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Harness your social customer connections to drive ecommerce

Katy Howell, CEO, immediate future shares insight into social media, changes across the platforms and how retailers can improve their connections with customers.

Social media is more than a tool for sharing products, shots and emojis with your customers. It’s a powerful channel that, when done right, fuels your ecommerce with new and repeat buyers. Let’s get down to the facts. It delivers on the bottom line. Last year, a global survey by PwC found that 78% of consumers are influenced by social media when shopping online. According to BI Intelligence, this translates to sales. They claim that the top 500 US retailers earned approximately $6.5bn from social shopping in 2017 (up 24% on last year).

Social is a serious business. Not only because of the commercial opportunities, but because the platforms are forcing a greater investment by brands that want access to consumers. The move to restricting free access to consumers is being led by Facebook. The company recently changed its algorithms dramatically. It means your offers, posts and products are unlikely to be seen unless you pay for them to be seen. Expect the other channels to follow suit.

The need to invest in social sharpens the focus on doing what delivers results. Though, counter-intuitively, your social activity cannot just be about selling. Go in too hard and you’re going to discourage buyers. Instead, retailers need to tap into the network. Social is about networking, connecting, sharing. It’s this that has to be done better. Much better.

Retailers’ priority in social is to be relevant to your customer. Personalised social has impact. Less frequency and more quality content has impact. Creating experience and theatre has impact. Create the relationship with your customer on social and you have the foundation for social shopping to be successful.

Even that is not enough. Social feeds are noisy places. You’ll need to be disruptive too. With thumb-stopping content that jumps out at the customer to entertain, as well as inform. Right now, too many brands do the opposite. They rely on content volume as the benchmark for content success. Produce less and deliver something stand-out. Better still, Facebook rewards posts with more comments and shares. You’ll get seen more. The results will speak for themselves.


Marry relevancy with paid social and you’ll pack a powerful punch. But that isn’t enough if you want to persuade people to purchase. Trust and recommendation from friends and peers in your customers’ networks is essential.

The latest data from Global Web Index shows that almost a third (29%) of consumers turn to social to research and find products to buy. In social, this goes beyond the ‘review’. The cry across timelines “can anyone recommend” is growing. So much so, that late last year Facebook began rolling out a collection of ‘Recommendation’ features making referrals an integral part of the timeline and extending reach.

With so much fear around fake content, the old-fashioned review is also under scrutiny. The answer just might be video reviews since they offer a more transparent way to share. Google just launched 10 second video reviews in Google Maps. It could be the next thing in social referrals!


Creating a socially connected network is not enough if you’re not thinking about where consumers will buy. Social commerce is ubiquitous in Southeast Asia. Networks like WeChat are often described as Amazon, WhatsApp, Just Eat, Uber all rolled into one – and they deliver 30% of digital sales in the region.

OK, so the buy buttons on our social channels haven’t really delivered results. But all the platforms are trying hard to crack this commercial nut. It makes sense too. Consumers want to stay in their favourite social network. And for brands, the right format will go beyond the limited opportunity to capture impulse purchases.

It’s certainly of interest to the younger generation; 33% of those under 25 say they are more likely to buy directly on Facebook, 27% on Instagram and 20% on Twitter. The desire to buy in social is growing with the older age groups too.

Hence the move to a wider range of in-app shopping features. Instagram is testing adverts that blend video and product catalogues – called ‘Collections on Facebook’. It’s a space where consumers can complete the purchase without leaving the app. Instagram is building these in-app features fast. It makes sense when you consider in its latest earnings call the company reported that, “two-thirds of visits to Instagram business profiles are from people who don’t follow the brand yet”. These are potential new customers and Instagram wants to monetise the opportunity.

Snapchat, not to be outdone, introduced its first store at the start of 2018. It’s currently just selling its own merchandise, but it appears to be a testbed for a wider roll out to brands.

Selling on Messenger bots didn’t quite grab the attention of marketers last year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. There are 1.3 billion Facebook messenger users and 47% of consumers would buy items from a Chatbot. At the very least you should be considering pilot campaigns and responding (or auto-responding) to questions and queries.

Without a doubt, driving in-app shopping is a mission for all the platforms. The social networks are pushing hard to move the ‘like’ to ‘buy’. There is context in social. The connected network, reviews and recommendations all feed the opportunity to convert more sales.

As yet though, buy buttons, in-app stores and messenger purchases are not proven. The in-social sale is the goal, but not quite the reality yet. It’s an opportunity to test and learn, understand your audience behaviours and experiment with conversation-to-conversion. It will get bigger, it will be another string to your bow. It’s worth consideration and a watchful eye.


Regardless of the in-app potential, Retailers should be looking at social as the catalyst for driving purchases across the whole channel mix. Your customer networks will feed the purchase, but only if you embed social into your customer journey planning.

The trouble is too few brands connect social to their other channels. In fact, many create unnecessary barriers to sales.

The biggest mistake is not having a mobile-enabled ecommerce site. Surprisingly, a common issue. Given that over 80% of consumers on social media access it through a mobile device, this is sinful. Your customer is clicking to purchase, only to be met with a website that is impossible to view on the phone.

Having a mobile site though, is still not enough. Average load speed for a mobile retail website in EMEA is 3.6 seconds. After three seconds, 53% of customers leave. It’s not enough to be mobile, you need to be fast too.

Think about collecting data for social from across the channel mix too. Social will spike your SEO and PPC. It can drive up repeat visits, lower conversion rates and increase basket size. Social impacts all your channels. If you don’t measure and test, you won’t know.

Bed your social into the heart of your customer conversations and then embed your social into your other channels. Social will fuel your ecommerce success and you’ll deliver better social ROI than ever before.

The following guest article has been written for InternetRetailing by Katy Howell, CEO at social media agency immediate future. Now in its 14th year, her agency works with brands including Fujitsu,, Thomson Reuters, Post Office, IBM, Selfridges, Staples Europe, Google, Diageo, JD Williams, Sony Music, and many more.

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