Guide to social commerce and the evolving path to purchase

Guide to social commerce and the evolving path to purchase

The merging of shopping and social media is more than a trend; it’s a response to evolving consumer behavior. Social commerce is fueled by the significant amount of time that consumers spend on social media—US adults will spend 11.4% of their total daily media time and 17.9% of their digital media time with social platforms in 2024, per EMARKETER’s June 2023 forecast. 

With social commerce, every interaction on social platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram is a revenue-driving opportunity without the friction of leaving that digital environment. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the state of social commerce, examining the most popular platforms so retailers and advertisers can make the most of this dynamic digital shopping journey.

Social commerce fuses social media with ecommerce, allowing purchases to be made directly within a social platform. Social commerce enables consumers to not only discover products and engage with a brand’s greater community, but also to shop from brands without switching platforms and disrupting the customer experience. 

For marketers, the ability to advertise and sell in the same space streamlines the buying journey and gives them access to a host of benefits, including direct access to customers, more transparent return on ad spend, and new opportunities to take advantage of peer recommendations and the creator economy.

Social commerce thrives on inspiration, trends, and generating demand for products users may not have considered. Unlike ecommerce, where people often shop with specific products in mind, social commerce excels in promoting discretionary items like fashion and beauty products.

Although early social commerce adopters have included younger generations who are more comfortable with navigating digital spaces, older generations are also embracing it as social media platforms become more user-friendly. 

  • Nearly a quarter (23.1%) of US social buyers are between the ages of 25 and 34, per a September 2023 EMARKETER forecast, and more than two-thirds (66.5%) are under 44.
  • US digital buyers ages 18 to 34 have made purchases on Instagram (28%), Facebook (26%), and TikTok (22%), per an October 2023 EMARKETER survey conducted by Bizrate Insights. 
  • More than half (53%) of US shoppers ages 18 to 29 planned to use TikTok for holiday shopping in 2023, compared with just 36% of adults overall, according to September 2023 ESW data. 

Swayed by endorsements, peer reviews, and social connections, shoppers who follow influencers also make up a large social commerce audience. 

  • A third (33%) of Gen Zers have purchased a product from an influencer-founded brand in the last year, per a November 2023 Morning Consult survey. 
  • Gen Z is more likely than any other generation to purchase a product after watching a review from an influencer they follow, per November 2022 data from Deloitte. 

Top social commerce platforms

Major social media platforms have evolved, seamlessly integrating commerce into their core experience. These platforms have not only redefined manners of social interaction—they’ve also established themselves as modern digital storefronts. 

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook leads with the largest number of social commerce buyers, expected to reach 64.6 million in 2024, according to a September 2023 EMARKETER forecast. Its massive user base allows brands to reach a diverse, global audience, while extensive storefront features and insights-collecting capabilities add to a competitive ecosystem for online shopping. 

Facebook Marketplace is a dedicated platform for buying and selling secondhand items. Although the platform allows businesses to sell products and place ads, its roots are in local, community-based listings. Marketplace is a major reason why Facebook has such a strong lead in social commerce. In fact, Instagram would take the top spot with the biggest social buyer audience among platforms if Marketplace was excluded from social commerce data, according to third-party research cited in EMARKETER’s Social Commerce Forecast 2023 report. 

Facebook Shops

Unlike the peer-to-peer nature of Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Shops enables businesses to set up digital storefronts, where customers can explore and purchase products without leaving the platform. 

The storefront functionality allows richer product catalogs, visuals, and descriptions. For immersive, customizable experiences, businesses can also showcase featured products, seasonal collections and launches, promotions, and bundles.

Instagram Shopping

In 2024, Instagram will see 46.8 million US social buyers, per EMARKETER’s September 2023 forecast.

At its core is Instagram Shopping, which allows businesses to tag products in their posts and stories. When users click on a tagged item, they can view product details, prices, and a direct link to make a purchase.

Instagram and Facebook parent Meta is mandating all Meta Shops in the US to use Checkout on Facebook and Instagram in 2024. While frustrations have arisen regarding the in-app checkout tool’s effectiveness among both sellers and buyers, Meta is pushing forward as a way to compensate for the losses incurred due to iOS 14.5 changes, which reduced access to tracking data for advertisers and publishers. By making Checkout mandatory, Meta aims to boost adoption, particularly on Instagram, which plays a vital role in social commerce strategies. This move will also limit consumers’ options, as they won’t have the choice to complete their purchases on a retailer’s website.

TikTok Shop

With its Gen Z stronghold, the TikTok user base alone—which passed 100 million in the US in 2023 (102.3 million), according to EMARKETER’s May 2023 forecast—is enough to make it a competitive social commerce platform. We predict TikTok will reach 107.8 million users in 2024. In 2023, 35.3 million of those users were social buyers; during that time, TikTok gained more shoppers (11.6 million) than the net increase of Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest combined (6.4 million), per a September 2023 EMARKETER forecast. We predict TikTok will continue adding social buyers in 2024, reaching 40.7 million. 

