Social Commerce: How Retailers Are Reaching Customers and Boosting Sales through Social Media

•Social_ThinkstockPhotos-180111644Early last year, Pinterest and Instagram both began rolling out new “buy buttons” that allow Pinners and Instagrammers not just to browse and scroll and admire, but to buy the items they see. For retailers, this creates the possibility of instant gratification for your customers—they see it; they can get it!—or what marketers are calling “frictionless buying”: simple and easy shopping for the consumer. So what’s in it for independent brick-and-mortar dance storeowners?

Initially limited to large brands and big retailers, the buy buttons are now being made more widely available to smaller merchants. By October, Pinterest announced it had 60 million buyable pins, double the number from just a few months before.

Mainly, stores are using buy buttons as an additional sales channel to throw into the mix. In an era of omnichannel and mobile shopping, they help you reach your existing customers wherever they are and also give you the chance to discover new customers. “It’s important for merchants to be able to sell where their customers are spending time, and more and more that’s on social-media networks,” a rep from e-commerce platform Shopify told DRN. (Shopify has partnered with Pinterest to give small retailers access to the buy buttons.) “For a lot of merchants, this is where they engage with their customers and where their products get discovered. So now they can turn that traffic into sales.”

Brooklyn, NY–based Madesmith, which sells handmade goods, has been using Pinterest Buy It buttons since they were introduced. “Pinterest’s visual discovery aspect has allowed us to showcase our products in a design-focused environment that fits our brand,” says co-founder Nadia Rasul. The Pinterest sales channel now brings in 7 percent of the company’s sales—all from new customers. Rasul says Madesmith is hoping to try Instagram’s shoppable features very soon.

Dance storeowners already understand what a great fit dance products are for these very visual social media. So what exactly are the new selling features, and how do they work?

Pinterest “Buy” Button

Along with red Pin It buttons, blue Buy It buttons can be added to product photos (pins). Customers using an iPhone or iPad will be able to click the Buy It button and purchase the item without leaving Pinterest, paying either by credit card or Apple Pay. Buyable pins are only available in the U.S., at the moment.

What is the market? There are more than 100 million active monthly pinners. In the U.S., more than 80 percent are women and about two-thirds of active pinners are under 40—a demographic matching the key customers for dance stores. And people come to Pinterest with buying on their minds: Earlier research from Millward Brown found that 93 percent of Pinners use Pinterest to plan purchases, and 87 percent have purchased something because of Pinterest. (Plus, Shopify puts the average purchase at $50.) So “buyable pins make it seamless to go from planning to purchase,” according to Michael Yamartino of Pinterest.

To use Pinterest Buy It buttons, retailers must go through one of Pinterest’s partner e-commerce platforms: Demandware (demandware.com/pages/pinterest) or Shopify (shopify.com/pinterest), and, as of October 2015, also Bigcommerce (bigcommerce.com/pinterest), IBM Commerce (ibm.com/commerce/us-en/ecommerce) and Magento (creatuity.com/pinterest-buyable-pins-magento). Pinterest also has a waiting list of e-commerce platforms, which may offer more options in
the future.

Pinterest’s blue Buy It buttons enable customers using iPhones and iPads to purchase items without leaving Pinterest.
Pinterest’s blue Buy It buttons enable customers using iPhones and iPads to purchase items without leaving Pinterest.

Pinterest doesn’t take a cut of your sales. (It counts on making money on ads: retailers paying for promoted pins that expose their products to a wider audience.) But you need an e-commerce platform. E-commerce platform costs and plans vary; Shopify, for instance, starts at $29/month with the Pinterest option. Once you have a Shopify account and set up your storefront, adding the Pinterest sales channel is free (and very simple, according to Rasul: You can pick and choose which pins get the Buy It button). Shopify can integrate with a brick-and-mortar store’s POS and inventory system; “It’s easiest when the store is already using Shopify’s POS system,” according to Shopify’s rep.

Instagram Shop Now

Think of Instagram as the place to reach teen dancers. It has 400 million active monthly users worldwide, about 100 million in the U.S., and
is considered the most important social network by more American teens than any other network, according to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report.

Instagram’s shoppable feature works a little differently from Pinterest’s. Shop Now buttons only appear on Instagram advertising; in October, self-serve ads were offered to more smaller businesses, but not to all, yet. A notice indicates that “Instagram advertising is gradually rolling out and may not be available to you right now.” (Having a good Instagram following is certainly a good first step.)

The first step is to connect your Instagram account to Facebook. Businesses with access to Instagram advertising will be able to create ads on a self-serve basis, using Facebook’s Power Editor. (Facebook owns Instagram.) To explore whether you have this option and to find out what it will cost, visit facebook.com/business/help/976240832426180. Advertisers will be able to target their audience by demographics and interest, using all the powerful analytics and tools Facebook has developed.

When a customer clicks the Shop Now button below a sponsored image, a mini-browser will launch with a link to the retailer’s e-commerce site, where all transactions
will take place. When that browser
is closed, the customer will be back on Instagram.

Third-party options, such as Soldsie (which works with Shopify) also make it possible to sell via
Instagram. Followers comment “sold” on an Instagram product photo to initiate the purchase. And then there’s DIY: With more than 10,000 followers on two Instagram sites, vintage clothing seller Fox & Fawn sells items through the comments feature on Instagram and ships them out through their Brooklyn brick-and-mortar stores, where customers have their credit cards on file. (For more, see shopfoxandfawn.com/instagram.)

Fulfillment and Shipping

With both Pinterest and Instagram buy functions, your store still “owns” the relationship with the customer, from fulfillment through customer service. There are many apps to help merchants with fufillment and shipping. For instance, Shopify merchants can now print out mailing labels with discounted USPS rates right from within the e-commerce platform.

As for succeeding with the new buy buttons, here’s Madesmith’s advice: “Our number-one tip is to use high-quality, beautiful, clean and inspiring photos and make sure you write detailed descriptions that tell the story behind your products,” says Rasul. On Pinterest, since the sale happens without leaving Pinterest, it’s also important to make sure that all your product data, such as size and price, is complete and up-to-date, right there in your pin.

E-commerce is growing fast on social-media platforms, so check back regularly with Pinterest and Instagram as they refine their offerings and make them more widely available.

From top: Thinkstock; courtesy of Pinterest

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