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Is the social commerce revolution finally happening?

Social commerce has long been hailed as the next big thing but it has yet to really take off for consumers. Drapers discovers what Asos, Skyscanner and Domino’s Pizza are focusing on for the next stage in the social landscape.

Viber instant shopping

Viber instant shopping

Viber instant shopping

“Social commerce has made lots of promises but not quite delivered yet,” said Caroline Lucas-Garner, strategy director at creative agency We Are Social at an event in London on 26 April, which debated various strategies for bots, buy buttons and instant messenger commerce.

“There are some big numbers being bandied about on what it is going to deliver, various trials and case studies, but not much evidence of success. The reality is that people mainly purchase on a normal website.”

Asos started a trial on WhatsApp around a year ago because its twentysomething target market is more active on mobile than any other channel, revealed the etailer’s acting global head of content, social media and broadcast, Morgan Fitzsimons.

Social networks are becoming new online marketplaces

Morgan Fitzsimons, acting global head of content, social media and broadcast, Asos

The use of search is declining generally across the industry and for Asos, it is declining even faster, which makes the product-discovery journey more fragmented.

“Social networks are becoming new online marketplaces,” she said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time, but now we have a wealth of data to back it up.”

She said social commerce makes shopping friction free but that a “buy” button “just doesn’t cut it”.

“As we’ve been experimenting, we’ve found that a focus on brand messaging can actually increase conversion,” she explained. “The executive team want to see sales but we’ve proved that increasing the top funnel can improve metrics.”

Asos previously had a three-tiered approach to social media, covering organic, paid and dynamic product ads (DPA), but it has now introduced a more blended strategy to focus on brand awareness through to consideration and conversion.

She gave an example of a recent denim campaign: the first stage was a video showing what Asos is as a brand; the second phase retargeting anyone who has interacted with the video to show more of a shopping experience; and the third was a DPA to say: “Remember that video? Want to buy any of these jeans?”

“Our DPA didn’t previously have the same creative filter, as it wasn’t in the same team. But now we’ve merged that whole journey together, we’ve seen some great results.”

Trial and error

Fitzsimons admitted that, while Asos had had a lot of successes, it has not always got everything right. Its Black Friday campaign on Snapchat, for example, ran for 24 hours with various filters and had “huge reach and engagement”, but Asos failed to follow up with any targeted sales messages.

“Snapchat advertising is very expensive and to not follow up was clearly a mistake,” she said.

She encouraged retailers to keep testing and learning. “You have to be comfortable adapting and iterating.”

Sam Poullain, senior growth marketing manager at Skyscanner, explained that the travel firm is focused on the potential for chatbots and is keen to stay ahead of the curve.

Facebook discover

Facebook discover

Facebook discover

Skyscanner was the first travel company to sign up to Facebook’s new Discover tab on Messenger and said it is seeing good take-up, although it is early days. However, Poullain advised that it was important to strike the right balance between human interactions and bots.

“Bots can bring huge efficiencies in customer service but we soon realised that a lot of people using it just wanted to speak to a human, so we introduced a ‘talk to a human’ button for more complex questions,” he said.

He suggested brands and retailers should first identify the customers’ biggest problems and work on one or two things before scaling up from there.

“Treat users as if they have downloaded an app for the first time,” he suggested. “Onboarding and understanding are critical because one swipe and they’re gone.”

Domino’s, meanwhile, introduced an early Facebook Messenger chatbot last summer, which allowed users to order a pizza by just typing the word or using the emoji. In February this year, it updated the bot to allow customers to place a whole order.

The Domino’s bot is called Dom and has been designed to be playful and chatty, yet honest and reliable. When you place an order, for example, he would reply with: “Great call on making an order.”

“He doesn’t sound like a normal chatbot,” explained Hayley Tillson, senior digital marketing manager at Domino’s, who described how Domino’s and We Are Social focused on ensuring the bot could respond appropriately to any awkward requests or inappropriate language.

At the end of last year US TV channel Comedy Central asked Dom a series of silly questions about topics ranging from Pokémon Go to Brexit and existential philosophy, and concluded it was “very funny and all in all 10/10, would chat again”.

Tillson advised brands and retailers looking to invest in bots to develop a character first, find the right balance between conversation and commerce, and be prepared for the internet to put any efforts to the test.

As almost 2.8 billion people around the world now use social media at least once a month – more than 91% of them via mobile devices – it is clear social commerce has lots of potential. But “one size” strategy does not fit all, so brands and retailers need to think carefully about what they are trying to achieve. Tech for tech’s sake just won’t work. 

Social developments to watch

We Are Social’s Caroline Lucas-Garner pointed to three interesting new initiatives from Instagram, Viber and Facebook, which she said could provide new opportunities in the customer journey from consideration to conversion.

  • Instagram’s Tap to View

Instagram tap to view

Instagram tap to view

Instagram tap to view

Instagram began trialling “Tap to View” in the US last year with brands such as Kate Spade and JackThreads, where you can tag up to five products in a post and list their prices. Once a tag is selected a new detailed view of the product will open. The functionality aims to bring important product information to the consumer earlier in the journey, without having to leave the Instagram app to search. Then, if the consumer taps the “Shop Now” link from the product details view, they will go directly to that product on the brand’s website, making it easier for them to buy the product they want.

  • Viber’s Instant Shopping

Messaging app Viber introduced “Instant Shopping” in beta in the US in March, and plans to gradually roll it out worldwide. It works by bringing a variety of brands and products to shopper’s chats, allowing them to access products to buy while discussing with friends. With the tap of a button, users can open a menu of options, browse and share products directly into their chats. When they want to buy, another tap will take them to the brand’s website so they can complete an order or speak to a company customer care representative.

  • Facebook’s Discover tab in Messenger

Facebook launched a new Discover section in Messenger earlier this month, where users can browse and find bots, nearby places and businesses to message. Facebook wants the bots to sit in the background of the conversations people are having on Messenger, piping up when the bot can be of assistance. The Discover tab helps users find businesses that can be directly contacted on Messenger.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Last week half of the latest news items on concerned online fashion businesses. If further evidence was needed that social media has evolved from a promotional channel to a shopping channel in its own right, this was it.

    But with the opportunity which social media offers fashion brands comes risk - primarily in the form of damage to brand.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Is the social commerce revolution about to happen?

    No. Certainly not for fashion.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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