The stats below show the percentage of users on each social platform that have purchased online on any device in the last month. The Chinese platforms come in highest, which is no surprise based on the percentage of Chinese web users that purchase online overall. However, even Facebook, Tumblr and Youtube users are purchasing online every month. This tells us a few things (and doesn’t entirely tell us some others!). The vast majority of social users are active ecommerce users and, the majority of these platforms in most regions still don’t offer direct ecommerce options. The key inference from this data is that social users are active online shoppers, but the social platforms aren’t taking advantage of these users online buying habits (yes, it’s clearly more complex than that, but work with me…).
With the introduction of broader Instagram advertising and Pinterest buy buttons, the platforms that make the most sense from a shopping point of view (those that are extremely visual and often feature products) are finally catching up with the obvious opportunity.
Facebook is also revising its Shop Now buttons, but the key question is, is this a reducing of friction for potential shoppers or the over commercialisation of social content?
We have all preached for a long time (including me personally), that social isn’t about selling, and that it’s about providing valuable content. That remains true. Except when the valuable content is also selling. My point is that highly relevant content, which is often visual (but not always), can be both valuable content and help to sell directly. My favourite analogy is having a copy of Vogue with instant buy buttons. It would serve as valuable content and as direct ecommerce as that is what the audience wants, especially when they can compare, contrast and find equivalents.
Social platforms clearly have a motive for providing Buy Buttons and they generally come into two camps. Either make a commission from all ecommerce transactions or sell more advertising that offers ecommerce options. You could argue all this leads to is a loss of margin for online retailers big and small, but I disagree. If the user can buy in a more natural way, in an environment that suits them, this will simply be a form of new discovery and not a replacement of other direct purchases (at least not very often). There is a huge opportunity for online retailers, but we must focus on relevance and quality.