The 5 Best Tools for Social Commerce in 2018

Opinion: The sooner you get in on the social commerce trend, the better positioned you'll be when it becomes more mainstream

Technavio estimates that annual social commerce revenues will exceed $165 billion by 2021 grapestock/iStock

Driving just 2 percent of retail sales, social commerce isn’t much of a sales powerhouse yet, but signs are good that it will be.

Social media platforms are where people go for product recommendations and to connect with brand-focused tribes, so it only makes sense that shoppable social media will inevitably take off. Technavio estimates that annual social commerce revenues will exceed $165 billion by 2021.

Here are some of the most promising platforms and tools for selling directly to consumers via social media in the year ahead.

BigCommerce for easy multichannel social commerce

BigCommerce is a comprehensive e-commerce platform that offers built-in selling on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. BigCommerce syncs your product inventory across all social selling channels, too, so you never have to worry about inventory or fulfillment issues.

You can add your Facebook store to your business page, showcasing your entire product catalog automatically, which also enables product discovery via users’ News Feeds.

You can also create Buyable Pins, so users can repin and buy your products directly on Pinterest. And you can use your BigCommerce catalog to tag your products in your shoppable Instagram posts.

Amazon Spark for product posts via influencers

In July 2017, Amazon rolled out its Amazon Spark initiative, a social feed of user-posted images that lives within its shopping application. It’s similar to other image-heavy networks like Instagram and Pinterest, but there are a few key differences that social media marketers need to pay attention to.

As of now, only Amazon Prime customers can post and comment on Spark. Any customer can view the content, but only Prime members can interact with it. Why? Simple: Spark content is focused on and engaged with by active shoppers. Prime’s 80 million members spend an average of $600 more per year than non-Prime members.

Although marketers can’t post images on the platform yet, they can work with influencers who are authorized. This layer of trust is key to the Spark experience, because consumers can purchase the products they like on Spark without having to leave the Amazon app.

Beetailer integrates your existing store with Facebook

Beetailer is a platform that allows you to import your existing web store into Facebook. You can customize the product selection to only show a subset of your inventory or create multiple tabs on your Facebook page for different sections of your shop.

It includes tools to help you promote your store with ads, as well as analytics, so you can see how well your store is performing with your audience. Product-specific comment threads powered by Facebook will aggregate to your F-commerce presence, as well as your website.

It works worth a variety of store platforms including Magento, Shopify and PrestaShop. If you don’t have a store on one of those platforms, it’s possible to create your own store from scratch with Beetailer, too.

WeChat for social media with transactions

WeChat is a popular social media platform in China, which offers social commerce, too. Launched in 2011, the app is currently home to 806 million monthly users. It has transformed China’s digital habits, with the average user spending 70 minutes per day on the app.

It works because it’s a Swiss Army Knife of social networks, with user-interface aspects of Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, and an integrated digital wallet system that people can use to order taxis, food deliveries, pay bills and pay the cashier at a variety of brick-and-mortar retailers.

Professional merchants and ordinary people alike are using it to sell things online—either directly inside the app or by moving people seamlessly to outside shopping platforms. Research shows that 31 percent of users started purchases on WeChat, a 200 percent gain over the previous year. And with global retail brands getting increasingly involved on the platform, chances are good that the user base will expand into the West, as well.

Messenger bots for selling conversationally

Messenger bots allow you to connect with your customers on Facebook Messenger, a platform they’re already using to stay in touch with brands, publishers, friends and family regularly. The platform has 1.2 billion monthly users, so you can bet that most, if not all of your customers are already on it.

Facebook rolled out Messenger Platform support for payments last fall. Now, with a bit of programming—or by using a third-party platform like Letsclap or BotCommerce—you can set up a chat bot to ask people what they’re looking for, and from there, lead them through an interactive shopping experience that ends with checkout. Add artificial intelligence to the mix, and the opportunities for personalized concierge services that double as market research mechanisms are enormous.

Messenger bots can also send automatic messages based on triggers. For instance, you can send tracking information and other updates for orders, let customers know when products they’ve shown interest in are on sale, initiate customer service interactions and distribute links to content assets.

The sooner you get in on the social commerce trend, the better positioned you’ll be when it becomes more mainstream. Your customers and prospects are already enjoying engaging with your brand and its community on social channels. Adding direct response purchase functionality to the experience is bound to become the new standard.

Harald Merckel is a freelance writer whose primary focuses are business, e-gaming and marketing.