According to the latest market and consumer reports, the times of mindlessly browsing a retail website with a laptop simultaneously acting as a heating pad for your thighs are long gone. Say goodbye to horrendously full shopping carts resulting in a questionable credit card balance and endless return labels. Shopping online has to be quick and easy. Ten clicks for a purchase? No, thank you.
The global social commerce industry is worth $492 billion and is expected to grow three times as fast as traditional e-commerce.
Cue social commerce. Nowadays, viewed as the epicentre of online shopping, it means that a person’s entire shopping experience takes place on social media – from product discovery to check-out; in-app. While Amazon or Etsy, true pioneers in terms of e-commerce, are still undoubtedly relevant, literally everything now has to conveniently happen in one app.
“The pandemic showed how much people use social platforms as the entry point for everything they do online — news, entertainment, and communication,” says Robin Murdoch, global Software & Platforms industry lead at professional service company Accenture. According to their report ‘Why Shopping’s Set for a Social Revolution’ published in January of this year, the global social commerce industry is worth $492 billion and is expected to grow three times as fast as traditional e-commerce. Meaning, $1.2 trillion by 2025.
Selling live via streaming experienced a 61% growth globally from January to September 2021 compared to the same period the year before.
All this growth is primarily driven by Gen Z and millennial users, whose lives practically play out on social media. Familiar with the array of features apps offer, brands have to make sure to utilise these functions to their advantage. Shoppable advertising includes swipe-up options in stories, styling videos, in-app stores, and livestream selling. As stated in Shopify’s 2022 ‘Future of E-commerce’ trend report, selling live via streaming experienced a 61% growth globally from January to September 2021 compared to the same period the year before. So no wonder, 49% of the brands surveyed said they would increase investments in social commerce this year.
Accenture’s online survey also found out that by 2025, the highest number of social commerce purchases globally are expected in clothing. High street or high end, almost every brand has an online presence today. And while luxury may have been a little late to selling on their respective websites, fashion e-commerce giants such as Net-A-Porter or Matches Fashion are beloved destinations for online luxury shoppers. In recent years, they’ve extended their reach by launching apps and using Instagram Shop to cater to a younger generation ready and capable to spend.
“Instead of solely focussing on building a collection and running a business, the need for a presence on social media makes it necessary to stay on top of your game with visual communication, interaction, engagement, and a clear idea of branding.” – René Scheibenbauer
But what if you’re not a big-budget player yet?
Competition in the online sphere has been as fierce as ever, with digital advertising being more costly and less lucrative than in pre-pandemic times. As an emerging brand today, manoeuvring your way to sartorial success requires more than getting stocked at retailers and being featured in glossy magazines.
“With the growing popularity of e-commerce, social media offers a lot of opportunities. But, there are also many new challenges designers have to face. Instead of solely focussing on building a collection and running a business, the need for a presence on social media makes it necessary to stay on top of your game with visual communication, interaction, engagement, and a clear idea of branding,” says Austrian designer René Scheibenbauer. His eponymous brand, established in 2018 after his graduation from Central Saint Martins, is known for functional yet elegant pieces which value the wearer’s emotion.
In an effort to humanise plain and simple business transactions based on supply and demand, brands build online communities that are connected through similar beliefs, interests, and lifestyles.
The brand’s pieces are sold on multiple channels, trying to keep a balance between its own website, an e-tailer, and Instagram. Social media and online retailers help with catching people’s attention, yet there is substantial power to one’s own page, as René explains. “On an e-tailer platform, it’s more about the item itself. It is showcased next to other brands and styled by an external team. But with your own e-shop, where the bigger picture of the brand plays a role, customers can feel more connected with the brand’s values and, as a result, may become a loyal returning customer.”
