What Is Social Shopping?: Ultimate Guide to Social Shopping [With Examples]
What is social shopping
Social shopping platforms
We hardly do anything in isolation anymore (quarantines aside). Social networking and interactions have infiltrated nearly every aspect of our lives, including shopping.
The implications of social shopping for ecommerce are massive. For a long time, online shopping has been relegated to a relatively solo activity. Apart from sharing products or wish lists, most of that searching, pointing, and clicking has been done alone.
Not so with social shopping on the rise. In this article we’re going to break down what is social shopping, what social shopping platforms exist, including the main social network options, and strategies to get involved with social shopping.
What is social shopping?
Social shopping is defined as any type of online shopping or ecommerce experience that is made interactive by engaging with other people while shopping.
In many cases, social shopping takes place outside of a traditional ‘owned’ ecommerce experience, such as a brand's website or app. Social shopping may be conducted amongst a customer group (for example, a buy and sell group on a social networking platform), or facilitated by a brand (or sponsored activity) that is then absorbed by their audience (for example, hosting a livestream on a social platform).
Consider that online shopping is typically done in isolation. The difference with social shopping is there is (finally!) someone else present to make the shopping experience more enjoyable, personalized, and relatable.
This is, of course, a relatively broad definition that could apply to a number of different experiences, so let’s break those down.
Social shopping platforms and types
Wondering what social commerce platforms exist and what types will work best for your business? Keep reading for our guide to five main types of social shopping, as well as platforms where you can either spin up a presence or take part in some other format.
Social media shopping
Many social media sites have dabbled in social media commerce (check out our guide to social livestream shopping) to one degree or another. Facebook Marketplace is the most advanced social media shopping example to date, with shipping and payment options built in for select markets. Customers can browse products near and far in any Facebook Shop, which can be set up by neighbors, artisans, or full-fledged businesses. In some cases, social media ads, accounts, and social media posts are actually shoppable content, where customers can check out within a social media platform. This type of experience, which is available through experiences like an Instagram Shop, help cut down on the friction between discovery and checkout that typically occurs when someone spots a social media ad and then converts on an ecommerce retailer's site.
Social Media Shopping Examples: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok
Shopping platforms / apps
Social shopping sites and apps function almost like a shopping-focused social media network. These platforms curate products from a range of different brands, giving shoppers the flexibility to shop a bunch of companies without needing to visit different domains, helping to organically grow brand awareness with minimal effort. Shoppers can like or share products, add items to specific collections or style boards, generate shopping lists, browse promotions and track sales, and engage with other content like blogs or style guides.
Shopping Platform Examples: ShopStyle, Lyst, Stylight, The Fancy, REVERSIBLE
Social shopping livestreams
Social shopping can also include livestream shopping platforms that are driven by their users as much as their creators. Shoppers can choose which hosts, creators, or brands they’re interested in watching, attend their livestreams, interact with other shoppers during sessions, learn about new product drops and launches, and if all goes well, make purchases.
Social Shopping Livestream Examples: Popshop Live, NTWRK, Shopthing, Shopshops
Personal social shopping
The art of personal shopping is brought online with one-to-one personal social shopping. In some cases, a shopper may request personal shopping support on an on-demand basis, or via appointments. In others, they may receive curated picks from a stylist they work with on an ongoing basis. No matter what, one-on-one service is offered between a brand rep and a customer.
Personal Social Shopping Platform Examples: GhostRetail, LetsBab, Wishi, StitchFix
Peer-based shopping platforms
Not all commerce takes place between businesses and consumers. Peer-to-peer based marketplaces facilitate social selling, letting individuals share directly with others, whether trading in secondhand, new, or handcrafted items. While many peer-based platforms are populated by small business owners, it is possible to see larger brands grow out of these social platforms, or establish a presence on them.
The power of social shopping is pretty much in lockstep with the rise of social media influencers: In both cases, shoppers are less skeptical when consuming content from a social shopping channel than they would be when interacting directly with a brand.
