Social Commerce: What it is & How to Use it Effectively

Kelly Shelton

January 13, 2022

Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter—they’re not only a way we connect to the world and pass the time, they’re also part of an invaluable ecosystem that every brand in the world should be paying attention to right now: social commerce.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce is the use of social media platforms to buy and sell products or services. Think about platforms like Instagram or Facebook Shops that allow you to purchase products from a brand right in-feed—that is social commerce. A wider social commerce definition, for our purposes, is that social commerce is the use of social media to introduce products to consumers, increase brand awareness, improve customer experience, and market a brand.

When did social commerce start and why is it taking off now?

Social media has been a growing channel for brands for about a decade, but social commerce as we currently understand it began about three years ago. It has grown in popularity in part due to global changes in the way people shop.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person shopping opportunities were severely limited as consumers felt unsafe to purchase products in stores. This, combined with increased traffic on social media apps, made social channels ripe for ecommerce development, and many brands took advantage of that.

In 2020, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest all launched updates to their social commerce tools that streamlined the purchasing process during the pandemic, making it easier than ever for consumers to research, engage with, and purchase products from brands.

How is social ecommerce different from other ecommerce or marketplaces?

When people go to marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart, they’re specifically looking to purchase products. When they go to apps like Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok, they’re not primarily there to shop. In fact, they’re not usually there to shop at all. They’re scrolling to connect with friends and family, to see what’s happening in the world, to browse and to be entertained.

While that means that conversion rates are typically much lower on social media platforms than on marketplaces, the opportunities to provide engaging customer experiences and raise brand awareness are higher. Social commerce is the new ecommerce content marketing.

Another notable difference between social commerce and other marketplaces is in how targeting works. A marketplace or website is limited in showing you what keywords and products customers are most interested in based on the searches they’re making. By design, social media platforms give brands far more personalized information about their customers, like what age range is most interested in a product, the kinds of products and activities they like, and the things they don’t like.

Why does social commerce matter for your brand?

Internet users are no longer turning to their computers first to access online content. Currently, over 50% of all Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, and the easiest applications to access on mobile devices are social media apps.

As of 2021, there are 4.48 billion people using social media worldwide, and 93.3% of those social media users are currently active on a social media platform. In addition to connecting with friends and browsing for fun, social media users are spending their time seeing and engaging with brands on these platforms, and in many cases, making purchases based on the products showing up in their feed.

Therefore, social media has become one of the most consistent places for brands to connect with a large swath of their consumer base and reach new shoppers, too.

The benefits social commerce

Virality: The viral nature of social media means there are plentiful opportunities to grow a brand. Today, a brand can get a product into the hands of the right influencer on apps like TikTok and Instagram and watch sales for that product skyrocket as consumers see, engage with, and share that influencer’s post. The more engagement a brand gets on social media—likes, reshares, comments, follows, etc.—the more exposure they can receive from new customers, essentially creating digital foot traffic to their business.

Social proof: Another benefit of social commerce is that you can provide your customers with more social proof that your product does what you say it does. Social commerce builds on the importance of reviews because it gives users another avenue to share their experiences with a product, either by posting about their experiences or leaving comments in your feed. A good 76% of people say they trust online reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends, and social media is a great place to share/incorporate those reviews to build trust in your brand.

Loyalty: Social commerce allows you to build a following, and once you have a core following of loyal fans, you can activate them as brand ambassadors, offer rewards, host giveaways, and get them involved in other activation experiences that can extend your brand reach even further.

Audience targeting: The targeting we mentioned earlier? That’s another one of the biggest pros about social commerce. Because data collected by social apps is so specific, a brand can know absolutely that they’re putting their ads in front of the right audience. It allows brands to exponentially grow by going to their customers rather than waiting for customers to come to them, and it isn’t very expensive. Brands can get very targeted with their paid ads and find success on a small scale. Plus the information available about audiences can help you create marketing specifically for the buyer.

Truthfully, there are very few downsides to improving your social commerce strategy. The biggest is that it can take a lot of work to create a solid and efficient strategy.

Tips on how to use social commerce to your advantage

Here are a few things we’d recommend at Pattern.

