To deliver on the promise of social shopping, platforms and brands must come together to match interactive social experiences with flawlessly-executed commerce basics.

Imagine a world where social media experiences and online shopping seamlessly come together, revolutionizing how, where and when we shop.

Imagine a day in Sara's life...

Sara buys breakfast with 1 click

Sara wakes up to a notification from her social platform that her go-to coffee shop posted a new breakfast special. She taps the picture to add it to her order (which the app autofills for her) and checks out with one tap. She picks it up on her way to work.

Sara gets an in-app bulk buy discount

At work, Sara checks her phone and her brother invited her to buy wine through the app’s group buying feature to get a bulk discount. Sara hasn’t tried this blend, but the reviews are positive and the price is right, so she joins.

Sara tries on sunglasses in AR

During lunch, Sara and her friends simultaneously browse sunglasses within the same app on their phones and her friends add their picks to her cart. Sara uses an AR feature to try on her favorites in a video chat with her friends to decide. She uses her crypto wallet to buy a pair for her avatar.

Sara gets commission from a curated brand's app

After work, Sara meets her friend Chloe for a workout. When Chloe asks where Sara got her leggings, Sara sends her a link to purchase them from the storefront she personally curated on the app with products from her favorite activewear brand. She loves making commission off products she believes in.

Sara buys directly from a livestream

At night, Sara watches her favorite creator livestream her new hairdryer. Sara’s stylist had recommended it, but seeing it live during the stream seals the deal – she buys it from the video. She books a hair appointment on her stylist’s profile and sends her inspiration photos via chat.

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Earning permission to play, compete and win

So what’s happening here? It’s the power of social commerce in action. Radically different from traditional commerce, it taps into the power of people and community, weaving the shopping experience into our everyday lives.

Our first essay, Why the future of shopping is set for a social revolution, explored why this is set to become a $1 trillion+ market. We examined how social media platforms and brands can come together to deliver on the potential of social commerce. In this essay, we will outline the social commerce experience that shoppers really want and identify the vital keys to unlock this opportunity and turn it into a profitable channel.

As businesses move to capture this opportunity, they need to serve social shoppers as their demands for social commerce experiences evolve.

To earn permission to play with the social features which our research shows drive the greatest value, brands and platforms must make sure they provide the capabilities and experiences customers want. So, if they’re targeting immature social shoppers, that means investing first in getting the basics right and earning trust (see graphic below).

Only once they’ve laid those non-negotiable foundations will they earn permission to compete and, ultimately, to win.

Optimizing the social commerce experience

Graphic depicting the level of social commerce adoption from immature shoppers to evolving and mature shoppers.
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First, invest in the brilliant basics

As Sara’s story shows, the social commerce experience is about much more than content. Success depends on a seamless experience. To get this right, brands and platforms must double-down on the brilliant basics of digital commerce that companies have been developing for years.

This is backed by our research (see graphic below). Accenture found that 8 of the 10 most important aspects of a social commerce experience are digital commerce basics, including easy returns and refunds, ratings and reviews from other buyers, and purchase notifications.

Creating a trusted experience built on those basics is table-stakes for achieving success at scale. Why? Because if a shopper like Sara isn’t sure that she’ll receive what she’s ordered promptly, or be able to easily exchange something if it’s not quite right, she may hesitate before clicking ‘buy’. Or maybe never click at all.

Top 10 features for a social commerce experience

The top 10 features for a social commerce experience in order: 1.) Easy returns/refunds 2.) clear descriptions 3.) rewards 4.) ratings 5.) notifications 6.) discount codes 7.) data protection 8.) deals 9.) in-app checkout 10.) livestreams
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…because without them, you won’t build trust

The graphic below shows shoppers’ biggest concern with using social commerce: Trust. A lack of trust in several aspects of the current social commerce experience is holding back those who have yet to make social purchases.

Barriers indicate challenges in converting hesitant users, and improving the experience for shoppers

Barriers indicate challenges in converting hesitant users, and improving the experience for shoppers.

To convert first-time buyers (and get the added benefits listed below), platforms and brands must focus on establishing trust throughout the experience. Priorities include offering hassle-free purchase protection and refunds to protect buyers and build purchase confidence, putting measures in place to ensure product quality/authenticity, and focusing on reliable fulfilment.

Our research shows that compared to people who have never made a social commerce purchase, those who have recently done so are:

1.4X

as likely to buy from the same seller/shop/influencer again

2X

as likely to buy a brand they have not heard of before

2X

as likely to buy a bundle of products or services that have been recommended together

Platforms and brands need to collectively decide whose responsibility it should be to pay for and provide capabilities like these – from purchase to delivery. An example of this kind of collaboration? Nike working with Instagram to help them develop their in-app payment capability.

Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what cool social commerce features are being offered to them: shoppers still won’t want to make purchases through this channel – and companies will be unable to realize the opportunity.

Then create an engaging social commerce experience

Once hesitant users have been converted, the power of the features that are unique to social commerce really kicks in. According to our econometric model, these are the principal drivers of increased social commerce spend. In our research, consumers singled out livestreaming, curated content feeds, seller consultations, and influencer recommendations as some of the main features that will prompt them to spend more through social commerce.

In truth, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to crafting the perfect social experience, and consumers clearly value different social features when they’re buying different categories of products. Just because some categories are more expensive and/or “higher risk” does not mean there isn’t a market for them via social commerce. It just means that the earlier stages of the experience – where consumers are evaluating a product – become more important.

