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How Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok have seen users shift further towards social commerce over the Covid-19 pandemic

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Just as the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift online, so too has social commerce developed at a faster pace, says Ed Couchman, general manager of Snapchat owner Snap.

“We’ve all seen the various stats and data points that talk about how ecommerce has accelerated over the last 18 months, with 10 years of innovation in weeks or months,” says Couchman, speaking on a panel on social commerce at the FT’s Future of Retail event this week. “We’ve certainly seen that first hand at Snap as well. We believe that people want to shop wherever they’re spending their time. That could be in a physical high street when their stores are open of course, but really we know that people are spending a large amount of time on their phones, on platforms like Snapchat. And we think it’s our role really that we play a critical part in that for consumers, to help them discover products for the first time, to see new stuff, right through to actually buying their favourite things. We have all seen that sort of consumer journey be completely changed and disrupted beyond all recognition.” Snapchat’s response to the shift to social has been to build the services that enable people to buy directly on its platform, or to go and visit a store.

Like Snapchat, Facebook too has seen more people come to browse and buy on its website during the pandemic. Beth Horn, director and head of industry for retail and ecommerce at Facebook, says: “This has been a big focus for us over the history of the platforms, but especially over the last year and a half as we’ve all been in our homes and not out in the physical world quite as much. And that’s been through huge investment in things like shops on Facebook, and Instagram. But it’s also things like driving traffic to retailers, websites, or stores. It really is about that commerce enablement so that we can help our partners sell all the things that they’re looking to sell.” 

The pandemic, says Horn, has been like a “hockey stick in terms of the adoption just hundreds of millions of people coming online and making purchases for the first time. And a lot of what they were finding is that they actually prefer that. I think what’s central to it is choice. How do we enable choice and discovery for people where they’re spending their time?”

Couchman agrees – and says the shift to social looks likely to be a permanent one. “Maybe it was born out of necessity to begin with, because the shops were closed,” he says. “But that necessity has certainly led to behaviours that we think are long term and aren’t going to slow down.”

In the same way, he says, shoppers are now using solutions that enable them to try things on from their phones. Fashion and beauty brands are now using augmented reality to enable shoppers to try items via Snapchat, for example. 

Cassandra Russell, head of fashion, luxury and brand partnerships EMEA at TikTok, says that during the course of the pandemic, the TikTok audience has got older and is more likely to involve families. The platform, which describes itself as focused on entertainment rather than on social media, has recently started working with Shopify to enable storefronts on TikTok. “We really are the toddler in the room in terms of us only being three years old,” says Russell. And currently there are no proprietary tools that we can offer, but we are working with partners in order to provide really good solutions for retailers.”

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