Use a mixture of paid ad and organic strategies

As you craft a solid strategy for social commerce, you’ll want to consider both a paid ad strategy that gets your product in front of the right audience and an organic strategy across different social channels.

Paid ads or sponsored posts can be a powerful way to promote and build your brand in social spaces. Meanwhile, a strong organic strategy can engage potential customers with interesting and relatable content that makes them want to follow your brand, and it doesn’t have to be spendy—you might send products to consumers to unbox and share, for example, or add a humorous flair to your copy that keeps people interested.

Work with an influencer

A single influencer can change your business. By working with engaging social media influencers in your vertical—whether that be home goods, beauty products, appliances, or any other type of product—you can introduce potentially thousands of new customers to your brand and brand story. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either—brands are finding more success with micro influencers than with macro influencers.

You can learn more about how to use influencers in your social commerce through our Influencer Marketing Report.

Incorporate reviews and how tos

Similar to an Amazon listing, a social channel can be a great space to introduce your consumers to how a product works and what they can expect if they make a purchase. Sharing customer reviews and experiences on social media is one great way to do that.

Get to know your followers

Social media followers are your best source for feedback to improve your customer experience, and there are so many things you can do to build and maintain a relationship with them on social. In addition to sharing their experiences with your brand, engage with them in comments and provide them with a memorable customer service experience so they know you care about them.

Be authentic and focus on quality

Likes and follows aren’t the end all be all to a successful social strategy. You also want your brand to be authentic and provide quality content that customers find value in. Be a little funny, find creative ways to tell your brand story (video is one space where brands are seeing significant opportunities for growth), and publish worthwhile content your followers will find value in and want to share. The key is to be who you are and don’t over-promote.

The future of social commerce

Social commerce isn’t going away soon, but it does face certain challenges. While the use of social media to market content has grown exponentially, direct payment through social apps has been slower to stick. Customers still prefer purchasing through D2C websites or Amazon, but options like Facebook Pay are gaining momentum.

One big obstacle facing social commerce are regulations that impact social platforms’ tracking capabilities. The iOS 14 update on Apple alone, which allows users to opt out of having their data tracked, has had a significant negative impact on ad targeting and thus performance across Facebook and Instagram. In the future, we anticipate more and more companies will have privacy policies that limit the targeting, tracking, and retargeting functionality that’s delivered such outstanding results for businesses in the past. Social apps and brands may have to adapt and reinvent how they collect information to get similar results.

That said, the future looks exciting. With Facebook—and parent company Meta’s—emphasis on virtual reality, we could see VR incorporated into the buying experience 3-5 years from now, revolutionizing social commerce even further.

How Pattern can help you with your social commerce

Pattern makes a great partner for brands looking to either build their social presence from the ground up or just excel on the social channels they’re already on. Our team can help you grow your following, enhance your customer experience, build dynamic creative content and ads that engage your fans, connect you with influencers, and much more. To learn more, contact us today.

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Aug 4, 2022

How Disjointed Sellers Take Away Brand Control on Ecommerce Marketplaces

A top issue we see with brands struggling on ecommerce marketplaces is a loss of brand control due to disjointed sellers—those that aren't following your brand policies and guidelines when selling your products online. Disjointed sellers can be gray market, unauthorized, and rogue sellers, as well as 3P and other sellers that are noncompliant with your branding, pricing, and other forms of representation online.

It can be very easy for brands to lose control of their ecommerce strategy when they can’t get a handle on disjointed sellers. Typically, these brands are either stuck in a game of whack-a-mole or just ignoring the warning signs of bigger issues and hoping for the best. But, when disjointed selling isn't handled right, the consequences can be devastating to profitability. A loss of brand control doesn’t happen overnight, and the factors that contribute to it are long-standing. 

Erode Consumer Trust

Before the advent of ecommerce, brands favored a wide distribution. It was the easiest way to get products to as many distributors as possible. But wide distribution, when left unchecked, leads to leaky distribution—allowing your excess products to end up in the hands of unwanted sellers.