This includes offering virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) capabilities: nearly one in three (30%) consumers identified VR testing as a top 10 “must have” feature in a social commerce experience when buying luxury goods. An example? Prada and Farfetch being among the first brands to use Snapchat’s AR tools so users could try on outfits and accessories.

We also found that brand familiarity influences the importance consumers place on specific social features. When shoppers know a brand well, they look for capabilities like shoppable posts and visual search that enable them to discover products that speak to them as individuals. When brands are less familiar, shoppers attach more importance to features that help them make purchase decisions, such as virtual auctions, live group chats, VR testing and livestreams.

Global appetite for social commerce

Before they can move on to prioritizing features like these, brands and platforms in Western markets, where social commerce is less mature, need to focus on getting the basics right.

In other more mature markets, notably in Asia, we’re already seeing social commerce features and shoppable moments being integrated much more seamlessly into consumers’ everyday lives. And it’s clear that in markets where this has already happened, social commerce really takes off.

Ahead of the curve in some markets…

What does this look like? Take China. There, social shopping can happen in many ways. A consumer might buy directly from an official WeChat account while chatting with friends, or in one of WeChat or Alipay’s “mini programs” for a brand that has advertised in a friend’s social circle. Entertainment and shopping are fully integrated too. A Chinese consumer watching a livestream on Taobao Live can directly add a product to their cart and check out. Or they might follow a friend’s recommendation to join a group to buy a product at a discount on Pinduoduo.

China’s social commerce experience is ahead of the curve. In other markets, where brands and platforms have yet to provide integrated experiences, we’re seeing consumers who are so eager for social commerce that they’re willing to jump through a number of hoops to engage and make it happen.

…informal workarounds in others…

An example of this type of informal workaround came from a shopper we spoke to in Brazil: she told us that she watches Instagram stories from a local clothing store, sends screenshots of the items she likes to the store via WhatsApp, then receives a link to pay the store via Pix.

While all these hacks qualify as social commerce, they’re a long way from the seamless shopping experiences we see elsewhere. Imagine the potential that truly seamless experiences could unlock.

…so no room for one-size-fits-all approaches

As social commerce evolves to reach its full potential, it won’t follow the same path everywhere. While our research shows that basics like the quality of checkout experience and security are critical for all consumers, preferences vary across markets. That means that what it takes to succeed will differ from region to region.

Many factors are at play, all of them influencing the styles of social commerce that will appeal most (see graphic below). These adoption factors include current familiarity with social commerce, of course, but also the extent to which a market is mobile-first, consumer attitudes towards shopping, the existence of messenger app ecosystems, socio-economic conditions and many others.

The evolution of social commerce by country

Graphic depicting the evolution of social commerce by country.
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So, what are the implications?

Brands and platforms will need to take into account the relative maturity of their target consumers as they tailor their social commerce strategies. As they do this, there are two aspects to consider:

  1. For new and inexperienced social shoppers, it’s all about earning trust by delivering the brilliant basics. As shoppers become more familiar with social commerce, enhancing social capabilities becomes the focus.
  2. With mature social shoppers, delivering differentiated experiences through the optimal blend of social and commerce capabilities is paramount.

Implications for brands: The decision to invest in capabilities will be tied to the importance of the channel in the overall mix. For most brands, experimentation through partnerships is probably the preferable play right now. But even if they don’t build social capabilities themselves, they will need to adjust their operating models and make their own set of decisions about which engagement models to use and routes to market to leverage in order to “win” in social commerce. We’ll be covering this in depth in our next essay.

Implications for platforms: The build/buy/partner question is key. For many social platforms, it will likely be better to invest in capabilities in the upfront part of the shopper journey, or in tools to support the broader user-base (e.g. sellers, influencers, creators), which is where a platform will derive competitive advantage versus other social platforms. With trust and commerce basics established as “permission to play” capabilities, it makes less sense for platforms to build these themselves as (a) getting them right is critical to social commerce adoption and (b) their differentiation and permission to win will come in other ways.

To achieve their respective strategic goals as rapidly and efficiently as possible, brands and platforms may choose to develop must-have capabilities via ecosystem partnerships that play to their strengths and capabilities. Alignment of the right strategic partners will be crucial. So will transparency and data-sharing across the ecosystem operating model.

With the right partnership structures in place, both platforms and brands will realize new opportunities. Assuming they build the right commerce features/capabilities, social media platforms will be in a strong position to benefit from the surge in social commerce adoption. As well as reducing their reliance on advertising revenues, it will enable them to engage with users on a deeper level through commerce.

Brands, meanwhile, will benefit from sales driven directly through social commerce, new ways to engage with and understand consumers, and improved brand equity to engage with consumers directly – assuming they embrace an omnichannel approach and leverage new sources of data and enhanced data analytics.

Coming up next

In our next essay, we’ll zoom in on how brands can determine where to play and how to win in social commerce. And we’ll identify how brands’ social commerce strategies should differ to account for the product categories they sell, their target consumers, and their broader strategic goals.

About the Authors

Robin Murdoch

Managing Director – Software & Platforms, Global Lead


Oliver Wright

Senior Managing Director – Consumer Goods & Services, Global Lead


Karen Fang Grant

Global Research Lead – Industry Networks & Programs


Kevin Collins

Managing Director – Software & Platforms, Innovation & Offerings, Global


Laura McCracken

Managing Director, Global eCommerce & Payments – Industry Lead, Software & Platforms

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