Do consumers actually buy directly on social media platforms ?
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many consumers rushed online to buy products they couldn't get in stores. In July 2020, global retail e-commerce websites cumulatively recorded a record 22 billion monthly visits.
As brands scrambled to offer more products and services online, social media platforms - such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - began introducing e-commerce tools to help businesses sell more items directly through their social pages.
Now, as social media networks continue to expand on-platform shopping tools, it's clear that social media e-commerce is gaining steam. But as with any new marketing trend, you may be wondering, "Are consumers actually buying products while browsing social media?"
The question above is worth asking. As a marketer, creating an online catalog or e-commerce process - even with the help of an intuitive social media platform - takes time and effort.
Not only do you need to determine what products to sell online and how to deliver them to customers, but there could be a technology learning curve for your team. Chances are, you want to know that consumers are actively using social media shopping tools before you activate them
To find out if it's worth considering social media shopping features, has Hubspot Asked 467 consumers if they had ever purchased products on social media platforms.
Do consumers actually buy products on social media?
There are now more ways than ever to buy products on social media. But since some social media shopping tools are still fairly new to shoppers and brands, you might think consumers haven't used them much.
But when we asked, "Have you ever purchased a product directly from a social media platform? If so, which one(s)?", more than 50 % of consumers have purchased a product on at least one platform.
Of the 49.5 % of respondents who have not yet purchased a product directly on a social media platform, 9 % said they plan to do so someday, while 40.5 % said they prefer to purchase products on e-commerce websites. Although this 9 % of consumers planning to one day shop via social media seems like a small number, it could grow if social media shopping tools gain more use, popularity or trust in the coming months.
At the end of the day, social media shopping features are still fairly new to consumers, but they could make sense for brands looking for a scalable way to enter the e-commerce world.
Below, I'll go over the four social media platforms where consumers say they've purchased products and how they could be useful for brands.
Which social media platforms are consumers really shopping on?
More than one-third of the above survey respondents have ever purchased a product directly from Facebook.
The popularity of Facebook's online shopping is not surprising. Even before Facebook Shops launched in 2020, users flocked to Facebook Marketplace to find items or products sold by nearby residents, independent sellers, or even local stores.
While Facebook Marketplace is more akin to Craigslist than an e-commerce store - and still requires you to contact a seller or visit their website before buying a product - its years of success likely helped justify the launch of Facebook's newest shopping features.
Here's a quick rundown of the latest ways people are shopping on Facebook:
Facebook Shops, introduced this summer, allows administrators of business pages to create a "shop" with a list of products or product collections.
Users visiting the brand's Facebook store page can click a "View Store" button to see products, add items to their cart and purchase them directly from a Facebook checkout page.
Social media users who aren't interested in browsing a store's product list can also message brands through Facebook Messenger. Once a brand has created a Facebook store, they can connect it to their Messenger account, WhatsApp account, or Instagram account to give customers a frictionless shopping experience right in their threads.
When customers message brands with store integrations to learn more about specific products, they receive automatic messages with product suggestions from the store owner - as seen in the image below.
Facebook's Messenger integration of Facebook Shops isn't the first feature Facebook has offered that lets consumers shop via message thread. Between 2016 and 2019, Facebook allowed business pages to send messages that included a product photo, basic description, and a "Buy Now" button that allowed customers to purchase products in the Messenger app using their phone's payment feature. Here's what it looked like:
Food for thought for marketers
Currently, starting a Facebook store is perhaps one of the best ways to sell products on social platforms. Not only does Facebook have the largest and most far-reaching reach of all the platforms on this list, but Facebook stores can also integrate with Instagram and WhatsApp, so you can easily expand to multiple social media platforms when you're ready.
Even if you already have an e-commerce website, Facebook stores can be beneficial if you have a large social media audience that mainly uses mobile phones and apps to browse the web. For example, if a new prospect comes across your brand through the Facebook app, they can simply click into your store, check out a few products, and even buy a few using their phone's payment tool. This could create much less friction than if they had to leave their social media app to scroll through a large list of products displayed in your ecommerce store.
Ultimately, the store's versatile options could be a good choice if you're selling to a wide audience, interested in expanding on Instagram or WhatsApp, or are a seasoned online seller who also wants to convert social media followers into customers.
Although most of Instagram's shopping features were added after Facebook Shops launched, nearly a quarter of respondents have already purchased products on Instagram.
Below are the main shopping features of Instagram:
Instagram Shops uses essentially the same design, layout, and technology as Facebook Shops, but is specifically linked to Instagram Business Pages. As with Facebook Shops, you need admin access to a Facebook Business Page and Facebook Shop to use this feature.
To use this feature, all you need to do is go into your Facebook Commerce Manager settings, link your Facebook and Instagram Business pages, and activate your shop on your Instagram Business profile so that your visitors see a "View Shop" button. Once this store is activated, viewers of your Instagram store will see the same mini online store they would see if they entered your Facebook store on that platform.
