The Context of Commerce: Cultivating Contextual Content for Social Commerce
In an era of accountability, content may be king, but context is the kingdom. The definition of social commerce, first coined by Yahoo in 2005, has morphed over time to become more inclusive and expansive, although many marketers have found the evolving opportunity elusive.
Social commerce is a subset of ecommerce, which involves leveraging social media to assist online selling of products and services. When it was first conceived, social commerce was defined by shared shopping lists, star ratings and other user generated content that provided advice and product recommendations. Today, product ratings and reviews are foundational, if not a critical requirement for ecommerce, regardless of the marketplace. Product ratings and reviews continue to provide shoppers with a level of confidence (this is the right product or the right brand to satisfy my needs) in a digital world where traditional offline shopping behaviors don’t apply. To achieve impactful value and accountability, brands must adopt a social commerce strategy that meets consumers where they are, providing a socially designed personalized interaction that adheres to user privacy yet enables frictionless purchase.
Social context has become an essential contributor in the consumer journey, influencing shopping behavior and requiring brands to develop social-first strategies to generate strong sales growth. Social platforms will continue to innovate, incorporating new shopping features to drive deeper engagement and provide consumers with frictionless product discovery germane to each social platform’s unique positioning. As brands and marketers look to 2019 and beyond, below are two primary trends fueling social commerce growth:
Visual Commerce on the Rise
Monthly visual search on Pinterest’s platform has increased from 250 million to 600 million searches per month from 2017 to 2018 1 . It’s apparent this form of product discovery is prime for explosive growth. Amazon, the largest online U.S. retailer, and Snapchat (Snap) have established a partnership 2 that allows Snapchat users to shop on Amazon using nothing more than Snapchat and their smartphone’s camera. If the product is available on Amazon, a product card is shown to the user with basic product details and links to the storefront for purchase. This partnership illustrates that the future of social commerce will be visual.
Voice Assistant Integrations
Although voice assistants could be classified differently when considering the social, conversational and pervasive nature of voice interactions, we see voice technology as an extension of social commerce fueling growth as adoption scales. Voice shopping is predicted to grow to over $40 billion in 2022 3 . Although Amazon and Google provide developers the ability to create apps via Skills and Actions, neither currently allows companies to drive direct sales within branded experiences, but this is on the horizon. Amazon and Google still provide organic voice commerce solutions through Alexa and Google Express integrations, which serve as testing environments to fully realize consumer shopping behaviors as it pertains to voice.
It’s not enough to test out new ways of communication like we did with a custom Alexa skill in 2018 – brands need to interact with consumers on their terms – providing impact and value at every turn. Our job still comes down to providing helpful information or tips but finding new ways that consumers want to engage.
Bill Klump, Chief Marketing Officer, Butterball
The hurdle social commerce must clear to truly take off is that of consumer trust. Most social platforms provide solutions for commerce-related functionality, but the majority of consumer purchases still take place within the brand’s commerce environment. Within the past two years, there have been several high-profile data breaches exposing consumers’ personal data, including credit card information, which has eroded trust. Chief among customers’ concerns are identity theft and scams, which limit social platforms’ ability to grow in-platform commerce transactions.
Considering the dynamics of the marketplace, privacy concerns and data ownership, social commerce stands at an inflection point between ensuring the safety of consumer data and enabling unique commerce interactions that drive revenue growth. Through the lens of impact and accountability, brands can deliver innovative social commerce applications without sacrificing the trust of their advocates and loyal customers.
One example of how to successfully navigate privacy and data access, while leveraging emerging technology in a unique ecosystem, is LEGO’s Ralph–a Facebook Messenger Chatbot built by our team. Through this execution, Edelman delivered a custom experience to help customers navigate an array of LEGO sets to find the perfect gift. Prompted with a few questions about the child’s age, and their interests, Ralph provides recommendations that best suit the child’s personality. Once a product is selected, the user is taken to the LEGO shop to complete the purchase. Choosing to focus on utility, without sacrificing humor and brand voice, LEGO is a shining example of how brands can engage consumers in a socially relevant way on a non-traditional platform, solving an inherent shopping issue–simplifying the complex–especially during one of the most stressful shopping times of the year, the holiday season.
