How brick-and-mortar businesses can engage digital-first audiences with social commerce

Published February 17, 2021

The social engagement possibilities are endless, get out there!


Social commerce is more than making a social feed shoppable. It’s a marketing sandbox, a whole new level of engagement with younger shoppers—and a $90 billion industry. It’s not just an e-commerce buzzword, either. Brick-and-mortar retailers that are active on social media can better engage with consumers and completely transform the in-store experience. 

Stripped down, social commerce means that a customer travels across the entire buyer journey within the same app. They learn of the brand or product from an advertisement that piques their interest, and then they browse the digital catalog and follow through with a purchase, without ever leaving Facebook, Instagram, or whichever platform they’re on. 

But for brick-and-mortar retailers, social commerce also provides an opportunity to form closer bonds and personalize the experience with customers outside of the typical foot traffic. This opens up a whole new stream of interaction, most significantly with younger audiences like millennials and Gen Zers, who spend around 2.5 and 3 hours per day on social media, respectively. 

Using social commerce, brick-and-mortar retailers can win customers through both online channels (if they have them) and walk-in purchases. Here’s how.  

Determine your target social audience first: familiar faces or a fresh crowd? 


If you’re putting a lot of time and energy (and money!) into uncharted territory, you need to do your research first. Whether you want a bigger slice of your current market, or you want to attract a fresh crowd to your store, your social commerce strategy will depend on those goals.

So match the needs of your target buyer persona to the products or services you offer. A buyer persona is a profile of your ideal customer, essentially summarizing their lifestyle, career, budget and demographic.

Only you know who’s already shopping in your retail store. It’s up to you to decide if you want to attract more of the same buyer or whether you’d prefer to set your sights on a completely new market. If it’s the latter, ask yourself:

Who is your ideal buyer? Age, gender, location. The basics. 

What do they do? Their jobs or careers determine how much money they can spend.

How do they spend their time? Your target’s hobbies and interests influence what they spend money on.

Once you’ve answered these questions—and remember that you won’t know every single thing right away—you’ll have laid the social commerce groundwork for what’s to come. 

Be where your target audience is, and solve the problems they have. If your brand sells winter jackets, you’ve probably got little reason to be selling to someone who lives in a tropical climate.

Remember the Snuggie—the infamous blanket with sleeves? Yeah, that’s still a thing. But what would their ideal buyer persona be? Age and location? Likely not so important. Career and budget? Also probably flexible. But the lifestyle factor is huge. This product is unlikely to appeal to an outdoorsy person who is always on the move. That person might think of the Snuggie as a novelty item that represents excessive comfortability. 

And Snuggie knows this.

Instead, the company targets someone whose vision of downtime is marathoning Netflix with a loved one. Snuggie isn’t trying to appeal to someone outside of the product’s buyer persona. All of their marketing conjures images of being cozily wrapped up— with snacks—on a comfy sofa.

If you’re struggling to fill in the blanks, look to your current online activity for answers. If you have a social media presence, who’s already engaging you there? If you’ve dabbled in e-commerce, are your online buyers distinct from your in-store customers? What is the dominant demographic from each of those channels? What are the customers’ behaviors? 

This information serves as a starting point for which social platforms and strategies you should focus on. 

Shop around for the social platform your audience prefers


Different social platforms offer unique advantages, especially regionally and culturally. You need to figure out which platforms your target audience (i.e., buyer persona) is using most and then focus your efforts there.

While Facebook is undeniably dominant globally, smaller platforms have carved out fiercely loyal user bases in different parts of the world. LINE, for example, is the most popular social messaging platform in Japan but is hardly known in the West. This is largely due to cultural nuances along with how the platforms are developed and marketed to encourage adoption in specific areas and by specific people. If you’re a retailer targeting specific markets, note which platforms resonate within them.

Understanding which customers you want to attract is step one. Now, take what you know about your target audience, and match that information to the social platform that has the features and user base that work best. 

Facebook


The mighty Facebook is an innovator, and it’s quick to roll out features that align with internet trends—social commerce being no exception. Chances for retailers to engage with consumers are endless here, with all forms of media and advertising present. If a consumer is using Facebook specifically to discover retailers, they are presented with loads of information from Facebook business pages. Location, catalogs, photos, contact info and support are all easily accessible, making Facebook a one-stop shop for connecting shoppers and sellers.

