Visual Social Commerce Is Growing Fast

The Internet has experienced significant changes in the past decade, and it is mostly thanks to images. Images initially started to dominate across social networks such as Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Little by little, it changed the priorities and expectations of users. They became increasingly familiarized and comfortable with interfaces that were image-heavy, and that quickly made its way into other services and industries, including eCommerce.

As online retailers are beginning to work on incorporating visual search capabilities onto their websites for an enhanced customer experience, another shift is beginning to take place, which is also shaking up the eCommerce scene: visual social commerce. In a nutshell, visual social commerce is like a marriage of eCommerce/mCommerce, social networks, and visual search. Visual social commerce has plenty of long-term potential for disrupting the industry with the amazing opportunities it presents.

Pinterest was the first image-centric social network to spark what is now known as visual social commerce. It started in June 2015 with the launch of “Buyable Pins.” These were pins which served as a simple and secure way for users to buy products on Pinterest that were specifically marked with blue pricing.  

The success of “Buyable Pins” led to its expansion later that year, with big-name brands and thousands of Shopify stores being added into the program. The popularity of “Buyable Pins” was largely due to the fact that the merchant gets to keep 100 percent of the sales, since Pinterest generates revenue from advertising tools. Also, the pins are designed to be mobile-friendly, and also support quick and easy checkout mechanisms instead of forcing users to fill out online forms.

Instagram soon followed suit, by launching their own shopping feature in late 2016, with 20 leading US-based retail brands. This feature allows users to review, learn more about, and consider up to five items that interest them. If the user is interested in purchasing the item, they can make the purchase directly from the business website by tapping “shop now.”

Facebook and Twitter quickly jumped on the bandwagon as well, in an effort to offer eCommerce features to merchants and other businesses. In the case of Facebook, they launched a newsfeed buy button in which users can purchase merchandise directly from ads, without having to click away to another app or website. This feature alone directly competes with the Buyable Pins in Pinterest, as Facebook further sped up the purchasing experience, which helped boost sale conversion rates for numerous sellers. After Twitter launched its own “Buy now” in tweets, it goes without saying that Shopify signed up. So did Bigcommerce and Demandware, though it has been limited to the US-only. The goal for Twitter was to make it as easy as possible for business to both connect directly with AND sell to their customers directly. Twitter also developed services that included offers directly to credit/debit cards, and browsing/shopping for product collections without leaving Twitter itself.

By now, you must have noticed that Shopify is excellent in terms of getting on board with new functionalities to better serve their customers. Here are some of the numbers they released after extracting data from the first 529,000 orders that came from visual social commerce:

  • Facebook dominates as a source of social traffic and sales. Nearly two thirds of all social media visits to Shopify stores come from Facebook. Plus, an average of 85% of all orders from social media come from Facebook.
  • Orders from Reddit increased 152% in 2013.
  • Perhaps most interesting and surprising was community style site Polyvore which is generating the highest average order value ahead of Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Also noteworthly in this category is Instagram which is also generating higher average orders than those same sites. This is especially impressive considering the only clickable links in Instagram are those in profile bio’s.
  • Facebook has the highest conversion rate for all social media ecommerce traffic at 1.85%

Search engine giant Google took note of the changes that were quickly unfolding in the social media scene, and despite showing interest in moving forward in 2015, they just recently launched a beta program for a search buy button. The downside? It is only available to Google Wallet users on their Android phones. Then again, it may be to serve as a major use case for its wallet, and also to compete with Amazon for eCommerce searches. Google also updated their Image search, by including badges to indicate which items are available for purchase. That serves as a major timesaver in terms of having to distinguish between which images are products that can be purchased, versus video/GIF stills and the like.

The scale and engagement of visual social commerce is massive, which really isn’t surprising considering the popularity of the major visual social networks that are driving this shift. Visual networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are in this for the long haul, and it is up to you to figure out how to make visual social commerce work for you and your brand.