Coronavirus has led to many changes in our lives. The quarantine that has forced people to stay inside has also led to an enormous jump in e-commerce sales -- a trend that will likely continue.
Many companies are rushing to capitalize on the influx of online shoppers, including some popular social media platforms. Recently, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest have announced new features that will help new and existing online sellers make more sales.
In order to understand the importance of the new features, it’s helpful to review what has been available up until now.
Facebook: Marketplace, Shop Tab, and Ads
If you’ve been interested in selling on Facebook in recent years, you may have used Facebook Marketplace, the “Shop” tab on Facebook pages, or Ads.
In 2016, Facebook launched Marketplace. Marketplace is similar to Craigslist. Facebook allows you to create free listings, post products for sale, and get contacted by interested buyers. While many people use Marketplace for consumer to consumer sales (such as listing a bike for sale to someone in your local area), some businesses, including e-commerce merchants, sell through Marketplace as well. If you’ve never sold on Marketplace, this AdEspresso step-by-step guide to creating a listing is very helpful.
In 2015, Facebook began piloting a way for businesses to create storefronts on their business pages, through Facebook Page Shop. Businesses were even able to set up their product listings (including creating catalogs), orders, and fulfillment, through Facebook, by using Facebook’s Commerce Manager and Checkout tools.
In addition, Facebook partnered with e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify and Bigcommerce, to link the Shop tab to an e-commerce website, for a faster way for merchants to list and sell products.
Many small businesses have found success using the Shop tab on Facebook.
“We currently sell through our Facebook store, which is linked to our Shopify platform. Our total sales from this channel are around 10-15%,” says Sophie Burke, Marketing Director of San Diego, CA-based Bead the Change.
Here is the company’s current Facebook store setup.
Customers go to the Bead the Change Facebook Page and click on the “Shop Now” tab.
Several items show up as available for sale. The buyer chooses the $35 bracelet bundle.
When the buyer clicks on this, more information is provided, along with a prompt to “Check Out on Website.”
After clicking, the buyer is taken to the Bead the Change website’s ordering page to purchase the item.
In addition to Marketplace and Facebook stores, many merchants use Facebook Ads to sell their products. While organic posts on Facebook can be useful, “buying ads is the only way to get your message more reach and target the right people,” according to a Smart Hustle post.
“Currently 90% of my sales are from Facebook/Instagram ads,” shares Will Cartwright, Founder of Edgewood, NY-based Supplement Manufacturing Partners, Inc.
Instagram: Stores, Checkout and Ads
What started out as a fun photo and video sharing app in 2010 has transformed into a powerhouse selling platform for product businesses. According to a Facebook survey, 83% of respondents said that Instagram helps them discover new products and services. In 2017, Instagram began allowing sellers to transform their profiles into shops.
As you probably know, Facebook owns Instagram, and many features offered through Instagram are connected to Facebook functionality. In order to sell on Instagram, you need a business profile connected to your business page on Facebook. Instagram pulls product listings from your Facebook catalog. Sellers can include product tags on photos and videos in their Instagram feeds and stories to drive Instagram sales. In 2019, Instagram launched “Instagram Checkout.” Similar to Facebook’s checkout feature, it allows users to search and buy products within the app.
Instagram also offers a variety of Ad options for sellers, who can use them on Stories, photos, videos, promoted posts, and more. To buy ads on Instagram, businesses must have a Facebook business page.
Pinterest: Rich Pins and Promoted Pins
Also launched in 2010, Pinterest started out as a fun way to keep track of decorating ideas and recipes. Today, according to Sprout Social, “89% of US pinners use Pinterest to research purchasing decisions.” And if that’s not exciting enough, 47% of Pinterest users go to the site just to shop, according to the same Sprout Social article. Wow!
To start selling on Pinterest, merchants need to create a Business Account, and link to a business website. Then you can start pinning or creating visual posts, about your products. Hubspot offers a guide on how and what to pin for great results.
Launched in 2013, Rich Pins offer businesses a free way to make listings more useful to sellers. Product Rich Pins make regular Pins into something that can be purchased. They also include more information -- a description, price, availability, and how to purchase. The information comes from special metadata tied into product listings on your website.
Merchants can add this coding manually to their product listings. Or, if you use an e-commerce platform like Shopify or Etsy, the process is easier. Sellers can apply to pull product information from those platforms and connect your products through Rich Pins, like this one from Spoonflower:
“I've found success in the form of visits and sales through using Rich Pins,” says Stacy Caprio, the Chicago, IL-based Founder of Accelerated Growth Marketing. “One product-based site I manage, Colorful Eyes, receives 10% of traffic and sales from Pinterest.”
