In the last few years, social media interactions between consumers and brands have evolved to include new features beyond advertising and customer service. Even if reading reviews, comments and feedback remain at the top of the social media activities that influence shopping behavior, in-channel purchasing is making its way into online users’ practices. But is it growing fast enough to become a main channel for e-commerce conversions?
The Influence of Social Media
Internet users have been interacting with brands on social media for years now, following their favorite retailers, writing reviews, comments, contact client service, viewing ads, etc. The influence of these interactions has increased over the years; research has found that at least 46% of consumers look to social media when making a purchasing decision. Marketers are well aware of the importance of social networks’ role in purchasing decisions and the result is the increased marketing budget being allocated to social media marketing. Per a 2015 eMarketer finding, “Advertisers worldwide will spend $23.68 billion on paid media to reach consumers on social networks this year, a 33.5% increase from 2014. By 2017, social network ad spending will reach $35.98 billion, representing 16.0% of all digital ad spending globally.”
A PricewaterhouseCoopers research of 22,618 digital buyers 18 years old and above, shows that the social media activities that more frequently influence purchasing decisions are interactions in the form of reviews and feedback as well as promotional advertising but they also found that as of September 2015 16% of participants purchased directly from social media platforms.
Buy-Buttons & Social Media Selling Solutions
Click-to-Buy features on social media are relatively recent, their big debut took place just one year ago during summer 2015. The emergence of in-channel purchasing opportunities was just a matter of time. With the increasing popularity of connectivity and social media platforms it was the natural next step for marketers to take given the medium’s wide reach and nature for the personalization of offers. The algorithms of these social platforms allow for feeds to be tailored to the users’ interest, which has presented great opportunities for brands to start conversations with a qualified audience and display promotions and advertising directly related to their online activities. Now brands are giving their customers another way to interact and convert their interests into purchases.
According to a 2015 eMarketer report, Facebook is the social media platform that drives more conversions followed by Twitter; Instagram and Pinterest. Some of the selling solutions that make the in-channel purchasing experience possible are Shopial for Facebook and Pinterest, Beetailer for Facebook, inSelly for Instagram, have2have.it for Instagram and Facebook, amongst others. Most these solutions convert your network’s page into an extension of your storefront or a shoppable digital catalog.
But buy buttons were conceived with the purpose of facilitating engagement and encourage purchasing behavior, increasing conversion rates. One of the main targets being mobile engagement. “The goal for all our commerce initiatives on Twitter is simple: make it as easy as possible for businesses to connect directly with, and sell to, customers on Twitter. With Buy Now, businesses can drive more conversions and remove much of the friction in the mobile purchasing process.” (Nathan Hubbard, Twitter’s head of commerce)
So, what about social media and mobile?
One of the main purposes of the implementation of buy buttons on social media was to convert the mobile users into mobile consumers, increasing the percentage of conversions in m-commerce.
Mobile usage has increased exponentially over the last few years, as of January 2016 51% of the global population is connecting using mobile, in the Americas and Europe these percentages are even higher (108% and 132% respectively). Of the mobile usage, social media is one of the main activities that has shifted greatly to mobile. Globally, there has been a 17% increase in mobile social users since January 2015 bringing the total number to 1.968 billion, representing 27% of the total population, as found by We Are Social in its Digital 2016 report. This fast growth has shifted the investment of marketing spending towards social media advertising projected to be around 11$ billion by 2017.
With all these facts in mind, it is clear that leveraging the power of social media to increase conversions is a key strategic move for all marketers and given the high usage of social media through mobile we would expect the buy buttons to become increasingly popular with users trying to simplify their purchasing experiences. However, regardless of the statistics and the efforts of social networks to provide seamless shopping experiences, e-commerce seems to still favor desktop over mobile and customers don’t seem to be shifting their purchasing habits towards social media platforms.
Why hasn’t in-channel purchasing taken off?
Different reasons have been given to the slow growth of this trend’s popularity. Sucharita Mulpuru, analyst for Forrester, believes that one of the causes for social media’s failure at acquiring customers is the high level of content on these platforms. “There is so much content on Pinterest, Instagram and other discovery engines, so any individual piece of content gets very little visibility, and even less conversion.” Mulpuru also believes there is still a significant gap between the products consumers want to buy and those they can buy through social media click-to-buy features.
A report by Cowen and Company attributes this slow adoption rate in part to consumers’ lack of ease with the feature. “Buy buttons have been appearing sporadically across social media, often in limited tests, so it is fair to assume that consumer familiarity is low.” Here in Europe for example, you won’t find many shoppable posts on the major social media platforms’ feeds.
But the slow adoption rate is not only due to users’ behavior, a report by Campaigner found that less than half of retailers in the US were using the click-to-buy features as of August 2015, and that within the retailers using the feature 27.1% are using email buy buttons.
Where does the future of In-Channel purchasing stand?
It is very early in the game to tell what the future of these click-to-buy features will be. If we look purely at the numbers and the current behavior around social media and mobile, buy buttons seem to be perfect for the market. In addition, we know that it is in human nature to look for technology based solutions that will facilitate our daily activities and there is no doubt in-channel purchasing simplifies the buying process. It also makes social media an all-in-one extension of any e-commerce storefront providing the users with one single direct touchpoint to connect with businesses.
On the other hand, the slow adoption rate could be a sign that there is something missing or that some major aspects of the technology need to be modified before users start jumping at the opportunity to purchase directly from their social media feeds. In any case, it is premature to draw conclusions about the success or failure of in-channel purchasing and figures show that early retirement is probably not in the cards for click-to-buy buttons.