Shoppable Posts on Instagram
While you still need a Facebook catalog to list your products, you don't need a Facebook store to launch Instagram Shoppable Posts. With this feature, you can link your Instagram feed posts and images directly to the product's Instagram checkout page.
While this feature started out specifically with feed-style posts, it has now expanded to Instagram Stories, Instagram Live (see below), and - most recently - Instagram Reels.
While an Instagram Shop allows your followers to see all the major products or collections you sell, Instagram Shoppable posts allow you to highlight your product with creative content, such as reviews or demos, while linking directly to a purchase page. This allows users to discover a product, see it in action, and buy it almost immediately if they like what they've seen.
The Instagram shopping tab
You can also optimize your Instagram product content to appear in the Shopping tab of the Instagram app. With this tool, potential customers who don't know your brand can search for products, find items from your brand, and add them to their cart. From there, they can tap the bag icon in the corner and purchase those products directly in the Instagram app.
Suggestions for marketers
Instagram's shopping features could be useful for your brand if you already have a presence on Instagram, are targeting Generation Z or Millennials, and have engaging or intriguing photo or video assets to market your product, brand, or service.
If you already have a Facebook store and want to expand your social media e-commerce strategy to Instagram, this is also scalable and easy. Since Instagram stores are copies of Facebook stores you've already created, you only need to take a few steps to place a store button on your Instagram Business Page. However, if you're not interested in having a Facebook account, you can still use Instagram Live Shopping and Shopping Posts and highlight your products in the Instagram Shopping tab.
Although WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, doesn't have its own shopping platform, users can still chat with brands, request to buy a product from the company's WhatsApp for Business catalog, and pay directly in the message thread.
The WhatsApp payment feature shown below is very similar to the older Facebook Messenger "Buy Now" feature shown in the section above:
Suggestions for marketers
Although buying products on WhatsApp takes a little longer than on a Facebook or Instagram store, about 13.5 % of respondents still did it.
As WhatsApp continues to grow and expand its business features, it might be worth keeping this app on your radar if you're interested in building a chat-based community and a social revenue stream at the same time.
While this app could be opportunistic for conversational marketers, this app could also be beneficial if you want to sell internationally. While Facebook and Instagram also have global audiences, the majority of WhatsApp's user base lives outside of the US.
Until recently - Pinterest users could buy some of the products they saw directly in the Pinterest app. Interestingly, this tool was introduced and discontinued before Facebook and Instagram introduced similar features.
From 2015 to 2018, Pinterest allowed brands to create Buyable Pins, which allowed people to purchase pinned products directly within the app. Next to the "Save" button of each Buyable Pin was a blue "Buy It" button. When tapped, users were taken directly to a Pinterest purchase screen.
While Pinterest offered its in-app purchasing feature for years, the brand switched Buyable Pins to more scalable Product Pins in 2018.
Product Pins, which the platform now uses, send app users to the checkout page of a company's website rather than a Pinterest app page.
While the switch to Product Pins saved Pinterest from having to manage millions of transactions per year, it was also more beneficial for brands. In a 2018 statement to AdWeek, Pinterest revealed that Product Pins received 40 % more clicks than Buyable Pins.
Although Buyable Pins are no longer active, 10.5 % of respondents still say they have purchased products directly from the platform.
While respondents have purchased items through Buyable Pins in the past, they could also make purchases through Product Pins, which open an in-app browser to a brand's checkout page without users having to leave Pinterest. While the transaction itself doesn't take place on Pinterest's servers, the feature still allows users to make a quick purchase without interrupting their social media experience.
Food for thought for marketers
Even though Pinterest no longer allows users to shop directly on the platform, you should still take product marketing opportunities like Product Pins seriously.
After all, many different audiences use Pinterest to create inspiration boards with products or items they might want to buy. And Pinterest data shows that users like to search for or learn about products on the platform.
Aside from the brand-friendly nature of the Pinterest platform, marketers should also take note of its steady growth. In the third quarter of 2020, Pinterest surpassed 442 million monthly active users, up from 322 million in the third quarter of 2019. Even if it doesn't seem like Pinterest is the right platform for your brand now, it could be useful for your strategy later as audiences continue to grow, evolve, and use the platform to search for products or inspiration.
Which social platforms should you sell on?
While many of the above respondents have not yet purchased a product through a social media platform, this could change as shoppers continue to embrace online shopping.
As more brands use social media shopping tools instead of e-commerce stores, customers may get used to using social media shopping options.
If you decide to launch a social media shopping feature for your brand, you should look at your target audience to find the right starting point.
For example, if your audience is made up of many different age groups, Facebook might be the best place to set up shop. On the other hand, if your audience is mostly Generation Z, you should use Instagram's tools.
You should also prioritize social media shopping tactics on platforms where you've already built a following. For example, if you have a large, engaged WhatsApp audience, selling products there could be a scalable extension of an already strong social media strategy.
Ultimately, the best strategy is to figure out where your target audience is most likely to shop or browse social media, and then hit them where they are with your product offerings or online store.