With social media platforms stepping into the online shopping fray to allow people to buy goods via their platforms, how has social media commerce changed consumer behaviours?
In this article
- Who purchases products on social media channels?
- Which social commerce channels do online consumers use?
- What do online shoppers buy via social commerce?
- What are the advantages of social commerce payment systems?
- What are the barriers to social commerce?
- The importance of security, transparency, and a user-friendly interface
Online shopping has been a threat to brick and mortar retailers for years now, and this has seen further change with the growth of social media shopping. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift in customer behaviour from in-person purchases to online shopping. As consumers were confined at home, online sales surged.
Brands have had to adapt to these changes by offering more products and services online. This change has gone beyond tailoring services to websites. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, have also rolled out eCommerce tools to help users purchase products on their social commerce platforms. At the same time, this has allowed businesses to sell their services directly from their social media pages.
Today, social media networks are still expanding their social media eCommerce tools. Facebook’s decision to launch Facebook Pay is another step in the development of social media eCommerce. Facebook Pay is designed to facilitate payments across Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, to make online shopping even more accessible to consumers. However, are consumers looking to buy products when they are on social media? Are they willing to make purchases directly on these channels?
We surveyed 1,005 UK social media users who shop online at least once every six months to know more about their online purchasing behaviour. A detailed methodology of this survey can be found at the end of this article.
What is social commerce?
Social commerce is the use of social media platforms to promote, buy, or sell products or services. This takes social media use one step further, encouraging users to complete entire purchase processes without leaving their social media channels. This can involve native shopping solutions —like Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Pay, or Instagram Shops— or eCommerce integrations that allow users to browse a product catalogue and add items to a cart on the social platform before completing the checkout in an online store.
Who purchases products on social media channels?
Social media channels have provided new ways for consumers to purchase goods and services. Although social media eCommerce is relatively new, nearly one-third of respondents said they had purchased via social media.
Of these respondents, Facebook was the most popular platform overall for social commerce, with 70% using it to make purchases, followed by Instagram with 44%.
In our previous survey, we saw that there were generational differences in the use of social media. In this survey, we have also identified generational differences in consumer purchasing experiences on social commerce platforms.
To begin with, while 74% of Boomers have never purchased via social media and had no interest in doing so, the numbers shift within each generation. 49% of Generation X had also never used social commerce and had no intention of changing this stance, but younger generations are more open to purchasing on social media platforms.
By the time we reach Generation Z in our survey, we find that a high number of consumers have already made purchases on social media networks (43%), with another 34% being interested in doing so.
Which social commerce channels do online consumers use?
Even if social media channels appeal to audiences of multiple age groups, that doesn’t mean that each generation uses the same channels and for the same reasons. The same can be said for social commerce.
When we asked people who had bought a product or service on social media which social commerce channels they had used for making purchases, the results showed a significant difference between generations. While Facebook came out on top as the social commerce channel most used for purchases by older generations of online consumers, like Boomers, Generation X, or millennials, Generation Z have used Instagram the most for purchasing products. At the same, millennials and Generation Z have used a wider variety of channels for buying products.
What do online shoppers buy via social commerce?
Buyer behaviour on social media may vary among different generations, but does purchase behaviour of online consumers also vary between social commerce and other channels? To explore how social media eCommerce might affect retail companies and consumer behaviour, we wanted to know if online consumers were now turning to these platforms to shop for all types of goods and services they originally purchased via other channels.
We found that consumers use social shopping for different reasons than other online channels. 75% of respondents who had made purchases on social media said they tend to buy different products and services on social media networks compared to their standard online purchases.
This indicates that different channels can be used for different services and that consumers are selective in what they use these channels for. For example, 45% of respondents who had purchased goods on social commerce channels had bought fashion items, and 44% had purchased home decor goods. Crypto and financial services, on the other hand, were far less popular, with only 6% of this group of respondents using social media to purchase these services or goods.
Businesses should bear this behaviour in mind when analysing their target audience and building their social media marketing strategy.
What are the advantages of social commerce payment systems?
What can social media channels deliver that regular websites cannot? Traditional eCommerce encompasses buying and selling processes, and consumers are increasingly using mobile devices. However, with 82% of orders on mobile devices not being completed, social commerce looks to remove potential steps and barriers in the customer journey where cart abandonment can take place. For example, with people already logged in to their social media accounts, they do not have to re-sign in to go to the checkout.
Ultimately, social media platforms have set out to facilitate the streamlining of checkout processes by allowing consumers to finalise purchases on their platforms.