Retailers can use Facebook Shops and Marketplace or integrate their e-commerce web store with their business page. This means there’s no need to be super tech-savvy. Shopify, known as the largest and most user-friendly e-commerce platform, can be seamlessly linked to a Facebook business page, as well as most other major e-commerce sites.

With around 1.8 billion daily active users, Facebook has great diversity in users. Age, location, gender and all other information is a total mix that doesn’t need to be considered as carefully when compared with other platforms. Its enormous reach makes it a safe bet and a great first choice for brands trying out social commerce to increase sales and engagement. 

Instagram


Instagram is operated by Facebook but delivers a much different experience that highlights image and video posts. Users interact with Instagram content at a fast pace and are encouraged to like and comment before moving on to the next post in the blink of an eye. This means that, when done right, engagement is through the roof. You want to invest in amazing product photos and pages to wow viewers into reacting.

Instagram highlights substantial shopping features that include dedicated Instagram Shops, IGTV shopping, ads with product tags and more.

Users here are looking for instant gratification. They want to see something and be able to take action immediately, especially if it’s a product from their favorite retailer. Instagram’s motto of “see it, like it, shop it” heavily indicates their stance on delivering a seamless, shoppable in-app experience. 

Instagram users are primarily between the ages of 13 and 29, and major lifestyle trends include fashion, fitness and technology, so if you sell products in these verticals, Instagram should be at the top of your social commerce list. 

TikTok


TikTok went worldwide in 2018 and has steadily grown since. 

This is the platform that Gen Zers prefer. Almost half of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 16 and 24, who love the quirky attitude and unique aesthetic the platform delivers. This means access to an enormous number of highly engaged, young shoppers for retailers to connect with. 

TikTok was already a haven for short-form video ads and contests orchestrated by brands encouraging users to share and imitate content. But up until recently, there weren’t a lot of fully integrated shopping features. In October 20202, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify that would allow brands to sell products through interactive, shoppable video ads.

Retailers can use a TikTok For Business account to connect with audiences through the app.  

LinkedIn


LinkedIn exists in a social realm of its own. It’s branded as a more professional networking site that brings like-minded individuals and businesses together, and therefore might not be considered as a place for social commerce in the traditional sense. But what LinkedIn lacks in shopping features it makes up for in engagement and trust.

This is due to how people interact with content. Instead of a user viewing a post and clicking a “buy” button, LinkedIn’s more discerning audience will read and share content that delivers value, placing their vote of confidence in it. The right content shared in this way to the right people can spread like wildfire, bolstering a brand’s image—and sales!

LinkedIn is great for B2B retailers, too, with 59 percent claiming to generate leads through the platform, and 38 percent directly attributing LinkedIn to increased revenue.

LinkedIn’s largest user base is between the ages of 30 and 49 and consists of educated professionals who are generally in a higher income bracket. 

We’ve focused on a handful of the most dominant global social platforms here, but there are plenty more that could suit a more specific social commerce strategy. Some of these include LINE, WeChat, Pinterest, WhatsApp and Snapchat.  It all comes down to where your target market is and who they are.

Experiment with different social commerce strategies


Retailers have a virtual toolbox of social commerce tactics they can put into action. Choosing the right one for your target audience and platform and applying it at scale will yield the best results. 

Experimenting is key, along with starting small and building up from there. You don’t want to blow your entire social marketing budget on a single influencer that ends up flopping with your audience. Start by familiarizing yourself with different strategies before making a decision. 

Influencer marketing


Almost half of social shoppers depend on influencer recommendations when choosing the products they buy. An influencer is a person with a loyal and substantial social following who respects the followers’ opinions, and retailers can tap into these followings by having the influencer feature a product in their content.

Influencers range from nano (1k-10k followers ) to mega (1 million+ followers), with the price tag for their services increasing with their size. For example, an influencer with around 10,000 followers might charge somewhere in the range of $100 for an Instagram post, while mega-celebrities like Kylie Jenner have been known to charge upwards of $1,000,000. 

