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High street not dead yet – and social commerce could be about to save it

Socially acceptable: social media sites are becoming the new marketplaces

Digital shopping isn’t replacing brick-and-mortar, but it is surpassing it, with most shoppers wanting a mix – and social commerce is the glue that holds it all together.

So suggests a global study by Bazaarvoice, which finds that, almost a quarter (23%) of UK shoppers now use social media to discover new products to buy and, with the ability to shop on mobile at home, more than a third of global shoppers have made a purchase on social media in the past year.

When broken down by age, that number climbs to 43% of 18-24-year-olds and 47% of 25-34-year-olds. Purchasing directly through social media is more popular in the UK (33%) compared to other European countries, such as France (28%) or Germany (30%).

Purchasing directly through social media is more popular in the UK (33%) compared to other European countries, such as France (28%) or Germany (30%).

As this trend is only set to increase, there’s opportunity for brands to utilise what customers share about their brand on social media across other marketing channels. When shopping on a brand or retailer’s website, well over a third (37%) of UK shoppers won’t purchase if there isn’t UGC available – such as reviews and photos – on the product page they’re on.

Equally, nearly half (48%) look on product pages specifically for customer photos, followed by other websites where the product is sold (37%) and search engines (35%).

However, none of this means that the high street is dead. 44% of UK respondents say shopping at a brick-and-mortar store is how they feel most connected to the brands they love, and almost half (47%) say what they value most about an in-store shopping experience is the ability to touch, see, and try on products.

Sampling and own-brands on the rise

Product sampling offers one way round this, says the report. When asked, 87% of UK respondents like the idea of receiving free samples, while more than half (51%) are willing to write a review of the free products they’ve received, and 28% say they’ll even post on social media – again using social to glue the whole process together. 

In a survey of the ‘Influenster community’ of members who have received a sampling box from Bazaarvoice, 63% say they’ve purchased the products they sampled again, and of those who had purchased, 97% purchased at least one additional product from the brand because they loved the first product so much.

Shoppers appreciate sampling because it gives them the in-store experience of physically interacting with a product that they crave, but from the safety of their own home. 

In the past year, almost half (49%) of UK shoppers have made an own-label purchase. The top reason for doing so was liking the product (50%), followed by the product being cheaper (49%). Grocery is the most popular vertical that shoppers will buy own-label (48%), followed by home goods (37%) and beauty (36%). 

While 41% of shoppers intentionally purchase own-label products, demand has also been driven by product availability – almost two thirds (63%) of UK shoppers reported product shortages during the pandemic. With opportunity for retailers to win new customers through own-labels, retailers must ensure that UGC is available for these products to give consumers confidence to choose them. 

“The pandemic has accelerated shopping trends that were already in motion at the start of last year,” says Ed Hill, SVP EMEA at Bazaarvoice. “More UK shoppers are turning to e-commerce than ever before but shoppers still value the ability to touch and feel products which is typically difficult to replicate online.”

Hill concludes, “Brands and retailers can use rich, visual content online to create experiences where shoppers feel they truly trust and understand the product they are buying. Customer videos, images and reviews are one of the most effective ways to achieve this. Enhancing the online experience with authentic user generated content means other shoppers have the confidence to buy.”

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