The pandemic has undeniably disrupted the global offline retail landscape, with brands having faced varying degrees of closure, lockdown or traffic restrictions at their offline points of sale over the past year or so. However, this situation has led to an alternative sales approach – social commerce – gaining traction with brands. To compensate for the absence of physical touchpoints, brands and sales associates have started turning to social media or instant messaging applications to keep up communications with consumers and boost brand performance during this difficult period.
The eTail Asia Virtual Summit & Expo 2021, which took place from 18 to 20 May this year, invited brand representatives, marketing agencies and tech companies to dive into this trend in a panel discussion on Driving Revenue with Social Commerce. Moderated by Frank Ravanelli, APAC Digital Media & Marketing Operations Lead & Global Head of Affiliates at Foreo, industry experts examined how brands can capitalise on this rising phenomenon to meet consumers where they are at and drive conversions.
Alexander Belyakov, Chief Business Development Officer at digital communications service provider Edna noted that “the shopping experience has always been social and conversational.” Previously, this conversation only took place largely offline. But with the development of social media and e-commerce channels in recent years, the consumer journey has become more sophisticated. Not only do consumers have specific preferences on the channels that they choose to communicate with brands on, conversions are also happening across a wider range of platforms.
There are several types of consumer journeys in the social commerce landscape today, explains Anil Srinivas Chilla, Chief Digital Officer at L’Oréal India. The first sees brands driving conversions on traditional social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram by having conversations with consumers; the second has brands redirecting consumers with content to their DTC channels (such as the brand’s official site) to make a purchase; and the third has them leveraging instant messaging tools such as WhatsApp to nurture leads and prompting them to visit offline stores and complete the purchase journey.
The enhanced functionalities of social media today have fuelled the development of social commerce. Whether on Instagram or Facebook in the West, or RED and Douyin in China, platforms are all building up their own e-commerce infrastructure, allowing users to make purchases without having to jump to an external site. “We have observed a convergence of social platforms and e-commerce platforms in China,” says DLG (Digital Luxury Group)’s Partner & Managing Director China Pablo Mauron. “And now, brands are focusing on how to provide a seamless consumer journey within the channel itself, because all of them now have that ability to capture profiles at an intention level and then drive them to a purchase.”
As a result of this consolidation, it is even more important for brands to offer the right type of content to engage audiences. Besides branded content, word-of-mouth communications on social media can be a great way to drive conversions. Shawn Tan, Head of Singapore & Regional Brand Strategy at TikTok, highlighted the role of community, pointing out that 30 per cent of users already use TikTok as a channel to discover new products. The hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, for instance, has received 2.6 billion views, with users sharing videos of their purchases and experiences. At the same time, the hashtag #ShopeeHaul, created by e-commerce marketplace Shopee, has already garnered 5.2 billion views on the platform.
As consumer preferences evolve, authentic user generated content (UGC) is not only more likely to boost engagement but also to lead to conversions. “I think brands play a major role in this ecosystem, and that’s because they localise and adapt these trends in their local campaigns,” says Tan.
Content aside, brands also need to develop services within the platform to engage with consumers along different stages of the consumer journey. While it is important to generate interest through content, brands need to also make sure that they are able to follow up and convert this interest into a sale. “We can do livestreams or run ads, but when you see customers actually engaging with you through comments or reviews, and if you are not replying to them or engaging back with them, then it is a bit of a monologue from the brand to the customer,” says Manvi Kathuria, APAC General Manager, E-commerce at leading luxury fragrance distributor Luxasia.
With all its benefits, the rise of social commerce also brings with it new challenges for brands. As the number of platforms and their functionalities continue to grow, brands will be faced with an ever-widening range of options. The onus is on brands to set clear goals and objectives, and select the relevant channels to work with based on that. “Do not ever forget who your audience is,” emphasises says Belyakov. “Each [platform] has a quite different audience and depending on what you are selling, it’s very important when you consider this channel as an engagement platform or for sales purposes.”
“New” marketing techniques such as social commerce and livestreaming actually started long before the epidemic – COVID-19 just simply served to accelerate their development, says Mauron. What brands need to do now is to take this as an opportunity to test and learn, figure out if these approaches are a good fit for their business, and how best to integrate them in the post-pandemic era. “Now is the right time for [brands] to have a strong post-pandemic plan. They can spend more time doing analysis and trying to see what [their] customers actually want, after this,” says Jean Thomas, Chief Marketing Officer at e-commerce fashion label, Pomelo Fashion.
Visit eTail Asia to find out more about its upcoming events. A replay of this panel discussion at the recent eTail Asia Virtual Summit & Expo 2021 can also be accessed at the link below.
Driving Revenue With Social Commerce