However, uncertainty looms over the viability of the platform’s integrated commerce solution, TikTok Shop, given the slow adoption by US merchants, lukewarm reception to live shopping, and a potential nationwide ban.

TikTok Shop enables brands and creators to offer products directly to their viewers. Starting from short videos or livestreams, TikTok Shop aims to own the full buyer journey. A standout feature is the ability for users to consolidate products from various brands into a single cart and finalize their purchase without navigating away from the app.

The shopping service’s US journey seems to have encountered early turbulence:

  • TikTok Shop was projected to lose more than $500 million in the US in 2023, per The Information, due to major investments—in its staff, building out a fulfillment network, and seller incentivizations—that hadn’t paid off. 
  • In the summer of 2023, US consumers were spending around $3 million to $4 million per day on TikTok. The platform expected that figure to exceed $10 million by the end of 2023.

Social commerce stats and growth 

Continued growth for social shopping is on the horizon, with sales growing well into the double digits through the end of EMARKETER’s forecast period in 2027. Although converting non-buyer social media users into buyers is becoming more challenging, the overall landscape remains robust. One significant trend is the increasing spending per buyer, which is expected to nearly double between 2023 and 2027, per an October 2023 EMARKETER forecast. This is expected to drive most of the sales growth, rather than the acquisition of new buyers.

Consumers aren’t sold yet on social commerce.

  • Almost 4 in 10 shoppers hold back from shopping on social media over concerns about how platforms manage personal data, per a May 2023 survey.
  • Younger consumers don’t want to use a social platform’s in-app checkout tools. In fact, about three-quarters of US social shoppers ages 16 to 24 prefer purchasing through established retailers that handle transactions, shipping, and delivery, per an October 2022 SimplicityDX survey.
  • UK shoppers have reported counterfeit goods and poor shipping experiences on TikTok Shop, according to the Financial Times, which could trigger more apprehension in other markets. 

Still, social commerce is on an upward trajectory. 

  • US retail social commerce sales will pass the $100 billion milestone in 2025, representing a 22.4% growth from the year prior, per EMARKETER’s September 2023 forecast. 
  • In 2024, there will be 110.4 million US social buyers, accounting for 42.0% of all internet users and nearly half (50.3%) of all social media users.  
  • US social commerce sales will claim 6.6% of total ecommerce sales in 2024.
  • For now, most social commerce transactions take place off platform, by clicking links to retailer product pages. 

The rise in new buyers is only marginally ahead of the growth in the total social media user population, resulting in a relatively consistent percentage of users engaging in purchasing activities, holding steady at around 50% through 2027, per a September 2023 forecast.

Marketing strategies for social commerce 

User-generated content (UGC) and influencer marketing are two effective strategies that brands can harness to connect with consumers authentically.

UGC is generally created by consumers, showcasing their experiences without direct brand involvement, whereas influencer marketing involves brand collaboration and incentives to ensure the content aligns with the correct messaging and goals.  

User-generated content 

UGC is a powerful tool that taps into authenticity and trust. Forty-six percent of US consumers are more likely to trust a brand if an online content creator they trust has reviewed it, according to a November 2022 Deloitte survey. Encouraging users to create and share content featuring their experiences with products or services cultivates a sense of community and credibility. 

Brands can initiate UGC campaigns, prompting customers to share testimonials, unboxing videos, or creative uses of their purchases. By showcasing real-life experiences, UGC bolsters brand authenticity, fosters engagement, and influences potential buyers’ perceptions positively. Additionally, reposting and engaging with UGC amplifies brand reach while nurturing a loyal and involved customer base.

Influencer marketing

From large, well-known influencers with massive followings to micro-influencers with niche communities, choosing the right person to vouch for your brand can bolster your social commerce investments. 

Collaborating with influencers allows brands to tap into their audience and leverage their credibility. Influencers create engaging content, seamlessly integrating product endorsements or reviews into their posts, stories, or videos. These endorsements often resonate deeply with their audience, establishing trust and driving purchasing decisions. 

Social commerce trends in 2024 and beyond 

Tech innovations, immersive experiences, and retailer collaborations will present new opportunities in the social commerce space.

AI integration 

Social platforms are taking advantage of AI to enhance the user experience and streamline product discovery. TikTok’s product identification feature, now in its testing phase, uses AI to suggest similar or relevant items available on its ecommerce marketplace. This new shoppable feature to non-shopping content is TikTok’s attempt at fully embedding commerce into the in-app experience.

In-person events 

Events help bridge the gap between the real world and social media, and can help drive user engagement and sales. The Pinterest Predicts pop-up event held in New York City in December 2023 brought to life its anticipated trends, allowing users to draw inspiration for the year ahead and, more importantly, shop. 

Retailer partnerships 

Retailers are also getting behind social commerce, partnering with streaming platforms to have their products in front of new audiences. Walmart’s holiday-themed romantic comedy “Add to Heart” is its first shoppable video series. Available on Roku, TikTok, and YouTube, the 23-part series integrates 330 shoppable products throughout its plot, creating a new avenue for Walmart to connect with consumers through content. 

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