Social media platforms cashing in on social e-commerce

Social media was once a tool to connect with friends and family. But increasingly, it’s becoming a place to promote products and even buy them directly from within the platforms.

Social media giants like Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest have evolved to offer users more shopping options

More than 90 million accounts now tap to reveal tags in shopping posts on Instagram every month. (Instagram)

Social media was once a tool to connect with friends and family. But, increasingly, it's becoming a place to promote products and to buy them directly from within the platforms.

Earlier this month, Instagram announced a shopping channel under its explore tab, personalized to the user. It's also expanding its shopping in stories feature that it began testing in June.

"And it won't just be from the shops that I follow, but also from the shops that are out there on Instagram that maybe I don't follow," said Vishal Shah, director of product management for Instagram, at the Code Commerce conference in New York City earlier this month.

One week later, Snapchat announced a partnership with Amazon that allows users to point the Snapchat camera at a physical product or barcode to get a link for that product or similar ones available on Amazon.

"Snapchat has always been the fastest way to communicate and now it's the fastest way to shop," said the company's product announcement.

Meanwhile, Pinterest has offered the "Buy It" and "Shop the Look" features to its users for years.

'It's a fabulous way to sell artwork'

Jori Warren is a full-time artist in Edmonton who signed up for several social media platforms four years ago.

"My motivation to join any social media is purely to showcase my artwork," said Warren.

She posts her paintings on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but says the bulk of her sales still come from word of mouth or someone seeing them in a gallery.

Jori Warren is a full-time artist in Edmonton. (Memory Roth Photography)

She welcomes technologies that would let people buy a painting directly through one of her social media accounts.

"It's a very personal sale, so if we can get just another way to sell our artwork — it's a wonderful tool," said Warren. "The originals can still be based out of a gallery, but I'd like to reach some mass and, with e-commerce, I think I can do that."

'Losing ourselves to this market'

Eric Li is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of British Columbia. His research includes online consumer culture and behaviour and he's been watching these developments in social e-commerce very closely.

"I'm impressed by the technologies creating a more convenient, one-stop shopping platform online," said Li. "So it's not necessary to take out more information on where I can find this — you just take a picture."

Eric Li is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of British Columbia. (Voth Photography)

Li says, though he's impressed with the technology, he's concerned about privacy. In particular, he has worries about taking a picture of someone and connecting it to Amazon and what eventually happens with that information.

Still, Li admits social commerce will only continue to evolve.

"I can see the transformation of social media. It's changing quite a lot in the past five, six years," said Li.

He says what was once intended as a tool to connect with friends, became a source for consuming information and media and has now evolved into a shopping platform.

"The bright side is we get more customized products. But, of course, the dark side of this development is that we are losing ourselves to this market."


Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.


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