We are in an experience era. Brands are striving to become more experience-led online through personalized product recommendations, customer reviews and product tutorials, but as e-commerce booms they’ll need to do more to cater to consumers.    

An estimated 1.92 billion people purchased goods or services online in 2019, causing retail e-commerce sales to surpass $3.5 trillion in U.S. dollars worldwide. This year, as the world deals with various stages of lockdown, more of our lives and transactions have shifted online. In reaction, brands and publishers have been evaluating their online presences and how they reach their audiences. 

Every digital surface is now a portal to serve targeted digital communications. But a great digital experience is more than just reaching a consumer. That interaction loses momentum with each click — moving further away from that moment of inspiration. It’s why some brands and publishers are seeing an opportunity to capture spend in the moments when people are searching via content commerce — a way for brands and publishers to capture revenue through digital content. For example, this would be a piece of content that allows consumers to click and buy directly from the post, be it in an article on social or in a stream. 

In-store shoppers are turning their scrolls into sales 

As restrictions and lockdowns came into force this year, it meant that in-store shoppers, including non-digital natives, turned to online shopping. This caused a behavioral shift — consumers became more confident and comfortable with spending in a digital environment. That confidence is now beginning to shift to buying via social media as well. 

“The pandemic has forced consumers to become more flexible, creative and risky in the way they shop,” says Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element. “As we become increasingly reliant on our digital options, this has meant we’ve seen consumers shift to online channels to make the majority of their purchasing decisions.”

Product discovery via the feed is growing, as social players including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok are entering the shoppable market. Being able to check out on their chosen platform adds an element of ease for consumers — turning content into commerce. Vicky Banham, TikTok manager at Jungle Creations, says there’s a lesson to be learned from China about what can be achieved via social commerce, thinking of the scale at which it works via messaging app WeChat. 

“Online shopping is becoming a central part of our everyday lives and coupled with increased use of social media, it’s no wonder more publishers are making the move into social commerce,” says Banham. “As we approach the Christmas period and brands compete for sales in the absence of physical stores, they need to ensure they stand out and are utilizing these creative platforms to their advantage.” 

Linking content to produce safeguards instant gratification

What content commerce delivers is a level of convenience that takes e-commerce to a higher level. It removes the sequence of seeing a product, searching, researching and buying — and mitigates one of the pain points for online shoppers today.  

Aaron Goldman, CMO at Mediaocean says: “One of the major gaps for online shopping has been around gratification — both in terms of instantly acquiring goods and in terms of being in a space that’s designed to please and engage the customer. Shoppable content helps to close that gap, allowing consumers to turn inspirations directly into action. Online behaviour is constantly evolving, and brands and publishers need to adapt accordingly to ensure they’re delivering the frictionless experience consumers expect and demand. With the lack of in-person sales this holiday season, that’ll be really important.”  

For brands, experimenting with shoppable content is only the first step — brands must also pay attention to syncing it with the rest of the business. Littleton, at The Social Element says: “Shoppable content requires an engaged team who genuinely care about the shopper experience to keep on top of changes. If products sell out or are discontinued, you need someone to quickly and efficiently archive the posts.” 

It’s about managing user expectations. Littleton says: “There is nothing worse than falling in love with something you can’t have. Keeping your content and product teams close and the lines of communication clear will allow any changes to products to be updated quickly and content production to produce assets optimised for social selling.”  

Digital shopping is here to stay

Improving online shopping experiences goes beyond what’s happening in the industry, where content commerce provides a value that physical stores or other e-commerce shops cannot. 

Goldman, CMO at Mediaocean, says: “The pandemic has exponentially accelerated the shift to digital shopping, and no matter the big or small return of ‘normality,’ consumers will continue to shop online. All brands and publishers should learn from those retailers that have already fully embraced e-commerce and shoppable content, but they need to act now.” 

This is the first in a six-part series exploring the rise of content commerce across platforms, channels and devices.