Does the Future of Retail Start with Social Media?

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  • 2/12/2019
    According to Pew Research center, 8 in 10 Americans are online shoppers, and 7 in 10 Americans engage in social media. What does this mean for the future of retail?
    Social commerce arguably could be the future. Social commerce, also known as social shopping is the combination of social media and commerce. It is the way to make the buying process simple for customers and increase efficacy of social media ads for brands. 
    How are brands utilizing social media to impact the buying decision of consumers? Instagram and Pinterest for example, are two platforms that have invested a lot into strategy, shopper psychology and new features recently to help brands reach audiences with the intention of shopping. So what do we have to work with marketers? Let’s take a tour of the most recent channel upgrades and the features you should be experimenting with now. 

    Instagram implemented a new shopping feature in 2018 that allows brands (business accounts) to tag up to five products in a post. When consumers click on the tags, additional information about the product is provided. This feature allows consumers to easily navigate the product of desire, and either purchase on the spot, or conveniently find it at a later date, perhaps when it goes on sale. This tactic is not limited to big-box retailers either. Research shows that social media actually influences the purchasing decisions of half of millennials, so think of what that means to a small business leveraging a free tool like Instagram. According to, 85% of Gen Z consumers use social media to learn about new products. This could be through sources such as fashion bloggers, influencers, expert sources, etc. According to Forbes, 84% of millennials said user-generated content from strangers has at least some influence on what they buy.   

    While it’s easy to imagine brick and mortar stores using these shopping features, don’t limit your imagination if you’re a non-profit, selling a service or managing events. Just because the tool was built for handbags, doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and bend it to your will!
    Pinterest is another platform that allows consumers to shop directly from the feed but with a twist; Pinterest incorporates a shopping recommendation section customized to users. Through this section, the platform takes note of the things that users have pinned and provides recommendations based off of interests. This enhancement assists Pinterest in its goals to constantly understand its users in real time, as well as connect them with retailer databases. According to, the first quarter that Pinterest began testing these features, click-throughs to retail sites rose by 40%. 

    Social Commerce Features 

    By leveraging these features, these platforms continue to bridge the narrowing gap between product discovery and purchase. Shoppable features allow users to see a product on social media and click on the image to easily find where it is sold on the site within a matter of minutes. Users aren’t wasting time looking for particular products, but are more so stumbling upon them.  Why is social media window shopping important? According to Forbes, 78% of consumers say that companies’ social media posts impact their purchases. But how do you catch their attention? 
    You may have noticed in your own feeds and by what you’re attracted to, simplicity and ease win the day. Consumers may or may not have short attention spans, but they definitely have a lot of content competing for their attention. So if the desired product is presented to them, brands need to figure out how to make it as easy as possible for consumers to purchase. Several different features are available to make this happen. 
    Buy Buttons
    The buy button is one of the most popular ways to transition social media into sales through a call to action feature. Big social networks like Facebook and Twitter also use the buy button as another way for users to be directed right to a product while browsing social media. 


    Shoppable Posts
    Along with the tagging mechanism that was discussed earlier, brands also draw consumers to their product with a “swipe up” approach on Instagram. This can be done through a post or a story in an effort to reduce friction and create a seamless experience for consumers. Plus, who isn’t intrigued by what’s behind the image? According to Shopify, 41% of brands are already testing this technique on their own Instagram accounts. 
    Plugins and Apps
    One last tactic that brands utilize within social networks are plugins or apps that facilitate social shopping. A popular example of this would be Soldsie. Soldsie works with Facebook and Instagram by allowing followers to purchase a product by simply commenting “sold.” Once a customer does this, the app takes care of the rest by sending the customer an invoice and confirmation. It sounds a little extreme, but decisive users are willing to test new shopping experiences if the payoff is convenience. 


    Conversations and Engagement
    While there are many different ways brands can interact with social media to attract customers, how do companies know if what they are doing is working? There are several ways that this can be measured. 
    Measuring conversations and engagement means tracking how many people are commenting, liking and sharing the content. When brands have active participation, this is a good indicator that consumers trust and appreciate the brand. 
    Click Through Rates
    Click through rates are another way that retailers can measure engagement and intent. These are just how they sound, the measurement of how many people are clicking the links or content. This is a good indicator of what is/isn’t working well within the branded content. From there, monitoring conversions and content popularity is key to understanding what content to continue to produce or share. 
    Google Analytics
    Once last way to measure effectiveness is through the utilization of traffic referral sources. With Google Analytics, marketers can find where traffic is coming from. This can then assist the brand on where they should be spending time developing content and nurturing referrer relationships. 

    Social networks are the most influential online media used by shoppers around the world looking for inspiration according to Pew Research Center. Because of this, it is critical that retail and ecommerce brands not only engage with their customers through the medium, but also use all the tools and features to their advantage. Consumers want simplicity and want an experience, and that’s why it’s important to offer digital experiences that wow, inform and convert all in one app. 
    Want to learn about social commerce or need social media help in general? Tweet us or drop us a DM
    About the author::Rosie Haren is a Project Coordinator at thunder::tech. Her day-to-day work includes client communication and managing ongoing deliverables. Outside of work, Rosie enjoys riding bikes on a beautiful day, perusing the aisles of Target and eating sushi.
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