Social commerce: How willing are consumers to buy through social media?

With social networks increasingly looking at social commerce, giving consumers the opportunity to buy direct from brands, marketers need to understand how to convert today’s browsers into tomorrow’s buyers.

Social networks are becoming the new online marketplaces with new research showing why shoppers are looking to Facebook, Instagramand Twitter for their next online purchase.

But not all brands are convinced of social’s value as a sales channel. Morrisons’ marketing director Andy Atkinson last week said brands using social to sell were “making a mistake”. As social media sites continue to enable direct purchasing the opportunities for brands to sell direct via these channels are opening up. In October last yearFacebook announced further developments to the site’s dedicated shopping section – which allows visitors to buy items on the platform instead of being redirected to a retailer’s site – to improve the mobile shopping experience.

Facebook-owned Instagram also made changes to its platform last year by opening up the site to all advertisers with newer direct response ad formats that encourage users to take actions on posts through buttons such as ‘shop now’, ‘install’ or ‘learn more’. Meanwhile, Snapchat confirmed it is planning to roll out its own ecommerce platform and Twitter has previously tested a ‘buy’ button on its feed.

However, many brands are yet to enable this type of shopping. Although consumers are not yet able to buy all products directly through social media channels, they are already using brands’ social pages for inspiration to buy, which should act as an indicator of the potential value of social commerce. More than half (56%) of consumers who follow brands on social media sites say they do so to view products, according to new research from loyalty analytics company Aimia, which owns the Nectar loyalty brand.

Dubbed ‘social shoppers’, the research shows that these individuals visit social networks as part of their everyday shopping behaviour and use images they see on social media sites to inspire purchases.

Nearly a third of online shoppers (31%) say they are using these channels to browse for new items to buy. Facebook is the most popular network people are using (26%), followed by Instagram (8%) and Pinterest (6%).

Jan-Pieter Lips, president of international coalitions at Aimia, says: “If fully implemented, shopping on social media could become a primary shopping channel. However, many consumers defer to major ecommerce sites such as Amazon when making purchases. Brands need to think about social media sales strategies and how they form part of their wider ecommerce functions.”

The research, which surveyed 2,017 people aged 18 and over, also shows that 41% follow brands to look at new ranges when they launch and 35% do so to get ideas about what to buy when they next go shopping. These reasons rank slightly higher for 18- to 24-year-olds at 47% and 40%, respectively.

Almost a quarter (24%) of all respondents follow brands to get inspiration for gift ideas and 16% to keep up-to-date with trends and what is fashionable.

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Looking for inspiration

The research also breaks down what inspires different age groups. Among 18- to 34-year-olds who use social media to browse for new products, the top five purchases inspired by images on social networks are clothing and fashion (66%), gifts (61%), home decor (58%), food and drink (58%) and accessories (57%).

For those aged 55 and over the most popular items are gifts (36%), technology (33%), food and drink (31%), clothing and fashion (28%) and holiday destinations (26%).

“Social commerce offers a real opportunity for retailers to shorten the path to purchase for customers,” adds Lips. “As it stands, social media platforms are acting as a sort of catalogue, but many customers still go elsewhere to purchase the product.”

Lips warns that if brands do not prioritise social channels, there is the risk that they will “miss out on a vital opportunity to engage with a captive audience of customers and convert browsing into sales”.

The research also shows that Facebook is the most popular site for direct purchasing, with 19% of all respondents selecting the platform, followed by Twitter (10%). Next are those wanting to be able to buy from Instagram (9%), Pinterest (7%) and Snapchat (5%).

“It’s the younger demographic that are driving the social shopping trend,” says Lips. “Brands need to keep up with this demand if they are going to make the most of the future generations of shoppers.”

The stats show that one-third (33%) of 18- to 24-year-olds say they would like to purchase items directly from Facebook, 27% want to shop on Instagram and 20% on Twitter, followed by Pinterest (17%) and Snapchat (15%).

Facebook is also popular for 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds and 23% of those aged 35 to 44. But only 10% of 54- to 65-year-olds say they would like to purchase items directly from Facebook, which brands should take into account when considering the social shopping route to sales.

This article was originally published at Marketingweek.com, by author Mindi Chahal.

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