rise of social commerce

The Rise of Social Commerce

Brands connecting their bottom lines to social

Author: Annabelle Blackburn

Social commerce has matured from a buzzword in the retail industry to a reality on leading social media platforms. Customers have rapidly engaged with the ability to buy goods whenever and wherever they see them, removing the friction of navigating to a brand’s website or physical store. In 2014, social shopping brought in $3.3 billion in revenue for the top 500 retailers, up 26% from the previous year and well ahead of the 16% growth rate for e-commerce in the US, according to the Internet Retailer’s Social Media 500.

In response, brands are increasingly prioritising the importance of their online presence, with 66% of brands adopting social commerce features since 2017. (We recently spoke about the significant decision of some retailers to shut physical stores in favour of online sales in our study of retail’s most anticipated day: Black Friday.) Importantly, this is also an opportunity for social media platforms to expand the reach of their digital ecosystems and change their role from shopping windows to full-blown stores.


Facebook has been leading the charge. Shopping ads and the “shop now” call to action button have been well-established since 2015. Since then, Facebook has been turning its attention to developing its new champion: Messenger. The messaging app has seen a flurry of releases, all aimed at developing the potential reach of retail –  including seamless translations through its bot M Translations. Most importantly we’ve seen the push for it’s AR feature, trialed by brands like Sephora, Asus, and KIA, and mastered by Nike with its Kyrie 4 drop that sold out in less than an hour.

By echoing successful uses of this technology by powerhouse retailers such as IKEA and Amazon, Facebook is opening the potential of AR on mobile retail to any brand on their platform.


Facebook can afford to invest in innovative retail technology because its star child, Instagram, still dominates the commercial space with its 1 billion monthly active users and appealing digital storefronts. The platform’s format intuitively aligns with store catalogues, and Instagram stories are rocking the boat for promotions: indeed, one-third of the most viewed stories are created by brands.

This year Instagram went a step further and removed the onus of having to rely on links in bios by releasing an advanced tagging function that allows for a truly interactive shopping experience. Tags can include descriptions of the product, costs, and direct links to the product on the brand’s website. This dedicated feature to social commerce firmly establishes the platform as a major player in retail, and does so in a way that is intuitively adapted to how users already use their platform.


Pinterest has also found a platform-adapted way to convert posts into sales. It has taken a step forward after long being considered a platform for browsing, where users would pin content that could appeal before making a decision and purchasing elsewhere. In 2015, 93% of Pinners reported using the platform to plan purchases only. In 2015 Pinterest released Buyable Pins, and in 2017 it trialed its “Shop the Look Pins” feature: these pins include a price tag at the top and allow users to purchase the product in just a few clicks, all while remaining in the Pinterest app.

This is a powerful statement, allowing users to become consumers within the app and definitively transforming Pinterest from a static digital cork board.

Originally only available to big brands such as Macy’s and Target, Pinterest renewed their commitment to small businesses by opening a collaboration with the retail platform Shopify in September 2018.


Meanwhile, Twitter continues to struggle to find its commercial presence in platforms dominated by photos and videos who have had an easier ride in converting window-shopping into purchasing. You likely won’t recall the launch of its “buy” button in early 2017; it was discontinued just months after its release. Whisperings around Twitter’s upcoming video sharing features could impact its place in the world of social retail, though to date Twitter’s strength has remained in location- or event-based marketing.

In summary

The convenience and reach of social commerce are undeniable in 2018. Platforms, brands, and users alike are benefiting from advances in technology that smooth out the purchasing process. Yet, while users are easily making the transition from browsers to consumers, it does pose questions on the limits, if any, of social media’s digital ecosystem.

In platforms hailed as community spaces, fostering conversations and connection, what impact do the rapid growth of ads and commerce have on how we interact with each other?
Perhaps the more interesting observation is the reverse: that social media platforms allow brands to go beyond “click-to-buy” mentality and instead retain the focus on connection, authenticity, and conversation.

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