Social Shopping is about to Grow Up

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By: Bryan Pearson |

Posted on December 26, 2018

Likes are nice, but buys are better business.

This is what several social media networks seem to think. Platforms from Snapchat to Facebook have been investing in retail to capture broader consumer interest and, apparently, boost revenue and followers.

Here’s what some social platforms are trying, and why it matters to shoppers.

The Sound of Brew-sic

Starbucks in 2015 integrated the Spotify mobile app with the Starbucks My Rewards program, making the platform the default music source in all 7,000 Starbucks-owned stores in the U.S.

Through the partnership, 15.3 million reward members can listen to Starbucks music on Spotify, influence store playlists and earn reward stars. Also, and importantly, the agreement specifies that Starbucks promote Spotify Premium.

At the time of the deal, Spotify was battling competition from rivals such as Apple Music and facing criticism from influential artists, like Taylor Swift, who said it didn’t fairly compensate music creators. But those Starbucks Rewards apparently encouraged Premium purchases: From the end of 2015 to the end of 2017, Premium Spotify subscribers rose to 71 million from 28 million, according to public records.

Friends On 34th Street

Yes, there is a Facebook clause, but this one is more about clothes than contracts. Facebook recently opened popup shops in nine Macy’s department store locations.

The shops, which will operate through Feb. 2 in stores from New York to San Francisco, showcase nearly 100 small-businesses and digital-native brands that advertise on Facebook. For Macy’s, the shops are an opportunity to attract customers with fresh brands that set it apart from online and brick stores.

Facebook, meanwhile, could be collecting intel to build a cohesive digital retail platform after several less-than-stellar attempts. Its Marketplace platform, operating now, is essentially digital classified ads. If Facebook could find a way to succeed online, its advertising and revenue per user could climb — even if active user numbers plateau, The Motley Fool reports.

Bought In A Snap

Snapchat found a shopping option true to its role — a channel that offers limited-time deals.

The feature, called Shop and Cop, sells goods from within the app, so users aren’t redirected to a retailer’s website. It operates through Shopify, the e-commerce shopping platform, but is curated by Snapchat and includes social influencer posts.

This isn’t Snapchat’s first retail rodeo. In October, Levi Strauss used its augmented reality lens so shoppers could virtually try on and buy Disney-themed apparel. In September, parent company Snap began testing  a function that enables users to point their Snapchat cameras at products or bar codes and search for them on Amazon.

The Shopify partnership expands the number of retailers from which Snapchat can offer deals, and in doing so widens the lens on its advertising opportunities and other collaborations.

That Perk Is So Instagrammable

Instagram in November added features to make it easier for users to shop the many products posted by brands and influencers on its platform, and in doing so keeping them from leaving the app.

Instagrammers now can shop from brand videos in their feeds, save eye-catching items to a “shopping collection” and grab a quick view of products in a brand’s posts. These functions follow the expansion of shopping options across the Instagram Stories feature.

Combined, these elements further bridge the narrowing gap between product discovery and purchase. They also expand the sales opportunities among sponsoring retailers because shoppers don’t have to leave the app and cull through a retailer’s website. That makes Instagram very, well, Instagrammable to merchants.

Shopping, Shop-pinned

Pinterest in the fall improved its on-platform shopping to include up-to-date pricing and stock information, a shopping recommendation section and the ability to shop right from the feed.

These enhancements equally improve Pinterest’s ability to understand its users, as they help the platform maintain real-time connections with retailer databases. And its retail partners stand to gain sales, which is likely enough encouragement for them to share. In the quarter it began testing these features, Pinterest said click-throughs to retail sites rose by 40%.

3 Reasons Shoppers Should Care

These efforts make it easy (and fast) for social media users to own the items they long for on posts. But there’s something in it for the media platforms as well. Here are three benefits shoppers might not think about.

Brand integrity. Social platforms have transformed influencer marketing into an industry, and now they want a share of it. It’s like when the most popular kid in school befriends you, and suddenly everyone thinks you’re popular. Spotify, for example, became cool to millions of new members by hanging out in Starbucks.

Location, loyalty, location. Many of these partnerships involve app downloads, which help all parties track member footprints. But Spotify’s relationship with Starbucks goes a step further because it’s rooted in the coffee chain’s popular rewards program. This enables Spotify to better understand its users in different environments so it can better curate its playlists — and get renewed memberships.

Market research: When it comes to social media’s currency, data represents the big bucks, and shopper purchase behavior is close to gold. Pinterest, with it updates, is reinforcing its connection with merchant databases. And while Facebook’s partnership with Macy’s may have an old-school feel, it could help it gauge the kinds of environments and experiences that encourage purchases.

As many platforms will confirm, a billion followers won’t guarantee financial success. Selling actual products, rather than a follower’s status, may be a sensible option. But as any retailer will confirm, there’s a lot of room for missteps. Social networks would be smart to follow the proven brands.

Bryan Pearson a Featured Contributor to The Wise Marketer and is the President of LoyaltyOne, where he has been leveraging the knowledge of 120 million customer relationships over 20 years to create relevant communications and enhanced shopper experiences. 

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Be sure to follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.