When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many consumers raced online to buy products they couldn't get in-store. And, by July 2020, global retail ecommerce sites cumulatively saw a record 22 billion monthly visits.
Shopping on social media rose in popularity as well, allowing businesses to sell more items directly from their existing profiles.
Now, most platforms offer native shopping tools, but, as with any new trend, you might wonder, "Are consumers actually shopping on social media?" The question is worth asking, and we'll answer it in this post.
Table of Contents
- Do consumers actually buy products on Social Media?
- Which social media platforms are consumers really shopping on?
- Which social platforms should you sell on?
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 rather new to shoppers and brands, you might think consumers have barely used them yet.
When we asked consumers if they’ve purchased a product on social media, 17% said they’ve bought something directly from a social platform in the past three months alone.
The number is higher among millennials (27%) and Gen Z (22%).
Ultimately, while social media shopping features are still fairly new to consumers, they might make sense for brands that are looking for a scalable way to enter the ecommerce world.
Among all the excitement that social media commerce brings, it’s essential to also brush up on how to build trust with your customers as a marketer. Check out our video guide here on the social scams to avoid.
Which social media platforms are consumers really shopping on?
Among those who shop on social media, Facebook is the most popular platform consumers used to make in-app purchases in the past three months. Consumers also report it has the best in-app shopping experience.
Facebook's online shopping popularity isn't surprising. Even before the 2020 launch of Facebook Shops, users flocked to Facebook Marketplace to find items or products being sold by residents nearby, independent sellers, or even local stores.
While Facebook Marketplace is more like Craigslist than an ecommerce store – and still requires you to contact a seller or go to their website before buying a product, its years of success likely helped justify the launch of Facebook's newest shopping features.
Here's a brief rundown of the newest ways people shop on Facebook:
Facebook Shops enables business page admins to create a "Shop" featuring a list of products or product collections. Each shop can also link back to an Instagram profile, WhatsApp, Messenger, or Facebook Business Page.
Users who visit the brand's Facebook Business Page can tap or click a View Shop 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 sifting through a Shop's list of products can also message brands on Facebook Messenger. Once a brand creates a Facebook Shop, they can integrate it with their Messenger account, WhatsApp account, or Instagram account for a smooth customer purchasing experience directly in their threads.
When customers message brands with Shop integrations to learn more about specific products, they'll receive automated messages with product suggestions from the Shop owner – as seen in the image below.
Takeaways for Marketers
Facebook Shops is the second most popular social selling feature among social media marketers and has the second-highest ROI.
With this in mind, launching a Facebook Shop is a valuable way to sell products on social platforms. Not only is Facebook the most used app among consumers, but it can also integrate with Instagram and WhatsApp, allowing you to easily expand to multiple social media platforms when you're ready.
Even if you already have an ecommerce site, having a Facebook Shop can likely put you in front of a new audience. They can simply click into your shop, check out a few products, and even make a purchase with much less friction, as they never have to leave the social media app they’re already on.
Ultimately, Shops' versatile options could be a good fit if you sell to a broad audience, are interested in expanding to Instagram or WhatsApp, or are an experienced online seller who also wants to turn social media followers into customers.
Instagram is consumers’ second-most used platform for social purchases. Instagram Shops is also the most popular social selling feature used by social media marketers, and it offers the highest ROI and the best tools for selling directly within the app.
Although most of Instagram's shopping features were added after Facebook Shops launched, nearly a quarter of respondents have bought products on Instagram.
Below are Instagram's most notable shopping features:
Instagram Shops essentially uses the same design, layout, and technology Facebook Shops, but is linked to Instagram Business Pages specifically. Like Facebook Shops, you'll also need admin access to a Facebook Business Page and a Facebook Shop to use this feature.
To leverage this feature, you merely need to go to your Facebook Commerce Manager settings, link your Facebook and Instagram Business pages, and enable your Shop on your Instagram Business profile so your visitors will see a View Shop button. Once this Shop is activated, your Instagram Shop's viewers will see the same mini-online store they'd see if they entered your Facebook Shop on that platform.
Instagram Shoppable Posts
While you'll still need a Facebook catalog that lists your products, you do not need a Facebook Shop to launch Instagram Shoppable posts. This feature allows you to link your Instagram feed posts and images directly to the product's Instagram Checkout page.
