Will 2018 Be the Year of Social Shopping?
If you’re an internet user, and you must be (you’re reading this article online, after all), there’s a good chance that you also use a social media platform. Actually, statistically speaking, it’s likely you have at least seven social media accounts. In aggregate, the average internet user spends over 30% of their online time using social media platforms. That statistic represents a fundamental change in the way we live our lives.
As a large proportion of our time using social media increases, the amount of time towards other daily tasks decreases. That means that all of the tasks we used to perform outside of social media are either being ignored or are starting to become integrated into social media itself. There is one kind of task, in particular, that is becoming inseparable from social media. That task is shopping. The confluence of these two concepts is called social shopping, and we may be reaching a tipping point that is about to make it the de facto way that we all make our purchases.
What is Social Shopping?
Social shopping, as the name implies, refers to sharing the e-commerce shopping experience with an online group of friends, family, and acquaintances. In practice, it can take a number of forms. It encompasses a range of approaches to online sales, all focused on interactions between consumers. It can encourage shared activities, such as sites like Groupon. It can take the form of self-contained marketplaces, like Etsy, that created a community of buyers and sellers that share interests, rather than just do business. There have also been notable direct sales integrations by retail giants, like Shopify, into platforms like Instagram.
Roadblocks Still Exist
Although social shopping seems like an obvious evolution of two major online sectors, there are a few things that have prevented mass adoption. First, social media has acquired a reputation for being a hub for questionable activity, and the industry is still grappling with digital identity management and verification. From the recent furor over ‘fake news,’ to the exposure of schemes to inflate follower counts for brands and celebrities, the world has become far more aware of the potential abuse in social media.
Secondly, there have even been examples of shopping scams perpetrated against social media users. Sometimes, false accounts misrepresent themselves as agents of established retailers and drive exposure through false claims on their behalf. Other times, they might try to scam you with uncertified products, and then there have also been instances of deceptive sales tactics spread through social media that have caused financial harm to consumers. This rocky history and lack of user trust don’t bode well for the social shopping trend, but there are signs that it’s gaining traction nonetheless.
The Case for Social Shopping
Despite the challenges associated with social shopping, the overall picture is a bright one. After all, statistics indicate that as many as 74% of consumers turn to social media to gather information before making purchases. If users are already relying on these platforms to help inform their purchasing decisions, direct sales aren’t that much of a leap. In fact, in some key emerging markets, social shopping already accounts for 30% of all online sales.
There are some common factors found in markets where social shopping has already taken off. In those places, the user base tends to be younger, and therefore more tech-savvy. Also, there’s less fragmentation in online payment processing, which has allowed for far easier technology integrations (uniformity breeds ease of use). Here in the west, as successive generations are raised with technology and begin to inherit the lion’s share of purchasing power from their parents, social shopping will become something of an inevitability.
What Comes Next
Social shopping is on the upswing. In western markets, the largest wealth transfer in history has begun, which will shift the aforementioned purchasing power to a far younger demographic. When coupled with efforts like Shopify and Instagram pairing, the groundwork has been laid for a social shopping boom in 2018. Traditional marketing and sales channels aren’t dead, but a significant increase in social shopping could start to change quickly. Stay tuned, because this isn’t the first time it has appeared that social shopping was poised to have a banner year. It is, however, the first time that the target demographic actually has the means to make it so.