Should Retailers Sell Directly on Social Media?

Eric Goldschein
Eric Goldschein
Guest Contributor

Figuring out what is the best social platform for your brand and developing a thoughtful approach to reaching its audience is a must, but developing will take a thoughtful strategy, hard work and most importantly, patience.

Should retailers sell directly to shoppers on social media? The simple answer is almost always yes. Retail businesses without a presence on major platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat are asking to be ignored by consumers.

More than 70 percent of American adults use at least one social media platform, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. Many visit at least once a day. If you’re thinking globally, those figures reach into the billions. 

Unless your retail business is perfectly suited to its brick-and-mortar location and enjoys a loyal customer base without spending a lot on advertising, it could be detrimental your brand’s future to not consider the social media marketplace.

Meeting your potential customers where they are – which is likely on their phones looking at a social media app – is a great way to get exposure for less money than buying ads in legacy media like newspapers, TV or radio. 

Of course, there is a cost to selling on social media: time, effort and for some platforms, a cut of each sale you make. Then again, the same applies to making content online to generate traffic to your website or bring shoppers in person to your store.

It is also important to realize that social media platforms aren’t all the same. Selling on social media, just like marketing, is about appealing to a niche audience. Before you dive into a strategy to sell directly through a platform, it is important to research your current customer base and see which one(s) might be the best to reach them.

Here are some pros and cons to consider for selling on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.

Selling on Facebook

Facebook has the largest audience of the four social media platforms discussed here, with 69 percent of American adults using the network, according to the Pew survey, and in the third quarter of this year, the company reported that is daily active users in the U.S. and Canada grew to 189 million.

Getting your products in front of even a sliver of this audience could greatly drive awareness. But that isn’t enough. Building a brand that users engage with is crucial to having success selling through not just Facebook, but all social media platforms. 

Recognition isn’t instant, either. However, forming a Facebook Group is a smart way to begin forming a community around your brand. While there’s no surefire way to get users to engage, a 2018 Stanford Graduate School of Business study offers a few tips. For example: Content with humor and emotion work better than straight information about prices or deals.

There is a catch: Selling directly on Facebook comes with a fee. It’s 5 percent per sale, and the minimum is 40 cents, according to Facebook’s merchant agreement.

Selling on Instagram and Snapchat

If your products skew toward the under-35 demographic, or you are hoping to gain traction with female shoppers, Instagram and Snapchat are both ideal outlets. Both platforms have avid audiences from within those populations, drawn to enticing photos and videos.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, says it has a billion monthly active users and that 60 percent come to the platform to discover new products.

The majority of Snapchat’s audience is 24 and younger and the company claims that 38 percent of its audience doesn’t use Instagram and Facebook daily.

Both Snapchat and Instagram allow shoppers to purchase items without leaving their platforms. Neither company has revealed the fees they charge sellers.

As mentioned earlier, these social networks thrive on visual content. So before attempting to sell on Instagram and Snapchat, ask yourself: Do you have the time and creativity to create vibrant photos and videos to showcase your products, can you keep these accounts active and updated, and do you have a plan to win the attention of influencers who can push your brand to thousands of followers?

Selling on Pinterest

Unlike Instagram and Snapchat, Pinterest isn’t flashy. But, that doesn’t mean the content or message you provide potential customers shouldn’t be bold. The network bills itself as a place for people looking to “try new things,” where brands should strive to “inspire” and not “interrupt.”

Its demographic is mostly female and is a favorite with hobbyists. Pinterest also says 40 percent of its audience has a household income of over $100,000 a year and substantial portion of its users are actively shopping. The platform makes it easy for users to collect and save “pins,” making the experience far less ephemeral than Snapchat and Instagram. 

To capture these eager consumers, think about content that provides explanation. Describing the way your product works or what makes it unique—infographics and how-to videos are great ways to turn a browser into a customer.

Even better, Pinterest doesn’t charge vendors fees. Instead, users can buy pins and purchase items without leaving the platform.

Other Social Networks to Consider

Your venture into social media selling doesn’t have to be limited to just the four mentioned above. Setting up a YouTube channel is a powerful way to connect with consumers, especially if, like Pinterest, you have products that lend themselves to instructional videos. 

If you sell items of interest to business professionals, consider LinkedIn. Setting up a group and a blog on the network are the key ways to build a brand and establish relationships on the network.

To recap, selling directly to social media users is becoming a necessity for retailers. These platforms can provide new revenue streams and generate new customers, as well as deliver vital information about their interests and habits. 

Sure, having a face-to-face conversation with shoppers in your store is invaluable. Connecting with them on social media is the next best way to forge meaningful interactions, and offers a way to address questions and concerns that can burnish loyalty.

Figuring out what is the best network for your products and developing a thoughtful approach to reaching its audience is a must. Developing a following isn’t magic – it will take a thoughtful strategy, hard work and most importantly, patience, but the payoff can be immense.

About the writer: Eric Goldschein is the partnerships editor at Fundera, a marketplace for small business financial solutions. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in history and English writing. Eric has nearly a decade of experience in digital media and writes extensively on marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, and small business trends.

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