The Inseparable State of Social Media and Shopping

“The relationship between social media and shopping is rapidly evolving, and brands and retailers are exploring ways to take full advantage.”

Far from the days when it was a channel to simply connect and mingle with friends, social media has now become intrinsically tied to marketing and sales strategies. From awareness to conversion, social media plays a key role throughout the entire shopping journey. The relationship between social media and shopping is rapidly evolving, and brands and retailers are exploring ways to take full advantage. In just the last year, platform innovation and changing consumer preferences have impacted brands’ social strategy.

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From pushback against influencer marketing to social media in-store, here are three examples that demonstrate the current state of social media and shopping.

Everyone is an influencer

There’s a good chance if you’re reading this that you’ve been at least touched, if not influenced, by someone on social media. This type of marketing has seen a rapid increase in popularity and impact; in our recent survey of 4,000 consumers, an overwhelming majority (92%) said they interact with influencers on social media. That being said, there has been a recent shift in perception around influencer marketing. The Federal Trade Commission has put regulations in place to require disclosure of paid and/or sponsored content in an effort to make this strategy more transparent to consumers.

Even with these rules in place, consumers are increasingly finding the practice to be untrustworthy and inauthentic. Of those same consumers surveyed, 62% said they believe influencer content takes advantage of impressionable audiences. Another 55% said influencer content was too materialistic, while 54% said such content misrepresents real life. There has been a backlash against what consumers perceive to be inauthentic, pay-to-play content; companies that use influencer marketing should look closely at how they choose and work with influencers and consider how best to authentically integrate their products and messaging into these individuals’ social content to ensure audiences don’t feel slighted by the promotion.

To combat the perceived inauthenticity of influencer marketing, brands and retailers are also incorporating photos and videos from customers across their marketing mix. In our recently published annual Shopper Experience Index, brands and retailers reported that visual user-generated content (UGC) creates a more engaging shopping experience, increases discoverability, deepens brand trust and increases conversion.

In 2018, 38% of our clients reported featuring visual content from social media on product pages (up from 35% in 2017), and 43% say they plan to in the near future. Some brands, like Bumble and Macy’s, have even gone as far as featuring real people, like customers and employees, in influencer-like social media campaigns. Going forward, it is likely that brands will strike more of a balance between featuring content from real people and influencers on social media to ensure the content they are producing is authentic and resonates with consumers.

Social media as a checkout counter

Outside of influencer marketing, social media continues to serve as a way for brands to interact directly with shoppers and  a venue for extending the online shopping journey. According to our report, 1 in 5 consumers say it’s important or very important to be able to discover and purchase products directly from social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest – a 17% increase over last year.

In the last year, social media platforms have rapidly rolled out features that aim to improve the social shopping experience. Snapchat has partnered with Amazon, allowing users to scan a product or its barcode, and, if it’s available on Amazon, buy it directly in the app. Instagram recently released the beta version of its new in-app Checkout feature that allows users to buy items they see in a brand’s post without leaving the app.

As e-commerce and social media continue to merge, it will be interesting to see whether more consumers begin using these platforms as viable purchase channels. Last year, only 19% of consumers that identified as heavy online shoppers said they had ever purchased from a social media platform. With nearly half of our clients saying that integrating social media and online shopping experiences will be a top priority or increased area of focus over the next 12-18 months, it appears we’re only at the tip of this lucrative iceberg for brands.

Bringing social to the storefront 

While browsing social media content is often done from one’s phone or computer, there is an opportunity for brands and retailers to expand the influence to the real world by incorporating social components into the physical store experience. Today’s shoppers interact with brands fluidly across devices and channels, and they expect a consistent experience across their entire journey. By bringing elements of social media into brick-and-mortar, brands and retailers can bridge the gap between online and offline.

Beyond just promoting hashtags and account handles, stores are becoming social media backdrops. Many businesses seek to provide an aesthetically pleasing shopping experience through thoughtfully designed and curated stores. Glossier is a perfect example; their flagship store is an Instagrammer’s playground. Some stores have taken a pop-up approach, creating temporary installations in their stores to generate buzz and interest.

Late last year, ModCloth launched a two-week campaign, during which customers could be styled with their clothes and then photographed by a professional photographer. They were given both a digital and physical copy of the photo that they were able to share on social media and that was also shown on digital display walls in the store, essentially making the participants models for the brand both in-store and online.

Although the retail industry is already benefiting from the ever-increasing popularity of social media, there is still much room for innovation and exploration. As retail continues to evolve into a truly omnichannel experience, the integration of social media with the shopping experience will become even more important for brands and retailers to thrive in the online marketplace.