Promoted Pins are another way merchants can increase sales through Pinterest. These are part of the paid advertising options from Pinterest.
What’s NEW: Facebook and Instagram Shops
While Facebook and Instagram had previously provided some e-commerce functionality on their platforms, on May 19, 2020, Facebook announced that it was wholeheartedly jumping into the e-commerce world:
“Right now many small businesses are struggling, and with stores closing, more are looking to bring their business online. Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers. That’s why we’re launching Facebook Shops and investing in features across our apps that inspire people to shop and make buying and selling online easier.”
Setting up Facebook Shops is free. But Techcrunch spoke with Facebook’s vice president of ads Dan Levy, who confirmed that it would "charge 'small fees' on each purchase." However, the company expects that driving more sales to Ads will be its main source of revenue from Facebook Shops.
Facebook Shops offer businesses a way to create one online store available on both Instagram and Facebook. Customers can access the online store through a Facebook business page, an Instagram profile, Stories, and Ads. Businesses will be able to use a cover image and accent colors to customize their shops.
When customers go to a Facebook shop, they will be able to view products, save them, and order. If those customers have questions or need support, businesses will be able to communicate with them through Messenger, Instagram Direct, or WhatsApp.
Here is a video provided by Facebook of how to browse products and purchase in new Facebook Shops:
Instagram is offering the same functionality as Facebook Shops, beginning in the US this summer, as Instagram Shops. Later this year, “Instagram Shop” will be added as a new tab in the navigation bar. Here is an example of an Instagram shop experience:
How Businesses Can Implement New Facebook and Instagram Features
According to a recent Social Media Today article, “Soon, Facebook will provide eligible businesses with a link to a new 'Shop Builder' platform, an extension of your existing Facebook Page tools. From the Shop Builder, businesses will be able to upload their product listings one-by-one or connect to their existing eCommerce provider in order to stream through their current catalog. Facebook's working with Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, ChannelAdvisor, CedCommerce, Cafe24, Tienda Nube and Feedonomics to facilitate this process.”
The first businesses that will be eligible to create Facebook Shops are those who use the current shop features on Facebook and Instagram.
What’s NEW: Pinterest
Pinterest announced new features on April 7, 2020, in response to increased usage on its platform due to the pandemic:
“With so many at home these days, searches for shopping inspiration and supporting small businesses are on the rise. In the last two weeks, searches for “help small businesses” on Pinterest are up 3x compared to the prior two weeks, while searches for “home office setup” are up by 70% as people look for ideas to furnish their new work-from-home spaces. Searches for gifts for others are also up. In the past two weeks, there’s been a 4x increase in searches for “employee gifts” and searches for “care package ideas” have doubled.”
In that same announcement, Pinterest shared that customers would have new ways to shop directly from Pins, on boards, through search, and from home decor recommendations:
Here are more details:
Shop from a board: A Shop tab will now show up when Pinners visit home decor or fashion boards. The Shop tab will show products from the boards or inspired by Pins on the boards.
Shop from search: A Shop tab will now show up on search, with price and brand filters. Available products from a range of retailers will appear when searching for terms such as “spring outfits" or "kitchen remodel.”
Shop from Pins: By clicking “shop similar,” Pinners will be able to see available products for looks and rooms right from Pins.
Style guides: Browsable style guides will show up when Pinners search for home-related items, such as “living room ideas.”
Pinterest is also increasing the importance of its Verified Merchant program. The free program offers a way for sellers “who have met our guidelines for a trusted experience.” Businesses who make it through the vetting process will see a blue checkmark on their profiles and are “eligible for increased distribution within high-intent shopping experiences and metrics like conversion reporting.”
Will These New Features Help Sellers?
As with most new launches, there are different opinions about the viability of the new features on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
One seller says it’s not useful for his business. Says Cartwright, “The new Shops don’t include subscription-based products, which my business model relies on to be profitable.”
Some merchants think it will take time for buyers to accept new Shops.
“I'm very bullish on these features in the long-term, but our audiences have not adopted yet,” says Los Angeles, CA-based Kevin Zhang, CEO of Kreator eCommerce and Kevin Zhang, Inc., and owner of several e-commerce businesses. “Personally, I don't think the majority of consumers are going to want to abandon the classic purchasing journey. The path from advertisement to website to adding to cart to checking out is still what buyers are comfortable with. But certain businesses that operate in more ‘tech-savvy’ or ‘early adopter’ niches can definitely reap the rewards.”
Burke offers some positive parting thoughts:
“We will likely try out the new Facebook and Instagram features when they become available to see how they work,” she says. “I think that with Facebook and Instagram going all in for product sellers that you are going to see a lot more people selling products that don't have an official website where they sell goods.”