While still in its infancy, over the past year social media giants from Facebook to Twitter have invested in new features to help brands sell products through their platforms. From livestream events to digital stores, platforms that have largely been known for connecting people to each other are now looking to prove they are capable of driving retail sales.
These tech companies are looking to claim a share of the $36.6 billion that’s up for grabs in retail social commerce, according to eMarketer, up from $27 billion in 2020. And it is estimated that social commerce will reach $56 billion by 2023.
As brands gear up for the all-important holiday shopping season, here’s a look at the new shopping features social platforms rolled out in 2021 and how brands can tap into these capabilities.
Last year, Facebook rolled out Shops, a feature that lets businesses upload products to their Facebook page. The feature was meant to give small businesses struggling in the pandemic an easy way to set up online shopping.
Facebook has been expanding Shops integrations in 2021, along with its overall commerce features, with the biggest push being Facebook Live. In April, Petco did its first live adoption event and fashion show on Facebook, and it later hosted another live event around the Olympics.
Other brands tried live shopping this summer when Facebook kicked off Live Shopping Fridays, a three-month-long event that featured brands including Alleyoop, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, Clinique, Dermalogica, Dolce Vita, Murad, Sephora, and Zox. Each brand got to host three, 30-minute long livestreams.
Brands like Benefit Cosmetics, Cocokind, Macy’s, Paintbox Nails, Ulta Beauty and Walmart are hosting daily livestreams on Facebook throughout November to encourage customers to shop ahead of the holidays.
During a Clubhouse conversation in March 2021, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that there are over 1 million active Shops, and more than 250 million people interacting with Shops every month.
TikTok has already proven itself to be a driver of offline sales. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has been viewed over 6 billion times. The app has leaned into its “word of mouth” review status, launching several partnerships and new ads to cater to a buying audience. TikTok has been credited with driving sales for brands like The Pink Stuff, for example.
In 2021, TikTok looked to evolve its sales capabilities to actually allow for users to buy products through the app. In August, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify, allowing Shopify for Business accounts to add a “Shop” tab to their TikTok profiles. Shopify merchants can also tag products in organic posts. This ultimately allows buyers to checkout within the app.
TikTok also introduced collection ads, which show viewers a gallery of other products when they click on the ad; and dynamic showcase ads, which are customized ads created using templates. TikTok also incorporated shoppable links and livestream events.
In January, Pinterest rolled out virtual try-ons for eyeshadow and expanded it to include lipstick. Pinterest then expanded its partnership with Shopify so merchants could turn items into shoppable pins.
Pinterest also made it easier for users to find those products, rolling out a “Shop” tab that automatically aggregated saved pins that can be shopped and linked out directly to a retailer’s checkout page. The platform also added product tagging so merchants can tag multiple products in a photo. Product tagging was expanded to creators in July with shoppable idea pins and paid partnership labels so creators could monetize through brand partnerships.
Pinterest users were given the ability to shop with their phone cameras by taking or uploading a photo to see shoppable pins that are similar to their image.
In October, two new ad formats were rolled out: Slideshow for collection ads pull from product catalogs to make a multi-product video ad; and with idea ads, a brand can turn a creator pin into an ad. Creators can also now make idea pins automatically shoppable using Pinterest’s “shop similar” feature.
Most recently, Pinterest introduced livestreamed episodes hosted by creators where viewers can see products and get discounts from brands including Patagonia, Allbirds, Crown Affair, Melody Ehsani, Outdoor Voices and Mented.
The camera app has been leaning into its AR lens capabilities this year. At its Snap Partner Summit in May, the company built upon the brand profile feature it rolled out last year, where brands can house profile videos, shoppable product catalogues and branded lenses. This year, profiles, and those shopping links, were opened up to merchants with a Shopify account. Apparel brands like American Eagle, Ralph Lauren and Levi’s have also partnered with Snap to release Bitmoji clothing lines for users’ Snapchat avatars.
Snapchat’s virtual try-on lenses already include makeup, hats, eyewear, jewelry, watches and bags. This year, the company did more to incorporate 3D body scanning technology to let Snapchat users see how apparel would look on them through AR try-on. In July, Snap acquired 3D AR developer Vertebrae to help the app offer digital apparel and asset creation as a service to brands.
Snap users can also now use Scan Shopping to scan an outfit to shop for similar looks. The company also introduced an addition to Scan Shopping called Screenshop, which allows users to shop from a screenshot uploaded to the Memories section. This feature is only available to a small percent of Snapchat users in the U.S.
In August, the company unveiled Snap Trends, a site where marketers can see what’s been trending on the app in the last 30 to 90 days. Users can enter any keyword, topic or product name to see how it has performed over time.
Most recently, Snap rolled out “sponsored by” tags that show collaborations between brands and creators that link back to the brand’s profile.
On the agency side, Snap announced a partnership with WPP that gave its clients an inside track into using Snap’s AR technology and resources, with a focus on e-commerce. The partnership included classes from Snap on how to use its AR technology, creative production and campaign measurement. In October, Snap launched Arcadia, its new AR studio for brands.
Twitter introduced business profiles earlier this year, giving businesses a place to feature store hours and links to their website. It added a Shop Module in July, which lets users buy products from the top of these profiles without leaving the app.
The product carousels seem to be doing well: During the company’s 2021 third-quarter earnings call, Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said, “On the direct response side, the multi-destination carousel is improving click-through rates by 20%, which gives you a good sense for why this is attracting more and more advertisers and more and more dollars to our service.”
Thus far, Twitter has predominantly focused its shopping capabilities on small businesses.
Instagram has been focusing on building up its Shop section, which launched last year. In May, the platform introduced a “Drops” tab, which features limited-edition or just-launched products. The platform allowed brands to place ads in the Shop tab in August.
At its first Creator Week in June, Instagram gave creators the ability to monetize brand partnerships with affiliate links. It also added product links in post captions.
Like its Meta sibling brand Facebook, Instagram will also have live shopping events in the Shop tab, with a category dedicated to “Holiday Picks.”