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GUEST COMMENT The rise of social commerce

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Social media has long been viewed as an invaluable brand awareness and engagement tool. This is particularly true for brands targeting millennials; 54% of whom now use social channels to research products before making a purchase.

Recent data suggests that social commerce – shopping directly through social media – is very much on the rise. The top 500 retailers earned almost £5 billion from social commerce in 2017 – a year-on-year increase of 24%.

This rise has coincided with major investment in the e-commerce space from social media giants such as Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, indicating that social commerce is likely to be a major theme in 2019 – or even as early as this year’s peak retail season for forward-thinking brands.

Let’s take a closer look at the rise of social commerce, as well as how businesses can successfully leverage social shopping to drive sales.



Instagram has recently dominated the headlines in the social commerce space, blurring the lines between social and shopping through a range of e-commerce features implemented this year.

Announced in March, shoppable posts offer brands the chance to “tag” their products in posts with a direct link to the relevant page on their website. This greatly simplifies the purchase journey by taking customers from post to purchase in just two taps. This new, seamless way to shop has already proven tremendously popular, with approximately 90 million people tapping a shopping tag each month.

The brand has also shown a clear desire to further bridge the gap between social and e-commerce, introducing features such as shopping directly through Instagram Stories and a dedicated “shopping” tag to the “Explore” page, along with a rumoured standalone shopping app.

Digitally-native retailers – which already have a strong social presence – have been the early frontrunners in Instagram commerce. Among the most famous examples is Missguided, which made maximum use of this past summer’s partnership with Love Island to drive engagement and, crucially, a 40% spike in sales.

Much of this can be attributed to the brand’s sterling social media work, heavily promoting the products worn by the stars on Instagram and including both shoppable tags and calls to action (e.g. “tap to shop the dress Dani wore tonight!”.)

To encourage maximum engagement per post – and associated shoppable tags and Stories – brands should take inspiration from how style catalogues are laid out, carefully curating each post on a feed to encourage seamless browsing. Zara does this very well.

A business’s feed can also be combined with Instagram Stories to provide the customer with more detailed information on corresponding products (such as price, materials or colours) to engage and convert customers drawn in initially by the feed.



Snapchat also rolled out a number of social commerce features earlier this month, with Shoppable Snap ads having already seen success with brands. eBay and Guess are the early frontrunners in this space, with engagement rates having multiplied by 5x and 4.1x respectively.

However, arguably the most exciting new feature is Snapchat’s visual product search feature (codenamed “Project Eagle”), in partnership with Amazon.

Essentially, Snapchat users can now “scan” physical objects through the app, which brings up a separate page, showing information such as price and similar products. Upon tapping the product, users are immediately taken to the relevant Amazon page, where they can make a purchase.

While the app exclusively sending users through to Amazon’s site may be perceived as a barrier to smaller retailers, this does not need to be the case. Indeed, selling directly on third-party marketplaces is an invaluable way to reach a worldwide user base, and one which is often overlooked.

Our research into e-retail best practice found only 39% of the UK’s top retailers currently sell on third-party marketplaces – a clear missed opportunity to take advantage of Snapchat’s latest foray into e-commerce.  

Snapchat’s visual product search function provides a fantastic reason for brands to set up a store on Amazon. Considering that relatively few brands take advantage of this growth avenue, the feature is a great way for brands to leverage innovative technology to reach new customers ahead of their competitors.



Pinterest’s 250 million monthly active users provide a highly engaged user base. The platform also sees far more positive sentiment between users and businesses than other social media networks, with approximately 78% of Pinterest users claiming that they find content from brands on the platform useful.

Pinterest already offers a number of tools with which brands can reach customers, such as dedicated business profiles, promoted videos, shopping ads and, most recently, dedicated “shop the look” pins, which work similarly to Instagram’s shoppable tags.

To maximise the sales opportunities from Pinterest, businesses should create separate boards according to product line. Fashion retailers, for example, could create different boards for dresses or tops, or even sort clothing by brand. This allows potential customers to easily follow and share the boards – and associated products – that they are most interested in.

Pinterest is a visually-focused platform and strong product imagery will often be what decides a purchase. With this in mind, all product images posted to Pinterest should be at least 72 dpi, approximately 1,000px x 1,000px, and shown from multiple angles where possible.

It’s time to seize the social commerce opportunity


Amidst a raft of high-street store closures, which are driving an increasing number of brands to place a greater focus on online, the ecommerce space has perhaps never been more competitive.

To stand out in this saturated marketplace, businesses must be proactive in selling directly to their customers and – in our ever more connected society – that is likely to be on social media.


As we move into the busiest retail period of the year – Black Friday, Singles Day and even Christmas are now just around the corner – brands should not ask whether to invest in social commerce, but whether they can really afford not to?

Author: Gianni Casagrande, social media strategist at leading e-commerce digital marketing agency of Visualsoft

Image credit: Fotolia

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