So brands that continue to operate with a wide distribution strategy are losing brand control and are damaging their brand equity and product performance. Why? You’re unable to monitor your products’ pricing, performance, or quality. You can’t dictate how you’re represented by each seller, creating an inconsistent and false representation of your brand to your new and existing consumers. These issues often lead to poor reviews and erode opportunities to build trust with future customers.

Wear Away Brand Equity

In today’s ecommerce landscape, marketplaces and digital platforms connect people and sellers to make online shopping simple and seamless. They also provide customers complete price transparency. Google, for instance, allows consumers to access any of your products on virtually every ecommerce channel and retail location and posts them side-by-side for you to comparison shop.

Now, everyone from your D2C distributors to large marketplace sellers, legitimate 3P sellers, and rogue and unauthorized sellers are on a level playing field—they’re all presented to the searching consumer, and that consumer has the purchase power.

Disjointed sellers have just as much power and authority to represent your brand as you do, without the same quality, pricing strategy, and customer focus as you.

Cause Competition and Price Matching Issues 

In most shopping scenarios, consumers will choose to purchase a product from whichever seller offers the lowest price. Marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart know this, and optimize their product selection based on all retail offers to serve consumers the lowest price for the same item.

This means that as one seller drops the price of your product, the next will follow, and then the next, etc. Everyone gains access to the product at or below MSRP. This opens the door for unauthorized sellers to purchase inventory during promotions or at discounted prices and then turn around and sell the same product slightly below competing sellers’ prices—for profit.  

As customers search for your product, they notice the cheaper price and purchase from the unauthorized seller, rather than paying the price you’ve established with your retail teams. Simultaneously, as Amazon monitors their product listing against other available channels, they notice they don’t have the lowest price. So Amazon, and other marketplaces, in service of the consumer, drop their price to match the lower price offered by an unauthorized seller. To stay competitive, your other channels follow suit. The cycle, also know as the profitability death spiral, continues to drive down the price of your product, grinding away your margins and profitability.

This doesn’t sound like much of a problem if your brand isn’t actively selling on ecommerce marketplaces, right? Unfortunately, it causes big issues for your brick-and-mortar sales, too. Large retail chains like Best Buy and Macy’s noticed this potential loss of sales from ecommerce and needed to defend and protect their profit. Retailers started telling brands that, in order to keep their products in-store (which accounts for 80% of most brands’ sales) they would need to lower their prices to match online prices. Which led to the concept of price matching. If a customer could prove the price of a product was lower somewhere else, Best Buy would match the lower price and charge the brand for the difference.

As other brick-and-mortar retailers jumped on the trend, brands started to see large losses in their margins.

Gain Ecommerce Control with Pattern

The danger that disjointed sellers pose to brands is enormous—without a way to control all of a brand’s distribution points on ecommerce, your brand spins farther and farther down the profitability death spiral. Using custom technology and data-driven insights, Pattern can identify disjointed and unauthorized sellers for your brand and develop a custom strategy tailored to your specific needs to address these big issues as soon as possible. Then, Pattern partners with the econtrol law firm, VORYs, to enforce take downs and save brands who find themselves caught on any stage of the death spiral.

With the right resources and expert help, we’ve helped hundreds of brands to regain their footing and control on ecommerce, win the buy box, and grow their sales. 

Contact us today to regain your brand control.

Aug 4, 2022

Ecommerce Innovators Podcast - Achieving Growth Through Technology

Join us for Ecommerce Innovators, a podcast that brings together the brightest minds in the industry to explore innovative strategies and trends in global ecommerce. We'll analyze what top brands are doing to accelerate their online success and you’ll hear from top executives who are changing the game for their organizations. Our host is John LeBaron, Chief Revenue Officer at Pattern—the premier partner for global ecommerce acceleration.

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Apple

In our conversation with John Wessel, CTO and SVP of Product & Digital at Fresh Water Systems, he talks about digital transformation, innovation, and growth. Hear about the many hats John’s wears, how the company has transformed since the 90s to stay cutting edge, the pharmacy part of the business, aligning and prioritizing multiple channels, and competing with Amazon.

