How brands can succeed in social shopping

As brands in Australia have yet to fully leverage social shopping, trialling new features now has huge pay-off.


The fried chicken clogs that KFC and Crocs dreamed up have to be one of the most unexpected collaborations we saw in 2020. And yet the limited-edition clogs sold out within 30 minutes, despite being of frankly questionable aesthetic value.

It was all thanks to a high-profile teaser at New York Fashion Week, a savvy use of influencers (including Kim Kardashian) and deep insight into where potential buyers hang out online. What could have made the collaboration an even bigger success was building it into a social shopping experience. 

Social shopping is perfect for those big cultural moments like the Crocs x KFC shoe, and tech giants are adding more tools for brands to leverage the feature.

Where is social commerce at?

Shopping on social media platforms is becoming more streamlined as more integrations and features are added. In the last two years, Pinterest and TikTok have both signed deals with Shopify, which boasts over a million merchants, and in 2019 Instagram finally added the ability to checkout without leaving the platform. 

But the tech platforms also want the experience to be more enjoyable for users. Facebook added a livestream shopping series with the likes of Sephora and Clinique in time for the northern hemisphere summer this year, giving users product demos, a chance to ask questions, and the ability to shop in-platform. And Snapchat has created similar shopping “experiences” through a partnership with UK re-sale site Poshmark, which they’ve dubbed Posh Parties. 

In June 2020, Instagram added Drops, a feature for limited-edition products or collaborations, with plenty of scope for sharing. It also added live event features and other experiential aspects previously missing from its shoppable posts. 

Take-up of social commerce has plenty of runway

Social commerce is a no-brainer when you think about how much time consumers spend on social platforms. In Australia, 73 per cent of adults are posting and engaging with content when they go online.

Displaying products that people can purchase in a few clicks while keeping the experience in an ecosystem where they’re already hanging out is the pinnacle of frictionless conversion that all brands strive for.

And if the current numbers of social shoppers are a benchmark, then nearly one-third of Australians appreciate the ease of the experience. Unsurprisingly, it’s younger consumers that are the biggest adopters, with 38 per cent of Gen Z purchasing on a social platform in the last six months, followed by 36 per cent of millennials.

Looking to the US and UK, where more social shopping features have been around for longer, the uptake of shoppable features on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram is higher still. US forecasts, for instance, show 38 per cent growth in social commerce from 2020 to 2021.

With less than one-fifth of Australian businesses accepting social payments according to PayPal research in 2019, the opportunity for Australian brands is enormous. 

So how can brands position themselves for this phenomena?

Early bird gets the worm

Early adopters of any new social media feature are always the winners. They benefit from favourable algorithm perks and can establish an audience before the competition. Brands will do well to ready themselves for the introduction of social shopping experiences now.

Offering limited-edition products via collaborations is one way to encourage shoppers to meet brands on social platforms and adopt behaviour change early.  

The KFC x Crocs collaboration could have further leveraged social media by only releasing its limited-edition shoes on Instagram or Facebook, instead of doing a web drop. Or the collab could have included a second design with additional features that was only available to buy on social media. 

Buddy up to add value

The pandemic’s effect on the physical experience of shopping has created a need that social media platforms are only too happy to fulfil. 

Volkswagen are making the most of Pinterest’s VR capabilities, teaming up with the social media company to not only launch Volkswagen's new electric vehicle the ID.4 but to also premiere Pinterest’s new virtual test-drive ad experience. By tapping a button on its Promoted Pin, users are able to have a 360-degree view of the interior of the car as it drives. Pinterest will also partner with selected Pinterest Creators who will walk consumers through their favourite features of the car.

With curiosity about electric cars at an all-time high, coupled with some post-pandemic hesitancy about visiting car dealerships, it’s a win for Volkswagen. Plus it shows other auto brands what Pinterest can offer in the social shopping space, in addition to basic checkout features. 

There are several international and Australian examples of hashtag collaboration challenges in action inside partnerships (double the promotional reach).

No content? No problem

For brands to access the cohort who are most open to social shopping experiences, they need to think younger. In many cases this means getting on TikTok or Snapchat. But this can be a challenge for those who don’t have a large following or may struggle to create the type of shareable content the platforms’ users love. 

User-generated content is a clever way to let the content’s creators do what they do best while you reward them.

Starting a hashtag challenge is the quickest way to amass creative content, as US cosmetics brand NYX demonstrated several times during the height of the pandemic last year. With a relatively small following of 22,000 users, NYX knew it needed the weight of influencers to help it go viral with any campaign. 

Its #BrowFitness challenge leveraged five influencers and asked users to share their eyebrow make-up routine, with a US$500 prize on the table. Within two days of launch, videos using the hashtag accumulated 705 million views. Similarly, the #ButterGlossPop challenge encouraged users to feature NYX lip gloss in their videos, with a randomly selected winner receiving US$1,200 worth of products. TikTok’s “Hashtag Challenge Plus” feature also allows users to shop for products associated with a sponsored hashtag, another attractive feature for NYX.

Hashtag challenges are also highly effective when it comes to reaching more people who are yet to adopt social shopping as a habit. 

Baby and childrenswear brand Blade & Rose started a hashtag challenge to launch its presence on TikTok. Offering a generous incentive of £300 (US$414) in-store credit, the brand asked users (mostly mothers, a more recent entrant to TikTok) to submit videos that had only one requirement: they must feature the user’s toddler. 

The content was used to populate Blade & Rose’s TikTok feed, plus they integrated their TikTok posts into their ecommerce store via Vop, giving users a more seamless experience and positioning Blade & Rose as part of the cultural conversation. A recent hashtag collaboration generated a cheeky 16.9 billion views for L’Oréal Paris, Carol’s Daughter, Urban Decay, NYX Cosmetics, and Maybelline.

The key takeaways 

> Social shopping is poised to be a trend that shapes ecommerce for the next several years. In Australia, the market is quite underdeveloped, so trialling new features now has huge pay-off for brands.
> Limited-edition products, a hallmark of brand collaborations, are an ideal way to start pushing your loyal customers into the social shopping space.
> If you don’t have the resources or pull to make a splash, collaborating with creators on TikTok, Snapchat and other platforms is a neat solution.
> Harness the power of your fans in the places they already hang out. Start a hashtag challenge to get your product out there, or better yet, partner on a hashtag, doubling promotional power behind your social campaign.
> The platforms themselves are also looking for ways to highlight their new shopping features. Does your product fit well with one of the new experiences being offered? Could you collaborate with a social shopping platform?
> In short, collaborating with others is a way to fast-track reach and growth in the social shopping space.

Jess Ruhfus is founder of Collabosaurus


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