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PHOTO: Charles 🇵🇭

When I want to see where social media is headed, looking east is like looking into a crystal ball. Asia, and China in particular, leads the way. 

While social media has become integral to nearly every step of the buyer’s journey, from awareness to advocacy, one critical step has been left out: the purchase itself. Until now. Thanks to advances and innovations both by brands and their buyers in Asia, shoppers now complete their customer journeys on social media with the click of a (buy) button. In my opinion, social commerce is the future.

Gen Z Leads the Way With Social Commerce

Simply put, social commerce is the buying and selling of products and services directly through social networks, and Asia is at the forefront. I believe the region is setting the bar for future behavior in the west, and I predict that 2019 will be the year we finally see a significant rise in social commerce around the world.

Leading the (credit card) charge in Asia is Generation Z, people born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. Based on research from BloombergInc. reports that Gen Z will become the most populous generation on earth this year. Given the fact that social is the preferred playground of members of Generation Z — they can’t imagine a world without it — it comes as no surprise they have been the earliest adopters of social commerce.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in China, where 70 percent of Gen Zers now opt to buy directly via social channels. Millennials are close behind Gen Z. According to BigCommerce, 51 percent of millennials in North America say that they are likely to make a purchase via their favorite social platform. While the trend to buy directly from a social platform may have first taken hold in Asia, and mostly among those 35 and under, it is now quickly spreading around the world, and to every demographic.

Related Article: Why Mobile Customer Experience Is Still Lagging

A Mobile-First Mentality

Powering this trend is a mobile-first consumer attitude: According the “Digital in 2019” report from my company, Hootsuite, 5.5 billion people on the planet now have a mobile device, and 42 percent of those people are regularly active on social media via their mobile phones.

Take Instagram, which frankly is made for mobile. Highly snackable and extremely visual, Instagram is like an online catalog that also engages, entertains and informs: In a 2015 Instagram user survey, 60 percent of the respondents said they find new products on the platform. Take that to the next logical level, and social buying follows. In a survey by Dana Rebecca Designs, 72 percent of respondents said that they had purchased a fashion, style or beauty item after seeing a product on Instagram.

You see something, you like it, you can buy it. For brands, the key is to make that as easy as possible at the time when potential customers are most active and engaged. And buying directly on social media is getting easier by the day. “Buy Now” buttons, shoppable posts and stories, buyable pins and more have all simplified the process. Many other easy-to-use interfaces are in various stages of development. With each advance, we are one step closer to seeing social commerce become the largest driver of online sales revenue.

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Brand Engagement Gets You a Piece of the Pie

Imagine getting a piece of this pie: Globally, we spent $1.76 trillion on ecommerce last year, up 14 percent from the previous year, according to the “Digital in 2019” report. If social commerce accounts for just 10 percent of that, it equates to $176 billion. The possibilities are staggering.

But before you try to transform your social media accounts into something whose sole purpose is to drive sales, you have to remember that it’s brand engagement that leads to sales on social platforms. You want to keep your brand relevant, build an online community and interact with customers in a personal way with content they find important, interesting and timely.

Your strategy can’t all be about selling. You also have to offer some kind of value that reflects your company’s purpose. Tips, discounts and compelling content reflective of your brand are all ways to build and reinforce relationships with your customers.

Related Article: Get Off the Ecommerce Sidelines 

Getting Started With Social Selling? Start Small

When you wade into the social selling waters, remember this: Less is more.

The likelihood of new customers buying big-ticket items the first time out is slim. However, impulse entry-level purchases at the low end are distinct possibilities. The average order value on social is around $50, according to BigCommerce. But each entry-level purchase gets you a customer who is often willing to share an email address with you. And if you nurture the relationship, you may gain a customer for life.

Even in its infancy in North America, social commerce is making a huge impact on the world of marketing and ecommerce.

Think about ways you can make your brand compelling on social media, and ways to make shopping from your posts interactive and seamless, especially on mobile devices. Stumped? Look to Asia for inspiration.

And remember this: We’re still in the very early stages of social media completing the buyer’s journey. But the brands that win big are typically the ones that recognize trends and seize opportunities for their customers.