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Preparing for social commerce

Gymshark grew to maturity on the strength of its social marketing strategy

Gymshark grew to maturity on the strength of its social marketing strategy

Cally Archibald, Social Media Strategist, smp, examines how social shopping is changing the mobile experience.

The following guest article has been written for InternetRetailing by Cally Archibald, Social Media Strategist at smp. smp is a multi-award-winning marketing agency specialising in highly successful, multi-disciplined marketing campaigns for brands including Western Digital, SanDisk, Logitech and Campari.

Over the past ten years, mobile devices have completely revolutionised the way we search, discover and buy.

While smartphone usage is incredibly high in the UK (upwards of 85%), mobile payment adoption is still relatively limited – at least in comparison to the vast number of smartphone users. But it’s growing, and fast.

In the next few years mobile commerce stands to completely overtake desktop. According to eMarketer, 59% of global online sales are made exclusively on mobile, with an estimated 73% by 2021. PayPal, Apple Pay and similar services have made it easier than ever to pay on mobile, allowing customers to make a purchase in just a few taps.

As mobile commerce has become more mainstream, the role of social media continues to change too. While the transaction itself still takes place off-platform on the retailer’s website in most cases, platforms are rushing to close this gap and make the journey from discovery to purchase as frictionless as possible. Already social plays a pivotal role in driving purchase intent, offering customers a new way to discover, research, and share products, but brands should be thinking about how to optimise their social strategy for commerce.


Even though mobile transactions aren’t happening on social directly in most instances, it is the go-to route for research and discovery.

UK consumers spend an average of two hours per day on social media. Consumers visit branded social media pages, share purchased items with friends, message brands, and follow influencers for product reviews, tips and advice. According to Diply, 81% of shoppers have purchased a product after seeing it on social, and readers rated social media as being the first place they go to when looking for inspiration before purchasing.

Social has become a vibrant hub for the early-to-mid stages of the shopper journey (discovery and decision). It’s a crucial touchpoint for brands and is already starting to overtake traditional media in terms of spend. Even outside ecommerce, social still plays a huge role in influencing purchase decisions. GlobalWedIndex found that around 34% of offline transactions started with a social touchpoint, and this was higher when looking at Millennials only.

As mobile commerce starts to go mainstream, the opportunity for social to become a direct response platform is obvious. The biggest barrier to true social commerce is the lack of a transactional backend within social platforms. Basic functionality, like inventory management and fulfilment, are not currently possible within the native platforms without third party plugins offered by ecommerce providers such as Shopify.

But looking at countries like China – where marketplace selling dominates ecommerce – it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future where someone can stumble across an item of clothing on Instagram, and immediately purchase it within just a few taps.


Recognising this, platforms are rushing to introduce features that help make shopping easier and more frictionless for users.

Instagram’s product tagging feature – which allows brands and influencers to tag specific items of clothing and link directly to that product on their website – has made it intuitive for users to discover and learn more about products when browsing their feeds. Pinterest’s Lens – an image recognition feature built into the Pinterest camera app – lets users identify product in the real world and serve up related pins, again with the purpose of aiding discovery and research.

YouTube cards, Facebook’s buy buttons – all these features help close the gap between seeing a product on social and making the purchase itself. Innovations in this space demonstrate users’ appetites for shopping inspiration on social. Newer ad formats like Stories, 360 video and Live Photos, help make product adverts more appealing for users, tapping into this desire for browsing and discovery.

In a more aggressive move, Instagram has begun to test direct commerce features in areas where fulfilment isn’t as complicated. The social giant has partnered with third-party-service-providers including OpenTable, SevenRooms, GrubHub and EventBrite to offer products such as cinema tickets, salon appointments, dinner reservations and, in some cases, even holidays. It’s a telling sign that seamless integration is well and truly on its way.

Snapchat, likewise, has launched an exclusive partnership with Amazon to reduce friction for the user. This new feature, called Visual Search uses image recognition technology to analyse products snapped by users, and re-direct them to the Amazon store, where the item can be purchased hassle-free.

It’s all indicative of a wider race to fulfil the idea of direct social commerce. Be prepared for rapid evolution in this space as platforms continue to invest more in exciting new features, and customers become more and more accustomed to buying on their phone.


So how can brands take advantage of this shift to social commerce?

When looking at direct response, mobile commerce comes up against the same barriers as ecommerce. In categories where delivery is an issue, or customers prefer to touch and feel the product, mobile commerce lags. Likewise, categories that are flourishing in ecommerce tend to be seeing similar rapid growth on mobile. Fashion, consumer electronics and beauty brands tend to see the highest rates of purchase from social, with other categories like food and personal care catching up.

This is especially the case if the product is an impulse purchase – lower price points are generally more successful, with higher priced items requiring longer periods of consideration.
But just because you aren’t seeing directly attributable sales doesn’t mean social isn’t influencing your customers. Brands should really be thinking of social as the new storefront, a place to catch a shopper’s attention when they are passively browsing.

Social users are, almost always, doing something else – they’re talking to friends, browsing the news or keeping up with their favourite influencers. To achieve cut-through, brands need to grab attention and inspire them. This means optimising your content for discovery and browsing.

Gymshark, the UK’s fastest growing fitness company (now valued at over £100m), grew to maturity on the strength of its social marketing strategy. When the fitness brand decided to send free product samples to key influencers, the clothing went viral and they were able to leverage the content created. It’s a great example of how photography and top-notch content creation can capture shoppers’ imaginations and lead to tangible business results. Gorgeous looking assets are a must-have. Lots of visual appeal is crucial to bringing shoppers in.

Secondly, make sure you have content that serves customers in research mode. GlobelWebIndex found around 56% of users visit a brand’s social media pages before making a purchase decision to look for user reviews and feedback. Testimonials and customer service play a huge role in people’s perception of the brand.

Monzo bank is a great example of a brand doing this well. The disruptor visibly and publicly encourages feedback and conversation on social, demonstrating how much it values its users, and involving them thoroughly in the product itself. Establishing a two-way narrative on social is key not only to make customers feel part of the brand’s story, but also to ensure subsequent customers can see how feedback or troubleshooting is addressed.

Ultimately, brands that are already killing it on social stand to do best as new modes of purchasing come into play in this space. As consumers become more comfortable with mobile shopping, this will only increase. With this behavioural change, expect to see social commerce continue to grow as we move into 2019 and beyond. In the race for truly immersive direct social-to-purchase user experience, social platforms will continue to push the envelope and experiment with new features, tools and updates.

Social has become much more than just a place for pretty pictures – it’s now a primary channel for shopping inspiration. Brands should be looking at social as an integral tool in their sales and marketing strategy.

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