Market Trends

Written by Kat Peake August 26, 2019

Driving online sales with social commerce

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28% of consumers say they typically discover brands via social media ads, according to one study. And when searching for inspiration or product information, 42% turn to social. These networks have become an essential part of the shopping experience for many consumers.

Now, social networks are becoming shopping platforms in their own right, letting users purchase products directly without ever leaving the platform. This is changing the path to purchase and the way brands are able to reach their customers.

What is social commerce and why does it matter?

Social commerce describes the phenomenon that we mention above: selling products directly through a social platform. It streamlines the path to purchase for customers, eliminating friction, and amplifying the effectiveness of online ads.

holding smartphoneSocial commerce also responds to the needs of customers. Being able to draw inspiration, browse, and buy all on the same platform is simply convenient. This is part of the reason that people are actually turning to social media to do their shopping: 30 percent of US internet users have already purchased something through a social network.

These tools are a great opportunity for brands advertising on these platforms. While many social commerce features are not available as ad formats, the opportunity to sell directly on social networks has a streamlining effect. If a customer has the ability to purchase your products on the same platform where you’re advertising, it makes the path to purchase much simpler and can help drive sales.

Social commerce across networks

So far, Instagram is the only network to have developed a truly seamless social commerce feature with Checkout (more on that below). But Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat have all introduced shopping features for their users, setting the groundwork for more frictionless shopping experiences to come. And, although it’s not strictly social, Google has also developed features to reduce friction for shoppers on its network.

Here’s a look at some of the main social shopping features available today:


Instagram is a major source of purchase inspiration for social media users. Its highly visual format lends itself to showcasing products, and 80% of its users follow at least one brand account. Instagram has also been an important platform for influencer marketing, helping further increase brand reach.

Instagram has developed a couple of features that enable shopping directly on the platform:

  • Still in beta, Checkout lets users purchase the items they discover on Instagram directly in the app without being redirected to a website. Only available to certain brands for the moment, Instagram Checkout offers a truly seamless shopping experience, helping consolidate the customer journey.
  • Product Tags, first introduced in 2016, let users see product information and prices directly in a post or story and click through to your website or app to purchase the item. This is a great way for brands to showcase the items they have for sale, and to eliminate the need for users who get inspired on Instagram to go looking for price and purchase information elsewhere. Instagram also extended Product Tag availability to influencers (currently still in beta), giving users even more opportunities to shop for items that might interest them.


Pinterest is like a huge digital catalog, where users share and discover by posting images or videos either on their own or on other users’ boards. Like Instagram, it is highly visual, and users of the network are actively searching for new brands, products, and services while using Pinterest. In fact, about 90% of Pinterest users use the network to make purchase decisions.

And, like Instagram, Pinterest has made shopping tools a focus.

  • Shop the Look Pins let users shop directly from the pins on their or their friends’ boards. In just a few clicks, they can purchase the exact item featured in the pin.

shop the look pinterest

  • Recently, Pinterest also introduced browsable catalogs. By clicking on a product in a pin, users are taken to that brand’s catalog with prices, helping them find the exact products they might want to purchase.
  • Visual search lets users find items on Pinterest using their smartphone camera. If someone visiting a restaurant sees the perfect light fixture for her kitchen, for example, Pinterest visual search can give her the exact model, and tell her where to purchase it.


If Instagram and Pinterest have lead the charge towards social commerce, Snapchat has also made headway introducing shopping features to its platform. In 2018, the network introduced their own visual search tool, much like the one Pinterest pioneered. By pointing the Snapchat camera at a product or barcode, users can shop for the item directly on Amazon.


Around the same time, Snapchat also introduced shoppable ads, making it possible for advertisers to upload product catalogs with information such as images, price, and color for use in ads on the platform.

Google Shopping

While not a social network, the shopping features available on Google also respond to the way consumers want to discover products and shop today. Google Shopping lets users browse a variety of products based on their search queries. From there, it’s easy for users to shop for those very items on retailers’ websites in a click.

Just the beginning

Looking at the changes in the way consumers shop and the increasing importance social networks play in purchase inspiration and decision-making, these social commerce features are only the beginning. In the future we will likely see the lines between social and e-commerce continue to blur as networks develop more tools for brands to create seamless experiences for their customers.

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