Many years ago, I was part of a team who had an opportunity to revolutionalize e-commerce through leveraging social influencers. But we didn’t, because we were too focused on efficiency and less interested in experience.
Here’s the set up: back in the early days of digital marketing I was part of a team that created original content for Fila. Each month we created a minisite that featured athletes promoting the launch of a new shoe. After several months of publishing content, our client realized there was a greater potential for ROI if we built an e-commerce component into this offering. And right from the start we had a mantra: three clicks to buy, and not one click more.
At the earliest stages of brainstorming we explored ways to merchandise products by adding purchasing functionality over video content of athletes wearing and promoting the actual product. In those days, the athletes weren’t called social influencers, but that is exactly what they were. They were influencing consumer opinions on what was cool to wear and how to wear it. And since this was well before the creation of YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, these influencers didn’t really have a platform to tell their story beyond scripted paid endorsements on TV and in magazines. While we intuitively knew that the influence of an athlete would help sell more product, the end result of adding such content would have been a less efficient shopping experience. Three clicks to buy – that was all that mattered.
Following a year of development, we successfully launched an e-commerce site that was recognized by industry experts as one of the most efficient online shopping experiences available. We were thrilled, but knew the experience was missing something critical. By being slaves to our “three clicks to buy mantra” we had sacrificed original lifestyle content promoting the benefits of a product. As a result the shopping was ultra-efficient, but not ultra-engaging. We missed a great opportunity.
Over the last two years, in the midst of the global pandemic, there has been a tremendous growth in social shopping due to hundreds of millions of people eschewing large shopping malls in favor of online shopping. During this time both large and small brands have flocked to social media giants like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok to offer simple remote product sales to customers. According to Accenture, social shopping is expected to reach $1.2 trillion globally by 2025, a growth that is three times faster than traditional commerce. Accenture predicts that Millennials will account for 1/3 of the social commerce spend ($401B) with GenZ close behind ($359B) followed by Gen X ($344B) and Boomers ($128B).
While the continued growth in social shopping seems inevitable, these platforms are facing challenges similar to the ones we faced in the early days of e-commerce. Namely, how can YouTube, TikTok and Instagram efficiently sell products through its platforms while merchandising the items in an appealing manner to consumers? Each of the platforms are working on ways to better merchandise products with more photography and video. They’re also developing ways to enable payments within the apps, so that consumers can have a totally seamless shopping experience. TikTok is now partnering with leading commerce giant Shopify to build a more efficient commerce offering and YouTube is investing in improvements to shoppable tags within its videos. Even Instagram, which made its name as a platform for sharing photos, understood the power of video in bringing a brand story to life by expanding its offering into four video formats (Stories, Instagram Video, Live and Reels) that will certainly contribute to the success of its commerce efforts.
So the work is beginning.
I will be interested to see how much is invested in social app commerce functionality and influencer content over the next few years. To me, this has been a missing piece for the last 20 years.
Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.
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