Online consumers like ease, personalisation, and centralisation
Respondents who had made purchases through these platforms and used the checkout processes inside the social media networks appreciated some of the perks of social commerce. 67% said it was easy to pay for a product through the social media payment system, with 39% highlighting the comfort of having a full buying experience in one single place, and 38% liking the swiftness of having their personal data already filled in.
The subject of ease was predominant throughout all the generations of respondents. However, other perks, like personalised data and having the whole customer journey centralised in one platform, were appreciated more by younger generations, with 50% of Generation Z respondents seeing each of these elements as an advantage in comparison to 22% of Boomers.
What are the barriers to social commerce?
In addition to the 29% of respondents who have already purchased goods on social media, another quarter of respondents had never purchased on social media but would be interested in doing so. We sought to identify some of the barriers that had prevented users from purchasing on these platforms.
From our survey, we can see that the reason these consumers hadn’t made any purchases on these platforms varied, yet the highest concerns were that they did not trust the credibility or security of these platforms. 34% were afraid of being scammed, while another 33% were concerned about the security risks of these processes on social media platforms.
Security concerns could also explain why nearly half of respondents (46%) who had never purchased on social media networks had no intention of doing so. Our survey showed that 55% of these respondents were concerned with the security risks on these platforms, and 48% were afraid it could be a scam.
A significant percentage (46%) of those who said they would not use this method of purchase were also concerned about providing personal data and information about their actions to social media platforms.
Trust and security are the biggest barriers businesses face when adopting social commerce. Businesses can deploy trust signals like embedded reviews, a contact page, SSL encryption, testimonials, and privacy policies to encourage the use of this purchase method.
How can businesses build trust and security around their social commerce platforms?
- Show authenticity in your messaging. This can be done by being consistent in the messages you portray so they coincide with your brand identity, and by engaging with your audience on these channels and through your customer service. Consistency must also be present in the pricing, currency, and language used.
- Put privacy at the heart of your social commerce plan. Customers must be able to control what information they have to provide, and should only be required to provide the relevant information for their purchases. Their data should also be stored and used effectively.
- Show data compliance. Businesses who want to use social media platforms to facilitate purchases must ensure that they are transparent about the purchase process, that their social media accounts are secure, and that they meet GDPR requirements.
- Consider allowing open banking. This way social commerce payments can be verified by the customer directly through their bank’s own security measures, adding an extra layer of security for social media shoppers.
- Ensure the security of sign-up and checkout processes. Secure checkouts should be protected with a valid SSL certificate. Third-party payment options also need to be HTTPS-secure and not ask for unnecessary personally identifiable information.
The importance of security, transparency, and a user-friendly interface
The issue of security abounds when identifying the barriers in social commerce. For those respondents who said they had never made purchases via social media channels but were interested in doing so, we saw that 33% signalled security concerns as a reason for not using these payment systems.
We asked this specific group of respondents under which conditions they would use social networks to make a purchase:
- 50% wanted a clear statement on the data security measures
- 50% said the platform would have to offer a secure payment method
- 36% wanted clarity regarding the social media network’s terms and conditions
Among the other top six conditions, 33% of respondents wanted a friendlier user interface to guide the buyer through the purchase process, 30% would like discounts or promotions in exchange for using these channels to buy products or services, and 30% want clarity about the purchase and delivery process.
However, each generation had different preferences. Boomers’ responses indicated the importance they place on security standards in social commerce platforms. 66% wanted secure methods of payments, and 61% wanted clear statements on security methods before starting to use social media eCommerce. These were also the top two criteria cited by Generation X and millennials. Gen Z respondents were also focused on customer experience, with 41% stating that a user-friendly interface would help them decide to use these shopping channels.
Regardless of generation, security is an important issue for online consumers of all age groups. Businesses should respond to this concern, while also understanding the generational differences in behaviour when tailoring social media campaigns and planning their customer journey according to the preferences of their target audience.
If companies want to incorporate social shopping into their eCommerce strategies it is important that they manage their social campaigns appropriately to improve the effectiveness of their digital presence. To do so, however, they must ensure that basic criteria like transparency, authenticity, and security are respected to build trust and encourage consumers to use these platforms.
To gather the data for this report, we conducted an online survey of 1,005 consumers in April 2022. The selection criteria for the participants are as follows:
- Resident in the UK
- Between 18 and 75 years old
- Must shop online at least once every six months
- Must use social media at least once every month