How do consumers in the West use social media for shopping?

It’s been well over a decade since Facebook took over from Myspace as the top social platform globally, and it’s clear that in this time, social media engagement has changed drastically.

Just a few years ago, social media was indeed “social”. Users were actively sharing personal plans, thoughts and opinions with friends and family, waiting for an opportunity to expand their network and befriend someone new.

Uploading countless photos from the family trip was common practice too, and it’s these behaviors that defined social media usage at the time.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re seeing a shift from using social media for purely “social” activities, to more practical and purpose-led activities.

Social networks being accessed anywhere, anytime – thanks to universal smartphone ownership – has led to a substantial proliferation of branded content on social media.

Eventually,

Content creation began to give way to content consumption and more passive forms of engagement.

Today, when we scroll on our news feed, we’re likely to come across anything and everything – from the next Game of Thrones spoiler, 9GAG videos and memes or an ASOS “valid in the next hour” promotion.

Social media continues to merge the fields of entertainment and commerce, creating a hub for mass consumption, selling and buying.

The ability to complete the purchase journey while remaining within the ecosystem of these platforms has emerged as the “holy grail” in the development of social commerce, especially in mature markets.

But as we cover later in the blog, convincing consumers in mature markets to make purchases within social platforms has been a much tougher job compared to letting them use these platforms for brand discovery and product research.

Who is a social shopper?

GlobalWebIndex Social Media segmentation allows us to identify what the defining characteristics of social shoppers in the West are.

47% of internet users in North America and Europe can be categorized as social shoppers.

These are people who use social media to research or find products to buy.

They identify social networks as one of their main sources when looking for information about products, and the option to use a “buy” button often motivates them to complete the purchase.

Unsurprisingly, younger demographics are the most enthusiastic about the prospect of buying on social media. Known as the digital native generation that has never seen a world without the internet, Gen Zers (aged 16-21) are the most likely to be social shoppers.

There is little variation when it comes to gender and income, although we found women and less affluent internet users to be slightly more likely to fall into this consumer segment.

Looking at Europe and North America separately, we can see that the rate of social shoppers in the former (32%) is more than double of that in the latter (15%).

The driving force behind these figures is primarily Russia, where 8% of the internet population has adopted social commerce practices. A study by Yandex.Checkout and Data Insight estimates that the Russian social commerce market is worth 591 billion rubles, or around $9 billion.

With a population twice as large as Russia’s, the figure in the U.S. for 2018 stands at $17 billion by comparison.

Where does social media fall short in the path to purchase?

Using our research, we’re able to track consumers on their social purchase journey – from the point where they discover a brand all the way to completing a purchase – to see where the potential shortfalls are.

Social purchase journey

Immediately obvious from the data is the impact social media has on the first stages of the sales funnel.

Social channels are the perfect space for consumer brand discovery and product research, but are yet to fulfil their potential when it comes to consumers actually completing the purchase.

They rank as the third-most popular product research source in the West after search engines (61%) and consumer reviews (41%), but come at the very top for Gen Zers (72%).

Social networks even come second in European markets such as Romania, Spain and Turkey, where consumer reviews are generally less popular than brand websites.

The reason for this is social networks’ ability to give consumers instant access to brand information, pricing and consumer reviews.

Social media has become so ingrained in the online shopping experience that ecommerce platforms like Shopify have started to form collaborations with social giants to boost their offering.

Brands that choose to advertise on Facebook can now launch dynamic ads straight from their Shopify accounts.

As well as this, the new Shopify-Snapchat integration grants advertisers access to a Snapchat Ads App, allowing them to create Story Ad campaigns within Shopify’s ecosystem.

It seems that brands are very successful in making themselves visible and accessible to consumers via social media, but when they reach the final stage of making the purchase, consumers tend to opt out.

Why is this the case? Motivations like lots of “likes” or good comments on social media rank 9th in the purchase drivers we track, while “buy” buttons are at the very bottom.

Consumers in the West are still much more motivated to buy if there is next-day delivery available (32%) or the returns process is made easy (40%).

Key takeaway: In order to provide a convenient and seamless consumer experience, marketers should think of social networks as one part of the whole omni-channel retail strategy. At this point in time, “buy” buttons on social media aren’t enough of a guarantee that consumers will follow through with a purchase.

How can social media help brands reach shoppers?

Looking at the top over-indexes of what social shoppers in the West want brands to provide, it’s clear that these consumers love to be in the spotlight and be intimately connected in the way they engage with brands and new products.

This is especially true for Gen Zers, who are 86% more likely to want to connect with other fans of the brand and 49% more likely to want to contribute ideas for new products or designs.

What social shoppers want from brands

At the center of the Western social commerce landscape, and due to their ability to leverage social media to bypass retailers and acquire customers quicker and easier, many direct-to-consumer (D2C) companies seem especially well-placed to be able to accommodate these consumer requests.

Moving beyond traditional retail structures, they’re uniquely positioned to have full control of their value chains, the messages they want to convey as well as the customer experience they provide.

Having limited resources has meant D2C brands have been heavily reliant on social networks for customer acquisition at scale.

Influencer marketing has proved itself as a very effective means of raising the awareness of D2C brands. Influencers are also a great way of increasing interactions between fans, creating brand communities, and fostering a sense of personal connection in the brand-consumer relationship.

In fact, social shoppers in the West are 56% and 49% more likely than average to discover brands via celebrity endorsements and posts or reviews from expert bloggers, respectively.

Like any approach though, influencer marketing isn’t necessarily the answer all brands need as it comes with potential downsides, too.

We’ve covered this in more detail in our webinar: fake influencers have been on the horizon for a long time and regulation is still insufficient in this space.

And due to its influencer-centric commerce ecosystem, Instagram has often been in the spotlight for influencer scrutiny.

According to a recent report by Ghost Data, around a fifth of posts featuring high-end fashion brands showed counterfeit and/or illicit products.

It’s important for brands to be choosy about the people they partner with. In an ideal world, influencers that are paid to endorse a brand’s products do so genuinely, because they’re also willing to buy and use them.

Social shoppers in the West want to receive special attention from brands – they value their social status and believe brands can help improve their image. The youngest of this group, Gen Z, are especially keen on connecting with fans of the same brands they’re interested in.

Key takeaway: D2C business models are well poised to engage with these attention-loving consumers, but brands need to be mindful of the fact that a “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t work with this audience.

Can we expect the loop to close soon?

It’s very likely. Slowly but surely, social commerce is becoming more of a prominent feature on social network platforms.

Adapting social media networks to provide a more user-friendly and seamless shopping experience provides new substantial revenue streams for these platforms.

Last year, Instagram blended interactive marketing and social commerce in its Shoppable feature, which was recently bolstered by a new fully-fledged shopping check-out function.

Meanwhile, following a successful trial in India, Facebook announced that WhatsApp payments are expanding to the West, choosing London as its center.

The big unknown is, will the convenience of completing the purchase on a single channel on social media override consumers’ privacy concerns?

Social Media Trends Report 2019