While this feature began specifically with feed-style posts, it has now stretched to Instagram Stories, Instagram Live (shown below), and – most recently – Instagram Reels.
While an Instagram Shop allows your followers to see all the major products or collections you're selling, Instagram Shoppable posts allow you to highlight your product with creative content, such as reviews or demos, while also linking directly to a purchasing page. This enables users to discover a product, watch it in action, and buy it almost immediately if they like what they've seen.
Takeaways for Marketers
Instagram's shopping features might be useful to your brand if you already have a presence on Instagram, primarily target a Millenial audience, and have engaging or intriguing photo or video assets to market your product, brand, or service.
If you already have a Facebook Shop and want to expand your social media ecommerce strategy to Instagram, it's also scalable and easy. Because Instagram Shops are carbon copies of pre-created Facebook shops, you only need to take a few steps to place a Shops button on your Instagram Business Page. But, if you don't have interest in a Facebook account, you can still leverage Instagram Live Shopping, Shopping Posts, and highlight your products in the Instagram Shopping tab.
To learn more about each of these tools, how they work, and how brands can leverage them, check out this post for more details.
While WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook, doesn't have its own shopping platform, users can still chat with brands, request to purchase a product from the companies WhatsApp for Business catalog, and pay for it directly in the message thread.
The WhatsApp payment feature, shown below, is quite similar to Facebook Messenger's older "Buy Now" feature, shown in the section above:
Takeaways for Marketers
While buying products might take a bit longer on WhatsApp than on a Facebook or Instagram Shop, roughly 13.5% of respondents have still done it.
As WhatsApp continues to grow and expand its business features, this app might be worth keeping on your radar if you are interested in building a chat-based community and social revenue stream at the same time.
While this app might be opportunistic for conversational marketers, this app might also be beneficial if you're looking to sell internationally. While Facebook and Instagram also have audiences around the world, most of WhatsApp's user base lives outside of the U.S. In fact, WhatsApp's largest audiences are from India and Brazil.
Until recently – Pinterest users could buy some of the products they saw directly in the Pinterest app. From 2015 to 2018, Pinterest enabled brands to create Buyable Pins that allowed you to purchased pinned products directly from the app. Next to each Buyable Pin's "Save" button was a blue "Buy It" button. When tapped, it sent users directly to a Pinterest purchasing screen.
While Pinterest offered its in-app purchasing feature for years, the brand pivoted to scalable Product Pins in 2018.
Product Pins send app users to a company's website checkout page rather than a Pinterest app page. The switch meant Pinterest no longer needed to manage millions of transactions a year because the transactions don’t happen on Pinterest servers. But, users can still make quick purchases without interrupting their social media experience. The change proved beneficial to brands, as 85%of weekly U.S. Pinners have made a purchase inspired by Pins from brands.
Takeaways for Marketers
Although Pinterest no longer enables consumers to make purchases directly from the platform, you should take its product marketing opportunities, such as Product Pins, seriously, especially if Millennials are your target audience.
Aside from the brand-friendly nature of Pinterest's platform, marketers should also take note of its consistent growth. By Q1 of 2023, Pinterest surpassed 463 million monthly active users, up from 13 million from Q4'22. Even if it doesn't seem like Pinterest is the right platform for your brand now, it might be useful to your strategy later as its audience continues to grow, evolve, and use the platform to look for products or inspiration.
Which Social Platforms Should You Sell On?
The verdict is that, yes, consumers are shopping on social media. As more brands leverage social shopping tools, they’ll become even more accustomed to using their preferred platforms to shop.
Of marketers that have used social selling, 87% say that it has been effective for their business, and more than half say they’ve made more sales via platforms this year than last, making it a valuable strategy to consider.
When deciding on platforms, audience reach is one of the most important things to consider, as you want to ensure you sell on a platform your audiences are already on.
For example, if your audience is made up of many different age groups, Facebook might be the best place to set up shop. Meanwhile, if your audience is primarily Gen Z, you might want to embrace TikTok.
Additionally, you should prioritize social media shopping tactics on platforms you've already built a following on. For example, if you have a large, engaged WhatsApp audience, selling products there might be a scalable expansion to an already-strong social media strategy.
Ultimately, the best strategy will be to determine where your audiences are most likely going to shop or surf social media and then meet them where they are with your product listings or online shop
To learn more about where your target social media audience might be, check out this helpful post on social media demographics.