With workers returning to offices in January – despite a raft of rail and bus strikes – footfall in real-world town centre stores are picking up. It can be no coincidence that this is happening alongside a marked decrease in the amount of time consumers are spending online each day, dropping a noticeable 20 minutes per day, or 5% of the total.
However, this drop in online use isn’t just about a falling out of love with ecommerce. Instead, it is part of a wider malaise with web content in general. Users of the web are searching for more purposeful and meaningful experiences when they go online – with retailers as much as with anyone else – and they simply aren’t finding it.
There may be a rise in footfall to stores, but there is also a rise in use of social media interactions, with many online users choosing to spend quality time with more socially-led interactions than with ‘dumb websites’.
In fact, research shows that 16 to 34-year-olds are now more likely to visit a social network when looking for information about brands than they are to use a search engine (48% versus 45%), and half of the world’s social media users say that they actively visit social platforms to learn more about brands and see their content. While the rise of TikTok search has already caught the attention of the media, the latest data suggest that Instagram is social media users’ preferred destination when researching things.
But the changes don’t stop there. Once they have found what they are looking for, consumers are now more drawn to marketplaces – and in this we can start to also count social media selling, I think – to do their buying, as it offers them a better choice, greater convenience and, against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, the best price.
According to research out this week, more than three-quarters (77%) of consumers globally believe marketplaces are the most convenient way to shop online, a 10% increase year-over-year. Three in five (60%) wish more of their favourite retailers had online marketplaces.
However, consumers seek new features in the ‘marketplaces of the future’ – and this again shows that social media and new ways of finding things are winning out, even in the marketplace sector.
A global survey of features consumers would most like to see in future online marketplaces are loyalty and membership programmes (41%), purchasing integration with the latest social media apps (20%), a handpicked selection from influencers they follow (19%) and, perhaps neatly tying us back to the rise in footfall, in-store pop-ups that show marketplace products in person (28%).
This shift has not been wasted on the likes of Pinterest and Snap – one a quasi-social media-cum-marketplace and the other a social media platform-cum-quasi marketplace – both of whom have inked deals with, among others, Vogue magazine to combine the best in cutting-edge fashion content with their ability to engage and sell to a diverse audience.
This, perhaps more than anything, marks out the shift that is happening across ecommerce. Content-led selling – which adds greater riches and experience for consumers – is starting to eat away at the edges of the retail industry. And given that consumers are demanding more of this, voting with their feet and turning away from vanilla D2C sites towards stores, social media and marketplaces, it won’t be long before we see a new breed of socially-driven retail ‘experiences’ that straddle online, offline and marketplace models, and which incorporate all the rich content and engagement of social media.