Ecommerce Innovators Episode Synopsis

As we interviewed John Wessel, here are some things we learned:

Content leads to search ranking. For Fresh Water Systems’ ecommerce site, around 70% of their traffic is to the blog. The secret for content is “well-researched, well-written, long form content that is informative”. John explained that they have an SEO team who writes 5000+ word posts that are researched and documented. People read these blogs and comment, which drives more traffic to the blogs.

Ecommerce is changing the shopping game. John shared an interesting story about a plumber who orders parts every Friday night online, from wherever he can get the best price. He doesn’t have relationships with one supplier or an auto-renew subscription for his parts. Instead, he finds the best price just for the parts he needs every week. John thinks the trend of price shopping will continue, especially as ecommerce grows.

Invest in customer engagement, but don’t invest a lot of time into emails. How many advertising emails do you actually read? Companies often spend a lot of time doing A/B tests and crafting the “perfect” email. However, John pointed out that almost no one reads emails anymore. Instead, invest your time into different brand touchpoints you will have with your customer. You can still send emails, but make sure you dedicate less time to the process.

Listen to the full episode for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Aug 3, 2022

How Pattern Took Sylvania Beyond Amazon to Achieve Double Digit Growth

As the leading automotive supplier and long-time brick-and-mortar brand of high performance lighting products, Sylvania was facing challenges to increase profitability on ecommerce.  Exclusively available on Amazon and direct to consumer, Sylvania built a strong seller network, with huge market share, but was having issues with compliance and optimizing ecommerce.

As the top ecommerce accelerator, partnering with Pattern provides the expertise and deep marketplace knowledge to identify additional marketplace opportunities for brands, and the strategic teams to effectively launch on global marketplaces. Partnering with Pattern was critical for Sylvania to grow its profitability on and beyond Amazon.  

Pattern Develops and Launches a Custom Marketplace Playbook

By effectively evaluating the opportunity for new customer growth, increasing profitability, and outperforming competitors, Pattern’s marketplace experts and brand managers went above and beyond to help Sylvania diversify its ecommerce portfolio.  

In addition to creating an eBay storefront, Sylvania expanded its products to Target+ and Walmart.com. In some instances, like on Walmart, Sylvania was already available on the marketplace but changed its strategy from a 1P seller model, which has its own challenges and roadblocks, to a 3P partner seller model–naming Pattern as its partner.

Whether it was launching on new marketplaces or shifting its seller strategy to achieve greater marketplace success, Sylvania benefited from Pattern’s relationships with and deep understanding of how to succeed on marketplaces.  

In addition, as an ecommerce accelerator, Pattern invests in Sylvania’s product and manages the brand’s entire ecommerce journey on each marketplace. This partnership takes the stress and fear out of launching somewhere new so the brand does not need to understand the nuances, best practices, and details of each individual marketplace.

Sylvania Sales Jump Almost 100%

Not only did Pattern help Sylvania with their simple goal to increase its availability on marketplaces beyond Amazon, the ecommerce accelerator helped the automotive supplier achieve: 

Exponential Sales Growth:

  • 97% sales revenue growth YoY from November 2018 to November 2019

  • 151% unit sales growth YoY from November 2018 to November 2019

Flawless Marketplace Growth:

  • Sylvania has expanded to Amazon, eBay, Target+ and Walmart, all with Pattern’s strategic marketplace expertise and knowledge

  • Target+ is difficult to get approved to sell on, but Pattern’s marketplaces team and its resources was the necessary advantage to get Sylvania listed

    • Pattern managed the administrative and compliance logistics to get products approved, listed, and optimized to match other marketplaces

    • Pattern is also working with Target to redefine categories so they better match Sylvania’s products 

  • Pattern’s customer service team helped Sylvania’s eBay business achieve 100% positive customer feedback

Pattern has the resources necessary for a brand to take control on existing and launch on new marketplaces.

"Pattern is truly an extension of our brand. They know what they are doing when it comes to everything needed for a brand to succeed on marketplaces.”

- Chris Mitchell, Sylvania OmniChannel Analytics Manager

Contact us today to build your game plan for and take control of your marketplace strategy.