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Online Retailers

Retailers capitalize on social media shops

Old-school gear sellers are decoding Facebook and Instagram's Shops feature to boost their ecommerce strategies.

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Over the last decade, social media has grown to dominate much of our lives. Now, it has a new frontier: ecommerce.

Last year, Facebook and Instagram launched their new Shops feature. On Instagram, a button on the home screen takes users to a personalized feed of products. On Facebook, Shops are clickable catalogs accessible from brand or retailer pages. Shop owners can choose to have customers check out through the social platforms, or through their own sites.

Facebook and Instagram have massive user bases, offering equally massive opportunity for retailers—both brick-and-mortar and direct-to-consumer—says Akvile DeFazio, president of social media advertising agency AKvertise.

Just how much opportunity? According to 2018 data from digital services provider Avionos, 55 percent of consumers do the majority of their shopping through social. And a whopping 71 percent head to social platforms for shopping inspiration.

Read more: The strategies behind the outdoor industry’s biggest Instagram accounts

The pandemic only fueled the trend—most 2020 studies report 20 to 30 percent year-over-year increases in online sales.

“If your business is just getting started online and doesn’t have a website, Shops are a great way to explore the digital ecommerce space,” DeFazio says. (Though, she adds, a good website should be your eventual goal.)

Shops are easy to set up, make products discoverable to new users, and let retailers immediately reach an audience they’ve already built, says DeFazio. Plus, the feature integrates seamlessly with Facebook and Instagram ads, along with natural growth strategies to gain more followers, which have become indispensable to digital retail.

“At first we were nervous [about setting up Shops],” says Whitney Eldridge, marketing director for Arkansas-based Gearhead Outfitters. “We’ve always been really focused on the brick-and-mortar experience.”

For Gearhead, growth was slow at first. That’s normal: It takes time for the platforms to gather enough data to reliably share a retailer’s information with the right users—for ads, that can be up to three months, even with $100 a day in ad spending, says McKenzie Daigle, account manager at ecommerce agency Shopanova.

But six months after starting up, Eldridge says she’s seen “great response” from customers looking for new ways to shop during the pandemic. That includes an uptick in scrolling on Shops pages, and click-throughs to the store’s website.

Shops can also bolster an already robust social-media presence. John Weir, marketing manager at Colorado store Bentgate Mountaineering, says the feature has streamlined the way Bentgate interacts with its community.

“We can attach those Shop items to specific posts or stories about new products we’re excited about,” he explains. “It also lets us see any tracking attached to those. So we can tell if we spent, say, five minutes on a story and sold a splitboard.”

Neither Bentgate nor Gearhead uses the in-platform checkout feature, which demands a 5-percent fee for transactions over $8. Both prefer to monitor customer traffic and inventory through their websites. (Shops doesn’t have good built-in inventory tracking, Weir says.)

As for retailers who are just waiting for things to get back to normal? Don’t, DeFazio says. Now is the time to learn to get creative, innovative, and flexible—especially when it comes to ecommerce.

“The pandemic gave us a look into what the future of ecommerce will look like,” she says. “This is just the start of it.”