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How Social Commerce Will Reshape Retail: From Content Creation & Partnerships to In-Store Experiences

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Social commerce is a relatively new medium, but as retailers and social media platforms alike explore possible use cases and applications, it will significantly shape how both shoppers and businesses spend their time and money. Most notably, the shift from paid posts and influencer endorsements to shoppable content and live shopping will force retailers to reconsider how they produce content and interact with customers.

However, this doesn’t mean that the existing social media playbook needs to be completely rewritten. Retailers can utilize what they already know and have in place to jumpstart their social commerce operations. For example, the next step in livestreaming and similar services is “taking what’s happening in the social space and applying it to more tangible goods that you can immediately purchase,” according to Lisa Hurst, EVP Marketing & Strategy at Upshot. Some of the new aspects they should consider include:

  • Offering new roles for the store: The idea of opening dedicated content studios for live streaming or other social media can be intimidating, but integrating these operations into stores can boost in-store traffic alongside online engagement;
  • Meeting new standards for convenience: The idea of retail streaming was still somewhat futuristic just two years ago, even if it was happening on a limited scale. But lockdowns have made shoppers receptive to the ease of live shopping and digital appointments; and
  • Creating new journeys and services: The integration of social commerce into retail operations has generated potential on multiple fronts, from creating new customer journeys to forging fresh third-party partnerships.

The Physical Store and Social Commerce Can Enhance Each Other

Perhaps the biggest adjustment retailers need to make to ride the social commerce wave is to truly embrace their new role as content creators. The simple imagery that’s appropriate for product landing pages won’t cut it on a shoppable Instagram post, let alone on an interactive livestream. Retailers including Walmart and REI are already blurring the line between retailer, marketer and content creator, and more retailers are sure to follow.

Retailers have increasingly had to operate like media companies in order to stay relevant,” said Amanda Cosco, Founder of Electric Runway in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Thankfully, media equipment including tripods, ring lights, and microphones have become smaller and more affordable. Preparation is key for a live media stream, so be sure to organize your set, products and talent in advance. Involve your existing sales associates in the process and engage relevant influencers with YouTube or broadcast experience.”

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Even retailers will little to no social marketing experience can get started with minimal investment. Sincerity is a key ingredient in any social commerce push, and livestreaming in particular can benefit from a DIY approach that feels casual and down to earth.

“A lot of retailers are under the impression they need to have a big team and a lot of infrastructure to do livestream shopping, but it’s just not true,” said Sophie Abrahamsson, Chief Commercial Officer at Bambuser in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Especially when authenticity is so important, an iPhone can be all the equipment you need.”

Retailers also can integrate their existing stores into their social media presence rather than build a completely new studio. Although it still takes some time and money to turn an existing space into a social media workshop, this can be extremely beneficial as retailers strive to create immersive, experiential store experiences. For instance, Betabrand’s combined podcast studio and retail space has drawn in customers who see the live recording sessions while passing by. Old Spice went as far as to open its own branded barbershop to encourage professionals and consumers alike to create social content in the store.

As the physical environment of a store is transformed, it becomes more of a content creation studio and more of an experiential destination, whether you’re physically there touching it and feeling it yourself or watching somebody else interact with different products,” said Hurst. “Whether that’s beauty, fashion or consumer electronics, I think that has application across so many different categories.”

Bambuser has noted a shift towards everyday experiences as brands move from holding several large social media events every year to more frequent occasions. This gives companies the advantage of producing a trove of content that can be used beyond social commerce to populate emails, ad campaigns, newsletters and even product pages.

As Social Commerce Grows, Retailers Can Offer Convenience in New Ways

The pandemic’s acceleration of existing trends is a well-trod topic, but it holds particular importance for social commerce. Services like grocery delivery and curbside pickup were already established even if they made headlines for finding larger audiences in the past year. Social commerce previously existed on the fringes, but home-bound shoppers were suddenly exposed to online media on a whole new level. Months of isolation made people far more interested in sharing their homes and lives on video, which made live shopping in particular a lot more relatable.

“I think the comfort level of ecommerce and the comfort level of sharing have both created opportunities where [social commerce] isn’t seen as futuristic as it was two years ago,” said Hurst. “Now people are more comfortable with this endless expansion of the store experience and the service experience.”

People truly craved connections during lockdown, and this made everything from livestreaming to virtual associate consultations far more attractive to consumers — and far more valuable for businesses. Shoppers are still eager to return to physical stores given their unique advantages, but they now know the power of storytelling through social media, both live and in posts, and the convenience of that experience will make it even more attractive moving forward.

Contactless commerce is increasingly becoming an important component of retail,” said Cosco. “Livestreaming gives retailers the opportunity to bring customers as close to the physical shopping experience as possible while still adhering to pandemic restrictions. Consumers who were hesitant to shop online prior to the pandemic may have had no choice but to use ecommerce sites, which can be a gateway to shopping live or shopping through platforms like Instagram.”

Social Commerce is Creating Fertile Grounds for New Partnership Models

The rise of social commerce is happening under another interesting set of circumstances: the expansion of omnichannel expectations. That is why experts believe that the most successful social commerce and live shopping operations won’t simply be ecommerce through a social media platform. Instead, retailers will need to orchestrate seamless shopping journeys that empower consumers to make purchases at whatever point is most convenient for them.

I think we’re going to see a lot more intertwining of the physical and digital worlds, where brands and retailers connect live video and in-store to generate entirely new types of shopping experiences,” said  Abrahamsson. “It’s very exciting and I look forward to being part of this evolution.”

For instance, brands and retailers can livestream in-store events on their social media accounts to connect with fans who were unable to join the fun in person. Individual livestreams also can drum up excitement by kicking off product launches, showcasing new partnerships or unveiling new in-store experiences. This approach lets shoppers get a taste of what’s coming from the convenience of their homes and ultimately entice them to make a store visit.

The adoption of social commerce means retailers should be on the lookout for new services designed to help them get the most out of their efforts. Upshot’s Hurst expects new solutions to crop up to address unique retail challenges, such as bringing multiple product categories together into a single cohesive experience. Influencers themselves will likely be on the ground floor of these third-party vendors, leveraging their expertise and audiences to help retailers develop new strategies.

“I imagine in the near future, savvy media entrepreneurs and influencers will offer livestreaming to retailers as a specific service category, not unlike the way promoted posts or sponsored content operates today,” said Cosco. “Just as Instagram renewed interest in photography, I think livestreaming will influence a new generation of videographers and on-air personalities.”

Social commerce is a new, rapidly changing medium, and now is the perfect time for retailers to get involved. The rules are still being written, and retailers willing to test the experiential, social and convenience aspects of key platforms will find themselves playing a role in setting tomorrow’s biggest trends.

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