That’s not all though. Adding a human element to the online shopping experience is shown to improve key ecommerce KPIs, including driving more conversions and boosting average order values. Shoppers are no longer left to ‘fend for themselves’ online, clicking, searching, and doing research as to whether a product will actually meet their needs. Even if they don’t have a strong relationship with whomever is doing the selling, in many ways, interacting with a person online gives a ‘face to a name’ effect to the product at hand - not unlike working with a retail sales associate in a store.
It’s no wonder that social commerce generated $475B in revenue in 2020; a number that’s expected to scale up to $3.37T by 2028.
4 social shopping strategies to consider
1. Choose the right social shopping channel for your audience and goals
Not all social shopping channels are going to be right for all brands, or objectives. This is true for any type of social media activity - millennials are far easier reached on Instagram or Facebook than TikTok shopping or SnapChat for example (and vice versa for Gen Z). But it also applies to different types of products. A brand that sells highly complex products like custom bikes might struggle to have snack-sized content on social channels, and instead, may want to invest in social livestream shopping that offers plenty of room to answer questions and explain products.
2. Offer a mix of one-to-one and one-to-many support
Many social commerce channels are essentially ‘broadcast’ mediums that deliver a single message or experience to all shoppers. But a key element of social shopping involves engaging directly with another person. If your social commerce strategy has no opportunities for this 1:1 interaction, it’s time to look at some options. Typical one-to-one social shopping tactics include offering personal stylist services, live chat, or even live video co-shopping.
3. Strike a balance between authentic and professional
If one of the goals of social shopping is to give the online shopping experience a more personal feeling, then it’s critical to not come off too ‘corporate’. Whether you’re hosting a livestream or offering on-demand live video shopping, whoever is participating in social commerce should have the freedom and flexibility to be themselves.
Teaming up with influencers can be another strategy to tap into social shopping. Established digital creators have the power to bring their existing persona (and followers) to your social commerce experiences.
4. Make customers part of your social commerce strategy
A lot of social shopping strategies are rooted in what a corporation can control, but there’s just as much value in what’s organically generated by your customers. Leverage user-generated content and social proof such as reviews, comments, photos, videos, and more as part of your social commerce experience.
For example, a brand offering a live personal shopping service could take customer reviews and place them on the landing page for their personal shopping experience to encourage a potential customer to click in and try it for themselves.
Examples of social shopping
Sometimes seeing is believing. Here are a few examples of social shopping in the wild on different social media platforms and experiences.
A quick browse through Reformation’s Instagram posts and you’ll see a mix of static photo posts, reels, and Instagram shopping posts. In their shoppable posts, they’ll tag the specific featured product in the post. Shoppers can then click into Reformation’s Instagram Shop to bookmark the product, send it to someone else, or view it on Reformation’s website. U.S. customers can also checkout within Reformation’s Instagram Shop, speeding up the time from consideration to purchase.
In 2021, American Eagle took advantage of SnapChat’s augmented reality (AR) features to create a shoppable denim experience. Shoppers could try on some of American Eagle’s most popular denim cuts, giving them an up close look at how the jeans were cut and appeared on their bodies. If a potential customer landed on a style they loved, they could even checkout through SnapChat’s Shoppable feature.
Lounge footwear brand Birdies has dabbled with Pinterest’s Product Pin feature, available through the social channel in the U.S. and UK. Like with other social media networks, Product Pins allow shoppers to enter a Pinterest-based mini-store where they can browse select products from Birdies, and even make a purchase. Pinterest automatically pulls in a product’s pricing info, availability, title, and description, so long as a product is in stock.
Global footwear retailer Aldo experimented with livestream shopping in 2021 by teaming up with fashion influencers and stylists. The brand previewed their new collection with their celeb hosts highlighting their favorite products, and drawing in over 17,000 website visits during the course of the livestream shopping session.
Live video shopping as a form of social shopping
Live commerce involves using video to enhance the online shopping experience. Both livestream shopping and one-to-one co-shopping can be classified as live shopping (learn more about the differences in our video here). There are specific live shopping platforms available for both types of experiences, all of which offer functionality that goes beyond what's typically available through free social streaming services.