Social shopping: The future isn’t predicted, it’s paved

Chloe Schneider
By Chloe Schneider | 4 June 2021

Chloe Schneider is head of content at Bohemia Group, part of the M&C Saatchi Group.

Here in Australia, social shopping is still somewhat in its infancy, with Instagram’s Shop Tab having only hit our feeds in late 2020 and no signs of when Instagram Checkout will be available to Aussie businesses.

Still, brands like Country Road, Big W, and David Jones have cleverly embraced the features we do have — namely shop pages, collections, and shoppable tags.

None of these brands have released hard sales numbers but, at this stage in the game, it’s a moot point. Habits are learned, not born, and just as brands needed to teach their customers to shop on their websites, they will need to take the time to teach their customers to shop in their social feeds. In addition, the data gained from having shop tags enabled is invaluable, especially when we look at what the future holds for social shopping in Australia.

The best guess at that future lives overseas where social shopping has matured quickly. In the United States, social shopping is expected to balloon to $36.09 billion in 2021, representing 4.2% of all retail eCommerce sales. Almost every platform has a solution — and each set to grow in their own way — but Instagram is expected to have the lion’s share.

Examining exactly how the US got to that point can help us here in Australia map out our own journey. Facebook has been playing around with shoppable content for at least a decade, but things didn’t really ramp up until November 2016 when brands like Warby Parker, J Crew and Levi’s were invited to trial shoppable product tags in their organic Instagram content. This news came over a year after Eva Chen was hired as the Head of Fashion Partnerships, and between her participation in the launch and the brand choice, shoppable content felt like it was something only fashion brands could really participate in.

When, in October 2017, Shopify integrations were unlocked, challenger DTC brands jumped at the opportunity to quickly and simply set up shop on Instagram where they were already growing a loyal following. By March 2019, Instagram Checkout was rolled out to a number of brands in a beta test group. Checkout allows users to purchase items without leaving the app and, once they’ve saved their payment details, making a purchase becomes a 2-tap process.

By the time the pandemic hit the US, Instagram Checkout’s beta testing period was complete and the platform opened up the floodgates, allowing any brand that complies with Facebook’s commerce policies to get on board. It was the perfect storm — people scrolling at home, looking for things that would bring a little brightness to a dark period of their lives, and unable to shop in store. By the year’s end, it felt like ‘I bought it on Instagram’ was second only to ‘I found it on Amazon.’

We don’t know yet when Australia will get access to the Checkout feature, but the better prepared brands are for that day, the more money they’ll make when it hits. And after that? Well, things will really start to heat up.

Right now, America is following in the footsteps of China, where Live Streamed shopping’s worth has ballooned to $70 billion — with one difference. In China, much of this live streaming has happened on ecommerce sites like Alibaba’s Taobao. In America, social platforms are the place for it. Most recently, Facebook announced Live Shopping Fridays, a series of events from beauty and fashion brands during which consumers can ask questions about the products, get styling tips and, of course, buy. The brands involved aren’t exactly mom and pop stores either. Abercrombie & Fitch, Sephora, and Clinique have all signed up to the event. It would be remiss not to mention the well-documented partnership between Walmart and TikTok, too. While the retail giant did not disclose sales figures from its inaugural Live Shopping event, it noted it netted 7x more views than it had anticipated and signed on for a second livestreamed shopping event featuring creators like Gabby Morrison who has over 3.5 million followers.

Google is in on the action too with a reported plan to make YouTube a shopping network. As ever, Shopify integration is the first step and is currently in the testing phase. Creators are being asked to use YouTube software to tag and track products featured in their videos.

Between social shopping and checkout functionalities and live streamed shopping experiences, there’s no doubt that the future of shopping is social. And just like the early days of eCommerce, the brands that jump on board early will make informed decisions about their strategy and content. The ones that don’t will be scrambling.

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