One thing you don’t need us to tell you: pretty much everyone is on social media. But something that may surprise you is just how many people are buying things directly off of social media. In 2021 alone, global social commerce sales reached $492 billion, and that number is expected to triple to $1.2 trillion by 2025. In fact, social commerce represents 10% of all e-commerce sales worldwide today—although the U.S. doesn’t make up most of those sales (yet, anyway).
So, what exactly is social commerce, and how should it figure into your e-comm strategy (and how do you shoot your product imagery)? Read on for a primer, plus our tips to get ahead of the trend. We’ve also included insights from Jaya Apparel Group, which has been experimenting with social shopping for several years for their brands, Cinq a Sept and LIKELY.
What is Social Commerce?
As the name suggests, social commerce is where e-commerce meets social media. Most brands are already engaging in social commerce to some degree, although perhaps not to their greatest advantage (more on that in a minute).
Social commerce streamlines the shopping process, helping shoppers buy products through native tools on social media. A popular example is Instagram Shopping, which allows followers to purchase items in just a few clicks, without ever leaving Instagram (and saves their payment method within the app, too). In other words: Social commerce is not a paid ad that clicks through to a brand’s website; rather, it’s all contained within the app experience.
Social commerce gives both brands and customers more flexibility. “The way consumers shop varies, [so] having in-app checkout allows us to service all our consumers regardless of where they shop,” explains a brand representative from Jaya, who likens the experience to “the same way some consumers like to shop in-store versus online.” And while LIKELY still believes in the shopping power of brick-and-mortar, they agree it benefits them to be on all platforms. “Again, it’s about shopping preference for the consumer. Our job is to service them, wherever they are.”
If this is all new to you, you’re not alone: The U.S. is playing catch-up on social commerce. According to Forbes, China has led the charge on all things social commerce. But when the majority of shopping moved online during the pandemic, the U.S. caught onto the trend as well.
Which Platforms Are Leading The Way – And How?
As social commerce grows, social platforms are making it more accessible than ever to integrate into your strategy. Here’s how:
- Instagram: According to Instagram itself, “Instagram Shopping is a set of features that allow people to easily shop your brand’s photos and videos all across Instagram.” Like a retail website, each shop can be broken down into categories, PDPs, and checkout. Clickable product tags make it easy to learn more about a product, and can be added to both organic and paid Instagram posts. Instagram has also created a Live Shopping experience, geared towards creators. Find out more about Instagram Shopping here.
- Facebook: Facebook Shopping operates very similarly to Instagram, and listings are also visible on the platform’s popular Marketplace tab. Find out more about Facebook Shopping here.
- Pinterest: According to Pinterest, 89% of Pinners use the app to help them shop. As such, you can now “try on” products within the platform, and brands that upload their catalog for shopping purposes get a “Shop” tab to make it easy to browse. To make it even easier, sites hosted on Shopify can automatically integrate their catalog onto Pinterest. Find out more about Pinterest Shopping here.
- TikTok: No platform makes a product go viral quite like TikTok. Reviews tend to feel more spontaneous and less “sponsored” in TikTok videos, and items can sell out in a matter of minutes when the right post takes off. (In fact, Amazon added a section listing items that recently went viral on TikTok.)
As for what the platform is doing natively to support brands, TikTok partnered with Shopify in 2021 so that brands can build storefront tabs on their profiles. Brands can also tag products directly in organic videos, as well as within live shopping events. Find out more about TikTok Shopping here.
How Does E-Commerce Imagery Play Into Social Commerce?
Like all e-commerce, imagery is one of the most important factors in drawing in consumers. “The great thing about social shopping is you can pretty much sell through all content types whether moving or still,” says the Jaya Brand Rep. “For us, still images convert the most, however, it ultimately boils down to whether the image is ‘thumb-stopping.’” In other words, the imagery “must be interesting enough for someone to stop the endless scroll.”
Some platforms, such as TikTok, may favor less polished content, but shoppers still want to see what makes your product unique. From detail shots to video, social-first content should be a part of every shot list.
How to Optimize Images for Social Commerce:
- Crops: Followers—and would-be buyers—shouldn’t have to zoom in to see important details on items. Remember, smartphone screens are small and vertical!
- Models: Casting models of different backgrounds and body types shows followers what the product will look like on someone who looks like them. This could make the difference between a browser and a buyer.
- UGC-style imagery: Depending on the platform, social media users are accustomed to seeing more “authentic” content. Incorporating user-generated content, or UGC-inspired images can help your product pages feel more natural within the platform.
- Video: We know that showing products in motion can make all the difference on-site, and the same is true on social media—and, in turn, social commerce.
How to Maximize Your Chances for Success
- Go global: As mentioned previously, the United States isn’t at the forefront of social commerce—yet. If it’s an area you’re serious about, explore markets outside the country such as China, Brazil, and India with wider shipping options at checkout.
- Utilize influencers: Social commerce probably wouldn’t exist without influencers. Work with key influencers to get the word out about your product, asking them to direct their followers to your social media storefronts, rather than click through to your website.
- Set up in-app checkout: Think of your social media pages as an extension of your website. Remember, the built-in checkout experience makes it simple for followers to buy your products in just a tap or two. So while it may decrease website traffic in the short term, your social media views—and more importantly, sales—will increase.
- Create ads that drive to your social shops: On that same note, linking to your website from paid campaigns may lose valuable conversions with a lengthier user experience (i.e. shopping around, then going through checkout). Instead, make the destination for your ad your social media shops to make the user experience as seamless as possible. “The intent is it makes it easier—one click away,” says the Jaya Apparel rep.
- Offer social shopping exclusives: Creating a special item only for social commerce can drive both awareness and sales. For example, Hill House offered an exclusive style of their sought-after Nap Dress, available only via their Instagram Shop.
- Incorporate social-first modules on your website: LIKELY, for example, added a social shopping feed. “We want to be able to create a seamless experience for our consumers, so in-app allows us to connect various platforms and imagery all leading to our product,” explains Jaya Apparel rep. “Our consumers are loyal, and we want to make it easy to shop with us.”
How to Get Ahead of the Curve
Because social commerce is still relatively untapped in the U.S., there’s endless potential for your brand. A few examples of who’s already doing it right: Nike builds social commerce right into their app experience. Sephora—which was one of Instagram Shopping’s early partners—launched a weekly shopping livestream show.
However you take part in social commerce, we encourage you to try something new. Remember that you can always contact The Line Studios to visualize and create your social commerce content, and we can help build its success into your next shoot.