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How Social Commerce Is Reshaping Customer Experience

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The rise of social media and chat apps as sales and customer care channels is changing the way people buy from and interact with brands—and transforming the retail sector as we know it. In this tribune, Étienne Mérineau, Senior Director of Marketing at Heyday by Hootsuite, explains what social commerce is, why it matters, and where it’s going. One thing is for certain: social commerce is here to stay. 

 

What is Social Commerce?

Social commerce is when the entire shopping experience—from product discovery and research to the checkout process—happens on social media platforms. The opportunities for brands are enormous: According to recent data from Meta, more than 1 billion people connect with business accounts across the company’s messaging services each week. More than 150 million people view a product catalog from a business on WhatsApp alone every month. That’s a lot of engaged potential customers. 

 

What’s more, research from Accenture projects that the value of the global social commerce industry will grow to $1.2 trillion by 2025. This growth is predicted to be driven primarily by Millenial and Gen Z social media users, who are expected to account for over 60% of global social commerce spending by 2025. The pandemic has turned everyone into a digital native and increased social media usage across every age group—including for shopping purposes—creating the perfect tailwinds for social commerce to accelerate in the post-pandemic economy.

 

Social platforms were once seen only as promotional tools. But as app technology has evolved, they are now able to act as all-in-one customer care, product discovery and sales channels. As a result, social has become both megaphone and marketplace—a place where people can find, interact with, buy from, and follow up with brands, all from their smartphone.

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Social channels are the new storefronts

In a social-first world, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat are the new ‘doors to stores’ today. The rise of social commerce creates both a challenge and opportunity: to bring your in-store experience online directly on your customers’ preferred social channels where they spend the best of their time. Messaging apps play a critical role in delivering that promise. If social channels are the new storefronts, asking a question to a brand via Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram DMs is the digital equivalent of walking into a store. The question is: will your brand be present 24-7 and be ready to capture these high-intent customers? 

 

As we move away from a web-centric experience to a social-first experience, the customer journey becomes much more fragmented and decentralized. To streamline the customer experience across social and messaging touchpoints, brands need to connect the dots and create a seamless customer experience—while maintaining a 360-degree, single view of the customer. A unified social inbox with conversational AI capabilities makes this possible, at scale.

 

Benefits of Social Commerce

Now that Google has abandoned the tracking cookie and Apple has begun restricting the ability of advertisers to re-target visitors, brands are turning to social commerce to maintain connection with customers across the vast and ever-changing digital landscape. 

 

With social commerce, brands can engage in 1:1, private conversations across social channels, effectively re-creating the in-store experience of engaging with staff rather than simply visiting a static digital storefront. These personalized experiences are the heartbeat of social commerce. 

 

Today, when a brand can engage directly with a customer across multiple channels in near-real time, conversations have become the new cookies—the golden thread to keep customers engaged and loyal.

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With the thread of conversation, brands can engage with users at every step of the customer journey, whether they are questions about a product’s availability or sizing pre-purchase, a question about return policy at the time of transaction, or a question about order tracking post-purchase. 

With this in mind, we can see the benefits of social commerce are enormous. Social commerce enables brands to:

  • Keep the shopping experience native to social on customers’ preferred channels, creating an integrated experience (i.e. no need for customer to visit an external website)
  • Be present and available for customers at every step of their journey
  • Unlock personalization through 1:1 conversations
  • Ultimately deliver a more seamless and personalized shopping experience.

 

Conversations are the New Cookies

Social commerce is ushering in a new era of customer relationships that are earned and owned, not rented through media buy and ads. You could say that brands’ past over-reliance on cookies and third-party data made them lazy; now, in order to earn and collect data from customers, brands must foster loyalty and create value for customers at every step of the journey. 

This transformative trend inspired us to found Heyday. In the era of social commerce, conversational AI is essential for managing thousands of 1:1 conversations across channels at scale. Now that Heyday is a part of Hootsuite, even more opportunities to integrate conversational AI in the social commerce experience will emerge.

At the enterprise level, in the years to come, forward-thinking brands should invest heavily in CX, CRM and AI technologies that allow them to unify all their customer conversations under one roof and manage them at scale. This will allow them to get the most out of their social commerce efforts. 

 

There’s no denying that social commerce is the next frontier. Shopify recently reported a 10x lift in social commerce-related sales  year-over-year. As brands start shifting their attention to this rising opportunity to bring their products and teams where customers already are, the ones that put customer experience and personalization first will win the battle. And conversations will be at the heart of this new age of shopping that focuses on relationships, not transactions.

 

A French version of this article is available at the Hub Institute

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