To succeed in 2019 and beyond, brands must become first movers, adopting emerging technologies that impact the social commerce landscape in the right context. Marketers must take advantage of the evolving consumer behaviors that are transforming the way shoppers discover and purchase new products. Over the past year, consumers have interacted with ever-evolving technologies that will continue to shape the future of social commerce for years to come. Here are several examples of emerging opportunities for brands and marketers to consider, along with recommendations and considerations on how to be effective on the respective platform:
Pinterest Lens – A product discovery tool that allows users to take a photo of a product (clothing, footwear, home appliances, furniture) to find relevant pins/products listed within Pinterest. If the pin is shoppable, users can either pin to their boards or purchase the product via product detail pages or cards.
- Recommendation: Review your available pins and products on Pinterest to ensure all products are shoppable.
- Questions to consider: Is your product catalog available within Pinterest? Are they shoppable? Is the product sold by a third party? Have you applied SEO to ensure higher visibility?
Google Lens – A combination of image recognition and natural language processing, Lens is an extension of Google Search. Instead of keywords, Lens uses images to serve an integration of search and shopping results. In October 2018, Google announced Lens would extend to Google Images for non-android consumers.
- Recommendation: Review your current SEO implementation for product detail pages on your owned digital properties. Adopting SEO best practices, especially around rich markup (schema), can ensure your brand benefits from Google Lens.
- Questions to consider: How well is your site content search optimized? Have you adopted schema markup across your product detail pages?
Instagram – Shopping in Explore and Stories provides opportunities for product discovery and purchase. These content vehicles enable unique ways for brands to raise awareness through the most utilized aspects of Instagram’s platform with more than 400 million accounts engaging today.
- Recommendation: If your brand offers a direct-to-consumer sales channel, consider Instagram shopping for Explore and Stories. Examine unique ways to engage consumers to encourage conversations and drive sales, with an emphasis on bespoke content to help your brand stand out.
- Questions to consider: Are you building unique content specific to Instagram Shopping? Is your content optimized for vertical video/stories? Does it include unique means for engaging consumers via stickers and polls?
Snapchat – Keeping pace with rivals, Snap introduced new social commerce features (via Shoppable AR lenses and ads in partnership Amazon) that enable product discovery & purchase without necessarily leaving their app. With over 70 million users 4 engaged with AR lenses per day, native commerce integration is a logical evolution.
- Recommendation: AR lens should be considered when engaging influencers and brand advocates across upper and lower funnel activations.
- Questions to consider: Does your brand engage with influencers? Have you considered the implication of social commerce and shoppable opportunities with your influencer?
As the definition of social commerce continues to mature and social platform commerce solutions advance, the question remains: Will social platforms or operating systems (OS) be the first to provide a truly integrated, seamless and frictionless ecommerce environment that replaces the tactile with voice or visual interaction? If privacy and trust are contributing factors, we can imagine a world where Alphabet, Apple and Amazon dominate commerce technology interaction, although it’s clear Facebook, Snap and Pinterest will continue to be a part of the landscape, most likely through strategic partnerships.
Within 10 years, we anticipate a world where Apple (or Google, in partnership with Facebook) introduces an iOS Search Ads-like solution where brands can upload their product catalog for mapping within an augmented reality environment, allowing consumers to purchase on the go as they encounter products in the wild.
Whether it’s Siri Shortcuts, Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant, the future will enable consumers to book vacations, hotels and buy a new TV or clothing from their preferred brands without having to do more than have a conversation with their device of choice–call it socially inherent commerce. “Hey, Siri, can you walk the dog, take out the garbage, buy those black shoes in my shopping list and book our hotel in Aruba?” Not yet, but soon enough.
1 “Pinterest sees 600 million visual searches every month.” VentureBeat. February 2018. Source: https://venturebeat.com/2018/11/27/google-pixel-slate-review-an-expensive-work-in-progress/
2 “Snapchat partners with Amazon to let users shop from pictures.” Marketing Land. September 2018. Source: https://marketingland.com/snapchat-partners-with-amazon-to-let-users-shop-from-pictures-248825
3 “Voice shopping estimated to hit $40+ billion across U.S. and U.K. by 2022” TechCrunch. March 2018. Source: https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/02/voice-shopping-estimated-to-hit-40-billion-across-u-s-and-u-k-by-2022/
4 “Snapchat opens up augmented-reality camera to anyone.” Financial Times. December 2017. Source: https://www.ft.com/content/7d883270-e079-11e7-a8a4-0a1e63a52f9c
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