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What is social commerce?

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Last editedFeb 20232 min read

Social commerce is ecommerce carried out through social media platforms. It can be an alternative to traditional sales channels such as websites and sales platforms; often it’s used as a complement to them. Adopting social commerce can be an affordable way to extend a brand’s reach significantly.

What is social commerce?

The basic principle of social commerce is the same across all social media platforms. Brands can have adverts shown to potential customers. If customers are interested in the product or service, they click on the advert to purchase it. The whole sales process, including the payment, is taken on the social media platform. Customers are never redirected to the merchant’s website.

If you wish, you can host all their listings on the social media platform. If you don’t, you can integrate your website with the social media platform. This allows inventory to be synchronised across all connected platforms. 

Linking ecommerce websites to social media platforms requires no technical skills. The main ecommerce website solutions can link to the main social commerce platforms, currently Facebook/Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest. 

Twitter and YouTube are starting to support social commerce. Their offerings are still very much in the early stages and have limited access. At present, it’s unclear when they will be fully rolled out, but it does seem likely that when they are, they will also be supported by the main ecommerce website solutions.

Benefits of supporting social commerce

The benefits of supporting social commerce are much the same as the benefit of selling on third-party platforms such as eBay, Etsy and Amazon: direct access to an audience you might not otherwise reach. Leverage this not just into immediate sales, but also into long-term customer relationships.

What’s more, your customers on social media may become particularly valuable brand ambassadors. The fact that they found you through social media indicates that they are active social media users. They therefore probably have connections on the platform, so they could organically spread the word about your brand.

Potential downsides of supporting social commerce

The potential downsides of supporting social commerce are much the same as the potential downsides of selling on third-party platforms. The most obvious one is that you have to follow the platform’s rules and processes. 

For example, buyers are only able to use the payment methods the social media platform accepts. Additionally, your payment for their purchases is sent to you according to the timelines set out by the social media platform. So you may pay higher fees or wait longer for your money.

A less obvious but possibly more significant issue is that the social media platform owns both the customer experience and the customer relationship. This makes it harder for you to encourage customers to engage with and buy from you directly. Sales on your own website may decrease as customers opt for the greater convenience of social commerce.

Getting the most from social commerce

The way to get the most from social commerce is to own the customer experience as much as you can. Remember that satisfied customers are more likely to remember you and shop from you again. They are also more likely to recommend you to people they know and to leave positive comments and reviews.

Although the actual sale takes place on the platform, you own the fulfilment of the order and post-sales customer service. Use this to impress customers and to give them a reason to connect with you outside the platform. For example, offer them an incentive to sign up for your email newsletter, then develop a relationship with them outside the platform.

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