Social and physical shopping have begun to intertwine significantly. More than ever, consumers are demanding greater synergy between the two experiences.

Satish Kanwar, vice president of product, channels, Shopify

Satish Kanwar, vice president of product, channels, Shopify

Many have dubbed 2017 as the year of the “retail apocalypse.” After all, traditional retailers closed more than 8,000 stores, and big brands with a large retail footprint such as Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy.

However, retail spending continues to increase year over year. So what is happening? The simple answer is that retail is evolving.

Not long ago, the only way to grow a retail brand was to add more physical stores. Today, it is about expansion through digital real estate. Retailers that embrace the digital revolution are growing at exponential rates. They’re seeing sales increase by millions of dollars in a matter of months or years, rather than decades. Experiential, integrated approaches to retail sales are helping propel brands to success, and the next frontier for this digital real estate revolution will be social commerce.

This is an area where we see the most potential and need for investment in order for retailers to see greater returns and growth. To begin, we first must look at changing consumer behavior, which revolves around social media. Social platforms have become leading influencers in shoppers’ purchasing decisions.

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Today, users can discover, research and complete a purchase without ever leaving their social feed.

According to BI Intelligence, the top 500 retailers earned an estimated $6.5 billion in 2017 from social shopping, that is, shopping transactions that resulted from or were conducted via social media platforms. That was up 24 percent from 2016. This represents a tremendous opportunity for larger retailers and small businesses alike to capitalize on the power of social media to reach wider audiences. Shoppers no longer rely solely on department stores or search engines. Today’s retail landscape is increasingly social, and brands who can master social commerce will rise above the rest.

Shopping habits are changing

Social and physical shopping have begun to intertwine significantly in the last few years. More than ever, consumers are demanding greater synergy between the two experiences.

The first leg of the shopper’s journey often begins with social media as an engine for product discovery and research. Consumers are increasingly drawn to products that are being shared and validated on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. These platforms help provide “word-of-mouth” justification for a purchase.

This process is largely replacing the tedium of rummaging through a department store, either in person or online. Instead, the search of the perfect new bag or dress can be achieved through the scrolling of #OOTD (outfit-of-the-day) posts by a personally curated group of influencers on a variety of social platforms.

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Mobile will unlock the next billion customers

Shopify data shows that ecommerce transactions on mobile devices are continuing to grow and will soon outpace sales on desktop computers. At present, mobile transactions account for 73 percent of purchases made from our 600,000 merchants’ stores globally, according to Shopify’s Q4 2017 Earnings. [Editor’s note: A recent eMarketer report estimated 34.5% of U.S. online retail transactions originate from mobile devices.]

The ability to facilitate a seamless transaction on mobile devices will allow businesses across the globe to reach many more potential buyers. And today’s social platforms have become more than just a mode of communication between individuals; instead, they are a platform that will empower commerce. Merchants of all sizes across the world will be able to reach a larger subset of social-media-savvy consumers, especially consumers looking for ways to reduce time spent in the shopping journey.

Consumers value time saved

We live in a society where customers expect efficiency and fast shopping experiences. Things such as expedited checkouts, one-click payments, and same-day—or even same-hour—delivery are now the norm. Social commerce is a powerful way to shorten the shopping process even further.

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Today, users can discover, research and complete a purchase without ever leaving their social feed. For instance, if a followed brand posts an image of a newly released product to Instagram, consumers can select a size, set delivery preferences, and complete a payment without leaving Instagram.

This entire customer shopping journey can take just minutes to complete.

Harnessing the ‘Experience Economy’

Whether in-store or online, consumers want engaging shopping experiences that let them interact with brands in a meaningful way. However, the role of the physical storefront is also evolving. It’s no longer the hub for discovery and transaction, as those activities are moving online.

In this new era, branding, personalization, and creating an engaging experience is more important than ever before. In some cases, consumers may be directed online to purchase a product they have experienced in the store.

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For example, Snap recently partnered with Jordan brand to launch an exclusive, special-edition Air Jordan III ‘Tinker’ shoe during NBA All-Star weekend, involving a unique blend of digital and physical brand interactions. By scanning special Snapcodes that were made available to consumers that were within a geofenced location, consumers could unlock a Snapchat e-commerce experience to purchase the sneakers within the Snapchat app, powered by Darkstore and Shopify that provided exclusive pre-release access with same-day delivery.

This first-of-its-kind launch event resembled an in-store discovery experience, augmented by a social checkout process enabled by Shopify. From product discovery in the real world to a simple checkout within Snapchat, shoppers enjoyed a unique and engaging experience. This is an example of how social commerce help to enable an engaging, effortless, and seamless experience for consumers.

Social commerce will continue to provide opportunities for both consumers and businesses, giving rise to an era where technology will power a new set of commerce experiences. Ultimately, these experiences will significantly shorten the path to discovery for consumers and give retailers exciting new and efficient ways to drive transactions.

Retail is not dead. It’s simply evolving.

Shopify provides the e-commerce platform for 22 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America, according to Top500Guide.com.

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