Finding the right influencer has a tremendous impact on an audience’s buying behavior, and the added credibility or “clout” from the influencer vouching for a brand or product can have a lasting effect.

Instagram and TikTok are the top platforms for influencer marketing.

Conversational commerce


Conversational commerce is the intersection between messaging and shopping.

Online consumers expect immediate service. They’ve been conditioned to receive support in the blink of an eye, usually through instant messaging, and it has made the ability to interact with these customers anytime, anywhere, a necessity. 

The goal here is to leave the customer with the minimum amount of time to have second thoughts on their purchase. Interacting with customers through social messaging can provide a ton of insight into what their needs are and can give you the chance to make the sale then and there as well as form a closer connection with them.

Taking the time to build this relationship is what keeps the customer coming back, but for the times you can’t offer a personal touch, there are chatbots. Chatbots are so sophisticated that they can handle entire conversations, make recommendations, offer additional support and close sales without the need for human intervention.

On Facebook, business-page owners have options to actually set up a chatbot. So if certain questions or keywords are sent as messages to that FB business page, a chatbot for that brand is automatically activated. 

In-store streaming


In-store streaming is already a massively popular way to increase revenues for retail stores in China, but it faces tougher times in the West. This defies logic because it’s a great strategy for when pandemic lockdowns force retail stores to close. 

The retailer showcases products via livestream (through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and others) to an audience that can see and interact with the broadcast in real time. If a viewer sees a product they want to purchase, they inform the host and have it shipped, or they proceed to purchase through digital channels. 

It has worked for the Home Shopping Network for decades, so why not get creative if your retail space is closed to the public?  

Augmented commerce


Augmented reality has shoppers using their mobile devices to interact with products in-store or from home. It’s a hot tech topic, with companies like Apple and Facebook investing—and experimenting in its future. We’re at the tip of the iceberg on this strategy, but the future is bright.

The expanding capabilities of augmented reality are setting the stage for its place in the brick-and-mortar setting. In its current state, users can interact with products in-store to learn about personalized deals and self-checkout options. But as the tech advances and more brands adopt it, users will find themselves able to overlay virtual images of products on their bodies or in their homes and share the images on social platforms for instant feedback from family and friends.  

Improve upon the strategies that work, and dump the rest


Once you’ve played around with different platforms and strategies, you need to assess which are working and which ones you can leave behind. The obvious sign will be revenues, but you can’t expect night-and-day results from the get-go. Make sure to continuously improve successful campaigns, and ditch the ROI-negative ones to avoid throwing good money after bad.

How do you know if social commerce is working for you? Keep an eye on these key metrics:

  • Traffic: Increased traffic to your social media, your e-commerce site and your retail store indicates that your digital efforts are working. 
  • Reach: This will give you an idea of the size of the audience you’re impressing upon. This represents how many people simply viewed a post, a photo, a video, a product page, an advertisement and so on, without taking it any further. A larger reach means a larger audience, which is still a positive.
  • Followers: More followers also mean a larger audience, but these are more serious prospects. They have taken it a step further beyond viewing content and have “signed up” to your brand, so to speak. Don’t leave your followers hanging; learn what gets them excited and engaged, and then keep it up.
  • Engagement: Likes, shares and subscribes are coveted by social media users the world over. It’s no different for brands and social commerce. The more people engage with your social activity, the further the reputation and reach of your brand extends. 
  • Social sales: These are the sales made specifically through social channels, like Facebook Shops. Measuring overall revenue growth can be hard to attribute directly to social commerce activity, but these sales are a clear example of whether or not your strategy is effective.  

Social commerce  is a safe bet for brick-and-mortar


It’s more important than ever for brick-and-mortar retailers to adapt to changing buyer behaviors and personas. They do this by expanding the scope of their business and supplementing core sales areas through digital channels.

Nothing beats a killer in-store experience, but having a presence and engaging with social media users is a powerful way to build loyalty and maintain growth despite lockdowns or shifting perceptions of traditional retail. Rest assured, the only way is up for social commerce. What have you got to lose?

Happy social selling!

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