailer’s website to actually buy it.
Livestream shopping in particular is fast emerging as a social media shopping tool, so much so that entirely new social media platforms dedicated to live shopping have sprung up, such as Popshop Live and NTWRK.
Let’s take a look at the advantages of offering live shopping through social commerce.
This is the main reason why any social network will tell brands to run a live shopping event on their platform. The audience is already there! Meaning there’s a significant possibility of additional eyeballs flocking to a livestream with zero lift or effort required by the merchant, leading to additional product discovery opportunities. Advertising may be required to get shoppers there, but many of them already have a social media account and will find the experience familiar and easy to navigate.
Leverage influencers and more effectively monitor attribution
Influencer / creator attribution isn’t always easy to discern in the realm of influencer marketing. But leveraging a creator to host a livestream shopping event is a great way to test their impact in real time. Brands can definitively attribute revenue to a specific influencer - at least for shoppers willing to convert during a livestream event. The fallback option could be to have influencers offer a coupon code during the event, just as they might on a sponsored post, to track sales made after the event itself - of course, if a brand offers discounts to begin with.
Customer community interactivity
Social media has long been heralded for its ability to bring shoppers together no matter where they may be in the world. That being said, have you looked at social media posts? The vast majority of comments are individuals asking specific questions; it’s much more rare to see people interacting with each other. Social media shopping is designed to create a more interactive experience overall, with customers reacting to moments in real time and responding to each other’s comments and questions.
At present, social commerce features are offered for free through social media platforms, making it a cost-effective way for growing brands to engage customers in a new way, without needing to leverage a new piece of technology (and a new cost). However, this may not always be the case - while the working theory behind offering shopping on social media platforms is to get more eyeballs, you better believe the Metas and Alphabets of the world are also considering this as a new revenue stream down the road.
Drawbacks of social media livestream shopping
The main objection to hosting a social media live stream event used to come down to the ability to drive conversions. But as social media platforms expand the ability for customers to transact within an app or livestream event, this has become significantly less of an issue.
Today, the main drawbacks of social media livestream shopping events really come down to two key factors: Not owning the experience, and not being able to connect with shoppers on a one-to-one basis for an ideal customer experience. While there may be a place to offer one-to-many live shopping as part of a comprehensive CX strategy, it shouldn’t be where the opportunity ends for a brand to connect with customers.
Limited data outputs
Marketers are at the mercy of social media platforms when it comes to understanding the performance of their live shopping events and whether their customers actually made a social commerce purchase. Where ecommerce functionality is relatively new to social media (and certainly not its core function), the metrics brands are used to having access to on their native / core commerce channels might be limited, or non-existent.
Can’t control the experience
There has long been a debate between whether it’s more important to grow social media followers (and ideally, active social commerce users at that), or ‘owned’ lists for email marketing. The primary knocks against social media followers have come down to the fact conversion opportunities are limited within social platforms and perhaps more importantly, that the retailer needs to work within the conventions of the platform. Given social media platforms are literally years behind the advancements in ecommerce-first platforms, there’s bound to be some UX issues.
The hard work merchants put into merchandising their online shopping experience can quickly be eroded or feel generic in a templated experience driven by the social media network. And if a feature a merchant wants to employ in a live shopping event - like pop up giveaways, promotion codes, or quizzes - isn’t available on that social platform, there simply isn’t any other alternative to offering it. The good news of course, is that there are plenty of live shopping apps out there for brands looking to host one-to-many or one-to-one shopping experiences on their own properties.
The magic of social media livestream shopping events comes down to them being live - if the consumer can make it, of course. The back and forth interactivity between social buyers, and potentially with livestream shopping hosts themselves, just isn’t the same when watched as a playback. If a time doesn’t work for a shopper, chances are they’ll just forgo the experience - and all the hard work that went into it! - altogether.
Not one-to-one service
The biggest knock against one-to-many shopping experiences is that it’s still ultimately a one-way style of communication. Brands truly wanting to offer a more personalized service need to consider one-to-one live video shopping as part of the mix, and this is something that simply can’t easily be replicated through typical social shopping experiences. Live one-to-one shopping is available on demand, when a customer wants to make a purchase decision, as opposed to pushing the experience out to shoppers and hoping they’re interested in buying something. Platforms like GhostRetail are presented natively on a merchant’s website, giving shoppers the option to click and connect to get tailored shopping advice that drives major conversion numbers.
Alternatives to social media livestream shopping
There is a place for many brands to experiment with the shopping tools offered by today’s leading social media platforms, including live stream shopping, as part of a complete social commerce strategy. But savvy brands are already recognizing the limitations of social commerce tools they don't own and looking at other ways to offer similar experiences.
Here’s a few alternatives to social media livestream shopping:
Self-hosted livestream shopping events
There are a number of one-to-many video shopping platforms out there that allow retailers to facilitate livestream shopping events anywhere they like, while potentially being streamed out to other channels like Instagram Live. The events themselves may be hosted on the retailer’s own website for anyone to access, or on a specific landing page for the event. The latter option opens up some unique possibilities - for example, a brand could host a password-protected livestream shopping event for top customers to get early access to a new line, or they could host a private party for an influencer and their network, with the link only distributed through that creator’s channels, to drive peak customer engagement.
One-to-one live co-shopping
As mentioned above, live video shopping isn’t just about the one-to-many event experience. It’s about providing that curated personal shopper experience; customers still get the convenience of researching and browsing products online on their own schedule, but get the trusted guidance they’ve come to expect from shopping in-store. Live shopping associates can range from retail employees to personal shoppers to brand evangelists; the commonality is they’re available on demand, when a customer is either totally lost and looking for help, or just about ready to pull the trigger on a purchase, and needs a little more guidance.
GhostRetail offers an unparalleled live video co-shopping experience, one truly designed to simulate what it’s like to be in a store with an actual associate. Learn more about creating a one-to-one live shopping experience from scratch in six easy steps.
Ready to start creating an exceptional live shopping experience your customers will return to again and again? Book a demo with GhostRetail today and see the magic of live video co-shopping for yourself.