The future of e-commerce is social

Consumers have become remote. Cuz y’know, social distancing.

And they’ve changed their patterns of behaviour. Probably for good because they’re now living digital-first lives that are creating permanent habits which will likely persist beyond the isolation.

In order to not be ghosted by them as a brand, you need to proactively make the most of emerging technologies and channels.

I know a lot of us marketers find this daunting. But I promise it’s really a great opportunity.

Allow me to introduce you to the 5 major trends that picked up pace in 2020.

1) Augmented Reality Lenses is how you immerse your audience in your brand.

Take Chanel, who partnered with Snapchat to let consumers view the world through their eyes. YSL Beauty who used virtual try-on for their makeup. And Gucci with virtual trying on for their trainers.

YouTube debuted its AR with virtual try-on sessions that enable consumers to instantaneously experiment with products being promoted by their favourite influencers.

What this does is create seamless interaction with brands and products by allowing sampling without having to download dedicated apps.

2) Instagram Live has been transformed from a static digital gallery to the talk-show of the pandemic era with the guest function.

Influencers, having found themselves with extra time on their hands in lockdown, are hosting chats with industry leaders. Like Instagrammer Vanessa Hong, who sat down with fashion designer Philip Lim.

Marc Jacobs himself has become a beauty influencer during lockdown, filling his IGTV with creative makeup tutorials. Talk about Marc by Marc Jacobs for Marc Jacobs with Marc Jacobs.

Loewe en Casa has been doing an ongoing series of online events and workshops. With a focus on arts and crafts, the project features past artistic collaborators and gives the consumer a rare look into the artists’ studios and skills.

Prada has been hosting digital talks with great minds in fashion, art, architecture, and cinema. By getting them to talk to each other, they’ve managed to create an intimate viewer-experience that makes you feel like you’re on a Zoom call.

3) The sensory internet. The — wait, what?

Yeah, s e n s o r y. But how? Well, Coach created a series of multi-sensory Instagram shorts showing leather being cut by hand, hands stroking a coach bag, a bag being immersed in suds and a bag clicking shut.

All with the tagline: “See it, feel it, hear it: authentic American leather craftsmanship”. Add that to your ASMR playlist.

4) Social media and brand communities integrate your brand into popular online media that already nurture human connection and building communities.

Embrace everything from TikTok and esports to micro- and macro-influencers as well as live streams.

The first global luxury brand to partner with esports was Louis Vuitton who did a collab with League of Legends. Together with Riot Games, they created a collection of clothing that was sold both in-game and in real-world stores.

5) Mixed reality marketing is when you create a virtual signature store and strive to create a similar wow-experience as in your real-world store.

Burberry launched an AR shopping tool through Google Search that allows consumers to experience Burberry products embedded in the environment they’re in. This enhances their online search and shopping experience to something more than just looking for a product.

Luxury skincare brand SK-II’s Future X launched a smart store that utilises state-of-the-art facial recognition, computer vision and AI to provide customers with bespoke skincare recommendations.

Brands are acutely aware that they need to embrace creativity and technology if they want to recover from COVID, and are facilitating brand engagement with consumers whose mindset and retail patterns have fundamentally changed.

According to ChannelAdvisor research [1], a quarter of consumers have bought something from a retailer they hadn’t bought from before.

More dramatically put by Shopify’s Chief Operating Officer Harvey Finklestein, “The world that would have existed in the year 2030 has been pulled into 2020”.

So what is there beyond search, click, buy?

In a short time, shopping journeys have evolved from what was ‘search, click, buy’ to a more continuous cycle of activity.

With dozens of influences impacting the decision-making process, consumer journeys today are longer and more complex and span more channels than ever before.

As buyers navigate marketplaces, social networks and brands’ own sites, Instagram’s Director of Product quipped, “It’s no longer a linear journey, it’s not even a funnel – we actually refer to it as a noodle”.

The lockdown has forced brands to rapidly adopt digital solutions to reach their consumers.

Just look at L’Oreal, who achieved in eight weeks what would normally have taken three years to do. And the company now receives 20% of its revenues [2] from branded sites or retailers like Amazon.

When it comes to social networks, brands typically start out on Facebook but soon realise that each platform has unique features and user behaviours.

Instagram, drives sales with creative, visual shopping ad formats. TikTok is better suited to brands who want to express their playful side. And Pinterest enables discovery and builds desire with branded mood boards.

Revlon’s ‘omni-ecosystem’ reflects this, where each channel meets a different customer. [3]

Pureplay specialists have the advantage of close consumer relationships and high category relevance, but they lack scalability compared to Amazon.

With that said, scale isn’t everything. As Revlon’s Head of US Marketing and Engagement, Oshiya Savur, told Forbes, “coffee filters [on Amazon] appear in the same way as a lipstick – the romance is lost”.

Don’t underestimate what it takes to create successful ads.

With increased competition and complexity come some innate challenges.

Many who are used to paid search campaigns, and often new to social media, will easily underestimate how much time it takes to create successful ads.

