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EDITORIAL YouTube, Instagram and Lovehoney: pioneers of the new ecommerce?

Ecommerce is driving into a new future

Social media may well have been awash this week with posts about how to cope with extreme heat, but in reality social is edging ever nearer to feeling the real burn of ecommerce. 

Both Instagram and YouTube have made major plays this week to bring social media closer to being a sales platform than ever before – and setting up stiff competition for marketplaces such as Amazon.

And both are targeting smaller retailers as they see that, firstly, these companies are likely to benefit the most from selling through these channels and, secondly, that there are many, many, many of them out there.

So, what are they up to? YouTube is working with Shopify – provider of ecommerce services to many thousands of smaller retailers growing online – to add livestream shopping to their sites, bringing what has been until now a high-end addendum to selling the masses.

The plan will see many smaller businesses able to tap into using video to sell their wares and is a much-needed tool in their armoury. The partnership between Shopify and YouTube marks an interesting nexus of brand building using video – which many smaller brands have done in spades – and actually connecting that to their store fronts; directly turning their videos into something shoppable. 

For Shopify this is an excellent add-on, bringing video selling into its platform as an option, which must surely be a massive selling point. For YouTube, it gives an instant on-ramp to commercialise the millions of hours and the massive, long tail of small businesses already using its platform. It also adds credence to the social-ness of YouTube, elevating it above just being a video streaming platform and doyen of the UGC brigade.

Instagram, meanwhile, is also targeting smaller brands and retailers, bringing shopping to posts between consumers and brands on its platform. The move essentially extends what the social site has offered to larger retailers to the swathes of smaller brands that rely on Insta and Facebook as de facto marketing channels. 

This is interesting as it marks a distinct ramping up of parent company Meta’s march to become an ecommerce company, as well as a marketing firm. 

It also chimes with YouTube’s Shopify partnership as again it looks to exploit the massive, long tail of smaller retailers all battling it out to find new platforms through which to sell. Instagram’s move also aims to bring Meta Pay, its parent company’s nascent payments platform to a much wider audience.

The play by Instagram will also take it into the realms of being a quasi-marketplace, built around interaction and could, just could, start to see sites like this begin to erode the dominance of the likes of Amazon and eBay, offering a more image-led and interactive way of selling – and tapping much more into the mores of Gen Z (and younger) who expect a very different way of interacting with the brands and retailers through which they shop.

This is also, to my mind, part of the metaverse revolution: the experience of the internet is changing and that will have a potent effect on ecommerce, shifting not only how consumers shop, but the platforms they go to to do it. 

We have already seen a small but growing range of businesses target the nascent metaverse and more prosaic VR and AR technologies through apps and the like. As social media becomes more of a sales and messaging channel, and while there is an ever growing move towards video shopping, so the arrival of the true metaverse looks ever-more likely.

Sexual wellbeing retailer Lovehoney certainly sees the potential. It has, no double entendre intended, erected a pop-up in the metaverse department store Decentraland, which among other things a range of sound activated products – look them up, its fascinating stuff – and, surprise, surprise educational videos. 

This already shows the close link between video, social and the metaverse and reinforces that change is a-coming to retail. It isn’t just about refining online, it is the beginnings of the whole web experience changing. These companies are at the forefront of this and, right now, it may not look like a revolution, but soon it will become apparent just how far we have moved. What an interesting landscape we are going to see by Christmas.

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