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2017: The Year Ahead in Social Commerce

Kristin Maranki

From dynamic ads to buy buttons, social media platforms of many sizes and stripes have gradually rolled out e-commerce features.

How have they fared so far? And which ones will get a page in the playbooks of e-commerce marketers in 2017? Here we recap and explore recent developments in social commerce, and look ahead to what social media has in store for online retailers in 2017.


E-commerce feature: Dynamic ads

Facebook dynamic ads are a product-level, direct response ad format that allows retailers to retarget consumers with the exact or similar products they browsed on a retail website or mobile app. They were introduced in February 2015. In December 2016, they were extended to include app installs.

year ahead in social commerce facebook dynamic ad mobile

Impact so far: With dynamic ads a strong driver of mobile sales, and many other ad formats to choose from, retailers are turning to Facebook for direct response advertising instead of just for branding.

Dynamic ads offer the personalization and scale e-commerce marketers need in any channel. The ads’ retargeting capability can be applied across a retailer’s entire product catalog. And reach? Facebook hosts over 1 billion mobile daily active users, making it an ideal place to connect with potential customers on mobile.

Outlook for 2017: Given the variety of retail-friendly ad formats and features Facebook has rolled out in the past few years, Facebook will likely widen its footprint in retail.


Facebook is no longer an optional channel for e-commerce marketers. Retailers should be using dynamic ads and keeping their eyes on Facebook’s emerging ad formats, especially to grow mobile sales.

Though we don’t know what’s next for Facebook, we do know that it’s a fast-moving company committed to retail. Today, dynamic ads retarget based on demographics and user actions taken on a retailer’s site. In the future, Facebook may find ways to increase the swath of users it can retarget with dynamic ads, or perhaps another ad format.

The bottom line? Facebook is no longer an optional channel for e-commerce marketers. Retailers should be using dynamic ads and keeping their eyes on Facebook’s emerging ad formats, especially to grow mobile sales.

If you’re not utilizing dynamic ads, the new year is just the time to get started. And if you’re looking to learn more about dynamic ads before jumping in, check out our guide, Facebook Dynamic Ads Deconstructed.


E-commerce feature: Shop tags

Instagram began testing shop tags with 20 U.S. retailers in November 2016. Shop tags, which users tap to reveal in native posts (outside of ads), allow retailers to tag up to five products with more detail and prices, all with the intention of providing users more information to consider products. Users can then shop the products by clicking a “Shop Now” link that funnels to the retailer’s checkout page.

year ahead in social commerce instagram shop tags
Image courtesy: Instagram

Impact so far: By revealing item name, price, and other details about products within posts, Instagram’s shop tags give consumers a path from product discovery to purchase consideration without having to leave their feed.

As a rapidly growing social platform that is steadily adding e-commerce features, Instagram has potential. First, Instagram just reached 600 million monthly active users in December 2016, adding 100 million users in the previous six months. Second, Instagram’s users are known to be highly receptive to brands — 68% of users regularly engage with brands on Instagram. Third, Instagram is mobile-first, making it a place to spark interest in products on mobile.

Because Facebook owns Instagram, we can think of Instagram’s features as an extension of Facebook’s commitment to retail, and a reason to stay tuned for new developments.

Outlook for 2017: In their current format, shop tags present ways for retailers to showcase their brand and for consumers to discover retail products shown in context. But shoppable posts still have a way to go before they can generate e-commerce results that grab retailers’ attention.

To sell products at scale, e-commerce marketers need actions that can be repeated thousands of times across a product catalog. Dynamic ads (offered in Instagram as well as Facebook) allow retailers to upload their entire product catalog and retarget users based on actions taken on their website. With shop tags, a marketer would need to invest inordinate hours creating posts and tagging products to achieve the scale of dynamic ads.

Shop tags facilitate shopping opportunities, but not with the volume or efficiency most e-commerce marketers expect in a channel. Look for shop tags to eventually be paired with a form of retargeting, or a product recommendation engine to create a more scalable e-commerce feature for retailers.


