Last month Twitter announced that it will curtail development of its ‘Buy’ button, raising questions over the future of social commerce.
However, the key lessons to be learned are not over the rising prominence of social commerce itself but rather the social media platforms that are most suited to engage with online shopping and payments.
Increasingly, the customer’s path to purchase is becoming less linear and one-directional. Today, retailers face a complex web of shopping journeys across multiple devices, platforms, locations and contexts.
In some instances, this journey has become shorter, with new payment technologies and one-click options reducing the time of each purchase.
Yet, in other ways, our shopping experiences are becoming longer: we shop around extensively, we compare prices, we read reviews, we take advice, we agonise over making the right decision – desperate to maximise every minute and every penny.
To make matters even more complex, it is now apparent that shopping journeys are becoming rounder and multi-directional.
Consumers now hop from channel to channel and device to device, rarely starting and ending in the same place.
At the same time, we witness a growing trend of paths to purchase becoming rounder, with many simply enjoying the journey and wishlisting ideas without even hopping off and making a final purchase.
Against this backdrop, it is unimaginable that social commerce won’t become a more prominent shopping channel in the UK, supporting, influencing and directing this evolving web of customer journeys.
Indeed, recent research from Future Foundation shows that two-thirds of millennials are more likely to make a purchase following the recommendation of a friend or family member, while almost half use social networking sites to pass on recommendations of products and services.
With such a powerful role in inspiring and encouraging purchases, it is inevitable that social media channels will assume a more direct function to support shoppers.
Consequently, the question raised by Twitter’s withdrawal from this space is not about the future of social commerce itself, but rather which are the right platforms to drive this channel forward.
One platform that seems to be among the best placed to engage with social commerce is Pinterest.
Research conducted by Millward Brown last year showed that among respondents who had actively used Pinterest in the previous six months, 96% had used the platform to research and gather information, while 87% claimed that Pinterest had helped them decide what to purchase.
What’s more, a quarter of UK millennials now see sharing or collecting images online of things they like, and that represent their lifestyle, as a valuable form of entertainment.
Such trends point to the future direction of social media commerce, where consumers gravitate towards social media platforms that are simultaneously inspirational and aspirational.
The lessons of Twitter’s ‘Buy’ button experiment should not be viewed as a roadblock to the rise of social commerce itself.
Instead, it should be seen as a useful learning curve for what consumers want from this fledgling channel.
What seems clear is that it will be the more visual and lifestyle-oriented social media platforms, such as Pinterest and Instagram, that are best suited to drive the future of social commerce.
- Joshua McBain is head of innovation at the Future Foundation.