By Dominic Andrews, Director, KMMRCE (part of PPMG)
The growing world of social commerce currently represents the biggest opportunity to generate sales amongst mass consumers. No wonder then that brands in places like China and the US are striding ahead, finding ways to connect with customers across social networks in real-time.
Social shopping evolution
With social commerce, the whole shopping experience from start to finish takes place via social media platforms. Live shopping is an element of that, where goods are presented and sold during live streaming events.
Repackaged for a millennial audience, live shopping might seem pretty ground-breaking but let’s be clear, it’s nothing new. We might not recognize it exactly, or give credence to its heritage, but the concept has been thriving since the late 80s - and we mean thriving – in the form of your friendly TV shopping channels. Liberty Interactive who owns QVC and the Home Shopping Network has a market capitalisation of US$4.6bn with annual revenues that far exceed US$10.22bn. In China, there are companies that outperform that over 10-fold.
Today’s live shopping is taking a nostalgic format - digital, and pushing it out worldwide, often with a greater production value, or a more subtle presentation, creating the kind of cut-through and geographical reach that cable tv could never match.
At the heart of this rapidly developing commercial medium (like most things digital) are the social networks. Where the shopping channels of old brought products straight to the home, social media channels have given us straight to phone; a merging of two worlds that can’t be underestimated. The biggest and brightest online talents are able to partner with brands or promote their own products and inventory through live shopping events. These live streams are complete with all the links and low down needed to purchase a product in minutes, without so much as a scroll or re-direct when shoppable functions are enabled through Facebook or Instagram. SHOP NOW, BUY NOW is ever-present and growing post by post.
Maximising the opportunities
Allowing customers to buy natively represents a significant value-add for smaller online brands who don’t have the budget for a fully-fledged e-commerce store. For big brands, it’s prime territory to get creative for minimum investment. Where large e-comm players were using the likes of Instagram for visibility, hoping to encourage link-based click-through, they can now fill a gap in the buyer’s journey for a truly comprehensive omnichannel offering.
Cost-effective execution, the use of existing digital infrastructure, and enormous (potential) reach are all benefits, providing your online set-up is sound and easily integrated. However, like any communications activity, a strategic approach is still required. Visually, things have to be presented in the right style to engage users of that particular platform, and any influencers should be an authentic fit for your brand. Any live events deserve the same amount of thought about the experience you want to create as a physical one. When these components come together, you’re armed to make this new means of marketing come alive.
The Middle East advantage
Compared to other parts of the world, social commerce is still in its infancy in the Middle East, but our region is extremely well placed to take advantage of it. International retailers have seen the value of regionalising their global online presence - translating the language, adapting the style and highlighting certain product ranges in line with local culture. This next step is all the more attractive thanks to the region’s love of social media.
Then there are the personalities. Middle East social media stars are plentiful and powerful. If China is driving the growth of social commerce at the moment, it’s based on the networks and reach at their disposal. There’s no doubt that the Middle Eastern market will rapidly catch up and capitalise, based on the level of engagement we see with channels from Facebook and Instagram to Snapchat and TikTok.
Room to get it right
Noteworthy names, such as Warby Parker, Nike, Eureka Street Furniture, MVMT and New Balance are showing what’s possible, yet there’s more room for innovation in the space. The Chinese market is blowing up, producing new individual talent that promotes brands or builds their own in increasingly imaginative ways. While the surrounding digital infrastructure is what makes this possible, it’s driven by consumer appetite for inspiration and direction: a global desire that’s only getting stronger.
Ultimately, the greatest winners of the race to social commerce domination will be the brands, retailers, and personalities that can combine thoughtful content and unique presentation with a seamless purchasing cycle; and, reproduce that mix consistently. Obvious gimmicks or poorly conceived ideas will always fade fast, much like the very first shower radios sold on QVC.
Opinions in this piece belong to the author.