E-commerce feature: Buyable pins

Pinterest users can purchase products straight from the Pinterest website with buyable pins, which were introduced on mobile in June 2015 and on desktop in June 2016. Buyable pins with blue tags appear in home feeds, boards, and search results. Retailers implement buyable pins through integrations with third-party e-commerce platforms.

year ahead in social commerce pinterest buyable pin
Image courtesy: Pinterest

Impact so far: When buyable pins rolled out in 2015, Pinterest was positioned to put social commerce on retailers’ front burner.

Pinterest’s 100 million monthly active users discover and catalog their favorite ideas, inspirations, and products using the pinboard. The aspirational user experience ties naturally into shopping. In fact, 93% of Pinterest users have used the platform to plan for purchases.

Retailers cite gains in new customer acquisition and referral traffic from buyable pins, but it’s unclear how often customers make purchases with this feature.

So buyable pins have the makings to really sell on social media…but online sales with Pinterest have been incremental. Retailers cite gains in new customer acquisition and referral traffic from buyable pins, but it’s unclear how often customers make purchases with this feature.

Some argue that consumers may not be entirely familiar with buy capabilities sites like Pinterest offer, or that purchasing products on social media just isn’t consistent with consumer behavior — at least not yet.

Outlook for 2017: Much like Instagram, the issue with Pinterest’s buyable pins is one of scale. Pinterest facilitates brand and product discovery, but it’s unlikely to generate the volume of conversions most e-commerce marketers are after.

Until Pinterest buyable pins show they can drive conversions at scale, most retailers will continue to spend elsewhere. However — judging by its rollout of buyable pins to desktop, Pinterest is showing its dedication to creating a shopping engine from this social platform.

Plus, Pinterest’s platform is inherently more product-focused than people-focused, making it a natural fit for e-commerce. In the coming year, Pinterest’s developments are definitely worth watching.


E-commerce feature: Buy button (now defunct)

Twitter’s buy button was introduced in Tweets back in September 2014. Users could view product information and make purchases without leaving their feed. One year later, Twitter announced integrations with third party e-commerce platforms to make buy buttons accessible to more retailers. As of May 2016, Twitter’s buy button is no longer a feature on Twitter.

year ahead in social commerce twitter buy button
Image courtesy: Twitter

Impact this year: It’s unclear how much reach or engagement Twitter achieved with its now defunct buy button. Members of Twitter’s commerce team were reassigned to other product teams, including one focused on dynamic product ads. (Anyone else notice a trend here?) While you still might see a buy button in your feed, the company says there’s no further product development on this feature.

Twitter’s failed buy button is a cautionary tale for social networks with e-commerce aspirations: Be sure product discovery and purchase fit with the vision and user experience of the platform.

Twitter is a place to gather news and information, without a strong tie to retail products. The buy button never felt consistent with Twitter’s core function as a content delivery platform. Despite its 317 million users, Twitter’s buy button was an ill-fated attempt to appeal to retailers.

Outlook for 2017: Twitter’s failed buy button is a cautionary tale for social networks with e-commerce aspirations: Be sure product discovery and purchase fit with the vision and user experience of the platform.

For the moment, Twitter’s value to retailers in 2017 remains customer communication and news distribution. But knowing Twitter has an eye toward implementing dynamic product ads, which have been effective for retailers on Facebook, we’ll still be watching.

What’s Next in Social Commerce

The purchase journey is less linear than it’s ever been, meaning social touches can influence purchase decisions at moments never before anticipated.

While it’s safe to assume the status quo in social commerce for some time, retailers should follow and evaluate social commerce developments for their businesses in 2017 and beyond.

We expect to see social networks working to better understand intent on social media and users becoming more familiar with purchase capabilities.

If any network gets a page in e-commerce marketing playbooks in 2017, it’s Facebook, hands down. So far, Facebook has proven successful in understanding the customer journey and influencing purchase decisions via its social platform. It’s time that retailers on the whole start taking advantage of what Facebook has to offer, because we have a feeling dynamic ads are only the beginning. Stay tuned.


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