Instagram recently rolled out a new feature in its evolving strategy to reshape social commerce. Where previously business accounts could “tag” products in static posts via Shopping on Instagram, they can now do so via Shoppable Stories as well:
But… so what?
Hidden beneath the glowing headlines that accompanied the rollout were telling phrases like “very promising” and “much higher potential.” Anindya Ghose, an e-commerce professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, summarized the situation perfectly: “A number of companies have tried it with mixed results.”
In truth, native social commerce is still a hypothesis—as Twitter’s now-dead Buy button and the waning existence of Facebook shops prove.
This is not to say you should discount social media e-commerce features. Rather, there’s opportunity to be creative about using these varied social media’s e-commerce tools to move the needle for you and your business. Here are three approaches that you can try today.
1. Use Instagram Ads for Validating Demand
From the outset, Instagram has been a valuable tool for brands to drive awareness. Sales via Instagram are another story. One study last year revealed only 8.6% of users had made a purchase through Instagram, with 34.5% saying they had never purchased an item on social media ever.
This disconnect between engagement and sales largely exists because Shopping on Instagram still requires multiple in-platform steps as well as an off-the-platform experience to complete a purchase.
Is there a better way to use Instagram?
Yes, fake it ‘til you make it, as the cliche goes.
I’m not talking about marketing fake products on Instagram, but rather using the platform to validate the demand for your product ideas by creating content before investing the tens of thousands into developing the real thing. This is simply a creative and inexpensive way to test your market’s response.
There is a brand I know that is making close to a hundred million dollars in revenue this year, by marketing all kinds of products on Instagram — from yoga outfits to dieting products. But before they launch every product, they fake it.
Let me explain.
They use Photoshop to “put” a product together, post it to Instagram, and wait to see how much engagement and demand that mock-up drives through paid advertising. When a consumer clicks on the “buy now” button—a far more validating call-to-action because it signals purchase intent—they are directed to a simple landing page that lets them sign up to receive notification once the product is released.
The brand is focused on validating ideas quickly. They’d rather spend $20k on advertising to find out that no one wants to purchase a particular product than spend hundreds of thousands to produce one that won’t sell.
2. Use Social Messaging for Transactions and Retention
Fifty-three percent of survey respondents said they would be more likely to buy from a company which provides customer service via chat on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger than one that doesn’t. People are also 3.5 times more likely to open a Messenger message than a marketing email.
However, rather than leverage messaging as an acquisition channel, these direct-to-customer DMs should be primarily used as a way to enrich your customer’s purchase and post-purchase experience.
This starts with transactional notifications like order receipts and tracking information:
Customer service needs can then be layered on, whether at the bot level or managed by your actual team. Request for product reviews then follow as the natural next step, as well as invitations to upload user-generated content through branded hashtags.
And it doesn’t have to end there.
WholeFoods, for example, has taken an everyday chore—finding recipes—and turned it into an interactive experience on Facebook Messenger where users can source cooking inspiration before or while they shop. Other brands have been solely built on using Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers—such as SnapTravel, a hotel-booking startup, originally built using Facebook Messenger for all of their customer interactions and bookings.
Through chat, you can cultivate conversational commerce as long as you stick to one rule: your conversation has to be personal.
People communicate with people on these platforms, so to interrupt that experience with an inhuman “branded” message kills effectiveness. Keep it real and keep it relevant.
3. Expand Your Portfolio of Social Networks
Depending on your business’ market—and your social network of choice—there’s likely a social-inspired marketplace to match. The trick, as the old adage goes, is to find riches in the niches.
Where Pinterest has struggled to make e-commerce work—with just 2.1% of its users having made a native purchase—Houzz has excelled. This is largely due to the fact that Houzz took its social and design pattern from Pinterest, while adding an exclusive interior design, architectural, and home decor focus. Moreover, Houzz was built from the ground up as a marketplace first and network second.
In a similar way, Couture Lane uses an Instagram-inspired UX and interface, while placing e-commerce—this time, fashion—at its core:
As another example, Kik, the choice destination for millennials and Gen Z audiences, used Facebook Messenger as its jumping-off point to create a commerce-first platform that still attracts 300 million registered users:
And there are even a growing number of localized networks—like Curate in New Zealand, The Iconic in Australia, and Zilingo in Southeast Asia—that are proven to work as e-commerce networks, without sacrificing the look and feel of social.
Instead of solely focusing on the sales numbers through your social channels, it would pay off to consider these and other creative approaches that can help you connect with your customers where they are the most engaged.
TradeGecko is a Singapore-based software-as-a-service company that provides inventory and order management software targeted at smaller and midsized businesses.