Social commerce has exploded in popularity over the last six months, with retailers using the social space to appeal to a new audience and take advantage of the online retail boom. We spoke to Kevin Huang, the Vice President APAC at Smartly.io, to examine the changing consumer behaviour, responses to s-commerce and how it will impact retailers in an uncertain future.
Social media has been experiencing history-making changes in the last six months. What have been some of the most significant changes that Smartly.io has seen in the year?
When the world went crazy, advertisers pulled back on budgets and the price of social advertising came down dramatically at the onset of the pandemic. While it has been hard to advertise in this new environment, ad performance has actually improved in many industries as a result of consumers engaging more and brands finding ways to be relevant in their ad creatives. Now, competition is back with many brands shifting budgets from more traditional offline media to social. More than ever before, advertisers need to find ways to be relevant in their ad creatives to keep performance levels consistent.
We surveyed thousands of consumers globally and found out that shopping based on social ads has increased during these new times; 39 percent of Aussies are more open to engaging with ads on social media and 37 percent saw ads from brands they haven’t purchased before at the onset of the pandemic. As the initial shock of the pandemic started to wear off and consumers adjusted to the new reality, Australian consumers have found themselves less receptive to engaging with social media ads compared to early on in the pandemic. A significant 25 percent of Aussies are however still looking to buy products and services directly from social media channels.
For brands, this means that ads will need to be even more personalized and relevant to break through and capture consumer attention. Although consumers might be less overtly engaged, social media still defines the majority of their daily touchpoints so there is still an opportunity to reach this large, captive audience.
Social media has begun blending e-commerce into the mix, thus becoming a new way for Aussies to shop. What trends do you expect to see from s-commerce in the next six months?
I can only see s-commerce rising with more innovative ads relying on signals to enhance the customer experience. Aussies are among the top three consumers globally where more than half of the consumers do not have a spending limit for items bought through social media. Printed catalogues have now been overtaken by digital circulars on social media. Even being within the proximity of a supermarket, Aussies now see the latest deals and get directions to the closest store. Leading advertisers that Smartly.io has worked with, have also taken advantage of third-party API data such as the weather to automate creatives – consumers see ads with products fit for rain or a sunny day, for example.
Since the announcement of the pandemic by WHO, millions of people around the world have turned to social media to stay connected, and discover new retailers to support during trying times. How do you believe consumers are reacting to the increasing use of social media, and how can retailers take advantage of it?
Sixty-one percent of consumers globally say that spending time with family and friends is the number one reason for using social media now (up slightly from our first round of survey in May), while 32 percent use it to uncover new products and services.
The number of businesses embarking on s-commerce has increased since the pandemic but as mentioned earlier, the re-opening of stores has led to a drop in social ads engagement compared to when the pandemic started. This said, the year-end peak season sales are here now and engagement is back on the rise as – 46 percent of shoppers expect to find holiday gifts through social ads and – 57 percent find social ads helpful in finding new products and gift ideas
Another whitespace advertising opportunity that brands ought to take advantage of, is the Q5 period. We usually think of Q5 as a period where consumers are laying low after the holidays. However, people are shopping, just with a slightly different mindset. Competition in Q5 is much lower than Q4 – rising CPMs in Q4 leading up to Christmas take an almost immediate drop and continue to swing down until the middle of January where it starts to level out again – so making a splash is easier. We’ve seen retailers tailor campaigns on social to show consumers how they can live their best life – and achieve astounding results.
Consumer behaviour has dramatically changed in the last eight months. What are some preferred ad types, content and trends in retail that Smartly.io has seen?
When we look at industry-specific trends, fashion is surprisingly top of consumers’ minds this year. Fashion products take priority as the item that Aussies are most prepared to purchase over the next 30 days (August to September). Electronic product purchases via social ads have declined just slightly while beauty and furniture purchases have remained about the same.
Specific to social advertising, video remains the most preferred ad format. Messaging and chat bot have grown just a little during the last six months. The one content type that has grown the most during COVID-19 is Stories. Australian consumers’ preference for Stories has almost doubled since May, the highest across all markets that we surveyed. Advertisers are spending more time creating stories-specific creatives, leading to higher quality ads.
Social media platforms connect people around the world to new brands every single day. What are some opportunities for brands to try to present themselves to a new market online?
Be in it now. Consumers are already searching for new products and services for the peak year-end season, and even during Q5. Social media presents a great opportunity for brands to test and iterate what resonates with their audience and discover different segments – simply because everyone can buy the same thing but for different reasons.
Winning advertisers will keep monitoring consumer behaviour closely and adapt their advertising channels and messages accordingly. This new normal for social advertising gives a lot of opportunities for brands that are fast to adapt but also opens doors to new advertisers that are only now finding that they can reach consumers on social during these times.
Now more than ever, the world has been united via social media. How has this changed consumer shopping behaviour, and how will the rest of the world’s changes influence the Australian online consumer?
Globalisation has enabled cross-border businesses and resultantly, a more well-informed society in Australia. Consumers are increasingly using social media as a discovery channel and/or to complement their research journey online. From looking for good deals and information about pricing offers, the digital activity will likely continue to do so past the pandemic as many experience a tougher economic climate and job uncertainties.
This year has proven that companies need to be prepared for anything that is thrown their way. What can retailers and advertisers do to prepare for an uncertain future?
Digital disruptors are already changing the way consumers shop, but now many traditional companies are pivoting to digitized service models that are redefining how they approach consumer engagement and user acquisition. Brands that quickly accelerated their transition to offer timely and relevant digital services and products saw huge success in ad performance and will be able to translate that to more consistent brand advocacy.
Going forward even past the pandemic, the ability to adapt to changing consumer demands and find ways to reach consumers in a targeted, personalized way will decide what brands come out on top.
What does the future of social commerce look like to Smartly.io?
Today’s consumers are adapting to the idea of a “storeless” future and will continue to expect flexibility and convenience. They want to connect to brands in a way that’s convenient to them depending on their needs at a specific moment in time – whether that’s on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.
Therefore, brands need to take advantage of the audiences and behaviours across these platforms and deploy a consistent multi-platform shopping experience on each to reach shoppers across the funnel. A sample use case could be: Using Pinterest to reach shoppers who are in the discovery, search phase. TikTok to promote more authentic shopping experiences. Instagram for very visual, creative experiences. Facebook for shoppers who are ready to purchase. When having a multi-platform strategy to social commerce, brands put themselves in the best position possible to connect with customers at the right moment in the right context, which will ultimately drive the sale.
Is there anything you’d like to add? It is no longer effective for retailers to adopt a one ad fits all (audiences) creative strategy. With the proliferation of social media and multiple engagements that consumers have with them, it is crucial to hyper-personalise ads that appeal specifically to the specific target audience. This will fully enhance the performance as well as the customer experience of the campaign.
For more resources on social advertising trends, testing and learnings: Smartly.io
Like this story? Click here to find out more about Power Retail E-Commerce Intelligence or here to sign-up for the free weekly Pulse Newsletter for more essential online retail content.