Top Social Commerce Trends for 2021 to Keep an Eye On

With so many people having to spend time locked up in bubbles during 2020, thanks to the dreaded COVID-19, it is hardly surprising that there was a massive surge in eCommerce and social commerce. And this has, in all probability, been a paradigm shift. People feel safer shopping from the end of their phone, and they have found that it can save them considerable time (and often money) too.

However, the old stereotype of a computer nerd sitting in the dark ordering their pizzas online couldn't be further from the truth, particularly with social commerce. Here, consumers can mix their shopping with their social accounts and still communicate with their friends and family as they shop. They don't have to drive the car out of their garage, spend time stuck in traffic, park in a soulless parking lot, and then wander around the mall with thousands of strangers (all the while worrying about whether that person sneezing next to them has COVID-19).

However, the world of online shopping is changing rapidly, and social commerce is a relatively recent variation of it. It has helped that the social networks have recognized its arrival and make it easier to enable shopping activity on their platforms.


Social Commerce Trends for 2021:


What Does Social Commerce Mean?

The idea behind social commerce is straightforward. It involves brands using social media to sell their goods or services, rather than relying on a stand-alone eCommerce site. Things are not quite so clear-cut in practice, as social commerce often includes sales of products promoted on social media that link to a stand-alone eCommerce store.


Why is Social Commerce Important?

"Location" is an essential ingredient of social commerce. It takes advantage of social proof. In many ways, social commerce has most of the benefits of influencer marketing – without any need for working with influencers.


What is the Difference Between Social Commerce and eCommerce?

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The two forms of online commerce are very similar. Indeed, you can easily think of social commerce as a specialist form of eCommerce. Technically, eCommerce happens on a website where you have built an online store. Social commerce sales, however, occur on social media. 

However, definitions are quite fluid, and you might widen the meaning of social commerce to include all sales facilitated by social media. With this broader definition, you would include sales made due to social media advertising, even if people follow a link in the ad through to your main online store.

In 2020, however, there was a sizable increase in social commerce occurring on the social media networks, with people making purchases without leaving their social accounts. The arrival of Facebook Stores has helped this.


User-Generated Content Becomes Essential Marketing

The essence of social media involves people communicating and sharing information. While this may in some ways seem at odds with social commerce, it is no problem, as long as brands avoid blatant advertising.

Of course, brands have advertised on social media for years. People accept Facebook Ads as a legitimate part of the platform now. But the most successful brands don't create ads that look like traditional ads. They're more subtle and less "in-your-face." Brands tend to offer useful and relevant information about a product to provide value to those fed these ads. Anything that resembles a traditional ad tends to be shunned and ignored by social media users.

User-Generated Content (UGC) has proved highly beneficial to brands in recent years, and this will become even more so in the years to come. It helps social media users feel that they are working with a brand, not merely being fed a message. People are far more likely to share messages containing UGC, which increases the reach of a social marketing campaign.

The other advantage of UGC is that it alters people's perceptions. It is not just a brand plugging itself. This content is created by somebody perceived to be neutral, and therefore more trustworthy. It implies a high level of trust.


Chatbots and Social Commerce Via Messaging Apps Become Commonplace

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Social media very much focuses on conversation. This is one reason why messaging apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, have grown in popularity in recent times. Unlike most other forms of social media, messaging apps have the advantage of enabling real-time conversations.

Of course, having somebody sitting on a messaging app all day may be beyond the resources of many businesses. This is where chatbots, taking full advantage of AI capabilities, comes to the fore. Modern chatbots can do much more than just provide answers to common questions. They can "speak" to people and carry on natural conversations.


Expanded Use of AI. ML and AR

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and augmented reality (AR) are all improving over time. Brands are finding that all of them can help improve their ability to engage in social commerce. We have seen above how AI can make chatbots usable and how they can undertake a sensible conversation with potential buyers.

Perhaps the best example of AR on social media at the moment is on Instagram, where you can modify on-screen the look of your surroundings. TikTok has similar capabilities to help with the videos you create.

Brands have used AR to let you virtually decorate your house by "adding" new products to your rooms, using the camera in your phone.

Another way firms use AI is to create an automated checkout. For example, if a firm uses a Facebook Shop, they can employ Jumper.ai. This helps you create a conversation with potential customers and talk them through the purchasing process.


Voice Technology is More Frequently Used

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Many Millennials and those in Generation Z prefer to search by voice. They avoid typing wherever possible. Both Android and Apple include voice technology in their devices, and they are becoming more sophisticated with each iteration. Also, stand-alone devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, are becoming more commonplace. 

Many people who prefer to search using voice technology are also willing to buy items using the same voice technology. Brands need to be able to interact with voice technology. This can be as simple as being able to listen to a voice message left on Facebook Messenger.


Live Streaming Will Expand in Popularity

One side effect of 2020's year of turmoil has been greater use of live streaming, whether to a select group over an app like Zoom, or to a broader audience, over Facebook Live, Twitch, or one of the many other streaming apps. Internet bandwidth has improved in recent years, and more people now have devices to take advantage of the popularity of live streaming.

Both companies and influencers working on their behalf have discovered how easily you can use live streaming to promote products' advantages and benefits. You can target potential customers at every stage of the sales cycle, from generic streams highlighting the importance of an industry to streams focusing on specific product benefits and even streams offering customer service to existing clients.

And of course, you can combine live streaming with a social promotion where people can buy in-app. For example, you could hold a Facebook Live stream promoting your product's benefits and have a Facebook Marketplace Ad in the feeds of the same people watching your live stream.

Live streaming has become particularly popular for social commerce in China. You find it in online marketplaces like Taobao, which is owned by Alibaba.


Specialist Social Network Marketplaces Will Continue to Help the Expansion of Social Commerce

Some of the major social networks have improved the ability to engage in social commerce on their sites, for example, Buyable Pins on Pinterest, Facebook Shops, and Instagram Shopping. However, specialist social network marketplaces are also now coming online.

At the moment, this is most common in China. For example, Pinduoduo is the largest interactive eCommerce platform in China. It strongly encourages the use of social commerce. Its user experience is anchored around browsing and interactions, rather than the more traditional deliberate, search-based discovery model. It encourages consumers to form "teams" of at least two to get a lower price.

One of the reasons for Pinduoduo's success is that it uses a WeChat mini platform. And this is just one store to do so. The WeChat mini platforms have greatly facilitated the growth of social commerce in China, which is likely to expand over 2021.


Low-Priced Products will Sell Well on the Social Platforms in 2021

To date, people have been more inclined to make purchases of low-priced items through their social accounts than they have more expensive items. And this trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. This makes sense. You aren't overly likely to impulse buy costly items. You are far more likely to want to carry our research first and possibly try to see the product in a store rather than risking buying something that doesn't meet your needs.

Also, because social commerce is still new, it appears risky to some people, and while they may be prepared to buy a $20 item of costume jewelry, they are far less likely to buy a genuine diamond ring on a social media page. 


Social Commerce and eCommerce Platforms Will Integrate More

Many eCommerce platforms have recognized the popularity of social commerce and have begun to include integrations between the two. For example, Shopify now helps you sell directly on Pinterest using Buyable Pins. Shopify also lets you link to both Instagram and Facebook and make sales to both those channels. The integration helps you bring the look and feel of your Shopify store to your Facebook Shop. 

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