Campaigns often need to have many different variations of copy, images and/or video that need to be designed around the device and platform.

The most sophisticated brands use their ads and consumer interactions to drive campaigns by ‘self-optimising’. Glossier ran a campaign that had more than 30 different ad creatives delivering multiple versions of each creative based on factors like an individual’s location and age.

Keep your eyes peeled for emerging platforms.

Mobile-first consumers, who makeup 35% of the global population and have over $143 billion in spending power, are venturing into new “third places”, such as in-game concerts in Fortnite and talent shows on Instagram Live.

If you’ve never heard of Houseparty, Genie or Discord before, check out these 7 lesser-known platforms where Gen Zers are likely to be found hanging out. [4]

The global digital landscape is evolving rapidly as we enter the last of 2020.

The pandemic will continue to influence and reshape various aspects of our daily lives.

Even as lockdowns will eventually be lifted, many of the new digital behaviours that we’ve adopted during confinement will endure. This means significant increases in digital activities.

As proven by Amazon time and again, convenience is a dominant force in customer decision-making, with 83% of Americans stating that convenience is more important now than 5 years ago.

Facebook has responded to this by allowing customers to browse, save and order products directly within the e-commerce app, and Shopify’s app lets consumers follow and buy from brands via a newsfeed.

Make buying simple.

By allowing customers to purchase directly from the ad contributes to a higher propensity to buy.

Even the shopping channel QVC has increased digital investment. Live streams on YouTube and Facebook have been paired with their shoppable app has brought them success.

QVC launched ‘Q Anytime’ in 2019, an app that allows users to shop from an on-demand video.

And live streaming allows them to replicate the TV experience on social channels, allowing users to view what’s currently ‘on air’, as well as click to buy the products that are being shown.

Amazon has been keeping its live platform on the down-low since launching in 2019.

Though they have had some big-name influencer partnerships. A recent example saw the founder of Honest Beauty, Jessica Alba, participate in a live-stream for the brand.

One difference which could work in Amazon’s favour is that their platform allows users to go back and view past live-streams, which many other platforms do not.

As the pandemic spurs brands on to get more involved with live streaming, there’s a shift away from Instagram Live due to a lack of native shopping capabilities.

Third-party companies offering live streaming that can be integrated into brand websites, such as Livescale and Bambuser, have seen an uptick in business as they allow viewers to buy what they see.

A lot of beauty brands have hosted these types of events in the past few months. NYX Cosmetics hosted a live-stream ‘shopping experience’ in honour of Pride in May, featuring the influencer Matt Bernstein.

For consumers, the biggest draw of live streaming is its interactive nature.

Bringing together elements of entertainment and e-commerce is irresistible to consumers.

For example, beauty and skincare brands tend to host tutorials during live-streaming, which means viewers are able to learn about products and can ask personal questions about them and how to use them.

Of course, the influencer element is also attractive. The chance to interact with brands or social media personalities directly increases viewers’ interest.

But most importantly, lives are a way for brands to drive both sales as well as brand engagement. Livescale founder Virgile Ollivier suggested that the conversion rate [5] for its clients’ shopping events average around 9.5%.

And don’t forget about short-form video e-commerce.

With the rise of short-form video content platforms, like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, we’re entering a new era of native e-commerce.

Entrepreneurs, from farmers to indie crafters to clothing designers, can reach their shoppers directly through self-recorded video clips.

Video apps are no longer just for entertainment, but for retail as well.

In this format, the cost of A/B testing is extremely low as sellers benefit from instant feedback. As the experimentation with ecommerce and video continues, your brand should be harnessing the wisdom of the crowd in R&D as well.

The monetisation of short-video is already happening in Asia.

On Taobao, China’s largest ecommerce platform, 42% [6] of product pages already include short videos and live streaming is growing quickly.

From January to August 2018, the company generated more than $15 billion [7] in sales through live streams, up nearly 400% YoY.

It’s no surprise then, that short video apps are the new frontier for e-commerce, fuelled by the rise of native shops and integration with popular third-party platforms.

And once we see more video being incorporate into Amazon’s product pages and other shopping pages, there will be no other choice but to follow suit if you want to stay competitive.

I know I talk a lot about preparing for the new normal, but the bottom line is that consumers have fundamentally changed how they’re doing things and past performance is not a reliable predictor of future behaviour patterns.

It’s not enough to “just have good SEO”. You need to be ready to show up and reach out because this new breed of consumers will expect nothing less.


[1] Shopping trends in the age of COVID-19 – Channel Advisor
[2] L’Oréal glimpses its digital future amid pandemic – FT
[3] Revlon And e.l.f. Reveal Their Amazon Playbooks – Forbes
[4] 7 platforms where Gen Z is most likely to be hanging out – Adweek
[5] L’Oréal Group bets on livestream shopping in North America – Glossy
[6] In the future, 90% of Taobao’s content may be carried by video, and sellers will be eliminated if they do not pay attention  –
[7] Tens of thousands of “thinking” anchor teachers, flight attendants, and hosts can live Taobao live broadcast and become famous for only 30 –