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The future of retail is now bound up with efforts to marry the commercial and social internet. Kevin Chan, head of social practice at MediaCom, explores how brands can expand upon past experiments and move to take advantage.

Social commerce is here. After years of maturation, numerous iterations of ad product releases and lots of tests and learning, we have finally reached the intersection between technological capability, consumer proliferation and brand confidence from which social commerce is evolving.

By the end of 2021, social commerce in the US will be worth $36.6bn and $351.6bn in China, according to a recent report from eMarketer, which also revealed that 56.1 million people this year will use Facebook to facilitate a purchase. It’s clear from the economics that social commerce is booming – are we, as marketers, making the most of this real consumer trend?

In 2021 brands turned to social commerce for timely answers to business challenges in testing moments. It has captivated audiences, and provided a digital shop window with frictionless payment. But what will 2022 bring?

Social commerce can help meet consumer demand

A seismic shift has occurred. A proportion of retail bricks-and-mortar operations are now repositioning as ‘experiential’ user touchpoints. By doing so, retail locations tap into the different needs of the customer – while also delivering eminently selfie-friendly content. 

With footfall decreasing as we transition into the ‘new normal’, people spend more time at home. As social commerce continues to create innovative and relevant content, consumer habits will follow suit.

What’s more, users will turn to social for other touchpoints, such as news, information, discovery, entertainment, education and connecting to family and friends. All will act as an opportunity to serve relevant shopping messages. Therefore, it makes sense for more brands to be on the pane of glass, in front of people up and down the country.  

And businesses have found that it boosts the potential for weekly sales, provides easy access to customers and, in some cases, has allowed users to try on tailored product sets using augmented reality (AR) effects.

Blurring the line between social and physical commerce

Technically speaking we have seen formats released over time such as Snap’s AR try-on Lenses, Pinterest Shoppable Pins, TikTok Shops and Instagram Shopping. New paths will be forged, and social commerce will become an area to sell products – such as cars and homes – that we never previously thought to buy using social media channels. 

Further down the line, we will see the effect of this, and social commerce will create new functionality to satiate demand for new areas of retail. We may also see a blurring of the line between social and physical store experiences. 

Could store visitors check in using their device and be given a tailored list of products to try on in store, and share that content to their networks for feedback? With that, users could then gain rewards in-store for their level of interaction with brands online. Will the lines of being physically present and virtual experience start to collide? Could you take your friend around the store with you via a socially-powered VR headset? 

One X-factor of social is the power to engineer trends and its flexibility in bringing these trends to the masses. Unboxings and product hauls have been an effective fixture for some time – and we see this converging with the trend of going live. Limited editions via Instagram Drops have been a huge trend in the e-commerce world. The function creates a feeling of scarcity and uniqueness, with the added plus of gaining instant feedback from the live feed.

On the theme of exclusivity, one thing that’s big in the gaming world is the purchase of virtual goods for customizing one’s avatar. This has and will continue to allow brands to offer exclusive avatar collectables that are digital variations of real-life products, only generating more buzz around the communities of followers on that platform. 

There is a user preference to curate ideas and collections of products via Pinterest boards, bookmarks, saves and favorites. But typically there are habitual differences in shopping behavior, as well as being used predominately for planning around bigger life events such as planning holidays and home design.

However, at MediaCom we expect commerce in this area become even more frictionless, with the advanced integrations to come from social media platforms and tech vendors. 

So, what’s next?

Selling products using social media has massively evolved and will continue to do so as more and more brands gain traction. Like with many new developments, this will come at the cost of a steep learning curve. 

But there is great potential to create bigger sales channels and virtual shop windows that captivate audiences and increase credibility as a tech-savvy brand. That’s why our social practice is putting social commerce front and center in terms of priorities for clients, utilizing our talent to maximize all opportunities of growth, talent retention and user experience.

The rapid evolution of social commerce will continue into 2022. More users will become accustomed to more ingenious formats and there will be an abundance of shareable content that will capture their imagination.

Kevin Chan is partner and head of social practice at MediaCom UK.