Trust is a key ingredient in shopping. Shopify’s ‘Future of E-commerce’ report revealed that 52% of shoppers prefer to purchase from companies they have shared values with. In fact, more than a whopping 80% of customers turn to Google for a brand background check before committing to a purchase. It’s online, where we not only get our information but also make interpersonal connections. Therefore, in an effort to humanise plain and simple business transactions based on supply and demand, brands build online communities that are connected through similar beliefs, interests, and lifestyles.
Little by little, newsletters, chatrooms, and social media accounts were added to the list of ways to make consumers feel like they are part of something. But what if a life-like component in the digital world is added to a customer’s experience?
“The brands that speak to everyone speak to no one.” – Morgan Brown, Vice President of Growth Marketing at Shopify
The metaverse is an alternate reality that feels like a futuristic members-only club. A relatively new phenomenon, virtual reality platforms such as CEEK with its CEEK City or the more widely known game space Roblox offer escapes from reality that feel remarkably close to it. One can shop at H&M and Ralph Lauren or visit the Gucci Vault, which acts as a library, archive, and meeting space for vintage enthusiasts of the Italian brand. For anyone who doesn’t yet see an existence in the metaverse in their future, there is a more graspable option that still has that hyper innovative touch; NFTs.
An NFT, short for ‘non-fungible token’, is a unique, non-tradeable product usually part of a blockchain. The significance for fashion lies in the fact that in an NFT, exclusivity meets scarcity. Besides being investments, tokens can act as a golden ticket to exclusive content or sales for a few lucky (and financially well-off) ones to legitimise their status as true, passionate followers of a fashion house or brand. In short, it’s next level bonding with customers.
“The brands that speak to everyone speak to no one. Whether brand differentiation means what the brand stands for, the way the product is made, or the way they engage their audience, consumers are looking for differentiated experiences and brands they can connect to,” says Morgan Brown, Vice President of Growth Marketing at Shopify. Products that bridge the physical and digital spheres are vital to a brand’s perceived sense of progress and relevance.
“Until now, my contribution to the environmental issues has been through my use of dead stock or upcycled materials. I was curious about tech solutions.” – Victor Weinsanto
LVMH Prize semifinalist of 2022 Victor Weinsanto is aware of that. In collaboration with fashion’s first circular metaverse SPIN by global platform Lablaco, WEINSANTO offers pieces of its SS22 collection as phygital NFTs, available in-store at Dover Street Little Market in Paris as well as in the metaverse. The French designer’s brandunites fun, experimental fashion with sustainability and, now, digitalisation.
“Until now, my contribution to the environmental issues has been through my use of dead stock or upcycled materials. I was curious about tech solutions. Then, I was introduced to Lablaco, and the opportunity to be part of this circular fashion platform struck me as a way for me to continue influencing change by becoming part of a new ecosystem,” shares the designer.
Internet of Things (IoT) care labels give customers the opportunity to scan a QR code to know about the background of the supplier, brand, and retailer as well as upload their own content such as photos of how they styled it. All through a secure blockchain. That way, wearers actively participate in an item’s lifespan. “I already get excited when I see someone wearing a WEINSANTO piece, but now they can actually connect and become part of the clothing’s story, it’s insane. That playful, interactive aspect reflects my brand’s vibe,” says Victor.
“We believe that the creative world has developed into one of monopolies, and too often it is hard for emerging talents, artists, and brands to solidify themselves within it.” – Karim Coppola, founder of VISORE LAB
It’s not only emerging designers that embrace a multifaceted approach to fashion and retail. New e-commerce platforms such as VISORE X aim at revolutionising the way we shop online. The brainchild of creative-tech agency VISORE LAB, it is a curated online space offering collaborations and limited collections. Community-driven at heart, the marketspace nurtures emerging talent by amplifying visions and helping with reaching broader audiences.
“We believe that the creative world has developed into one of monopolies, and too often it is hard for emerging talents, artists, and brands to solidify themselves within it. We aim to destroy those boundaries and create a space accessible to all,” says Karim Coppola, founder of VISORE LAB. “Our platform seeks to push boundaries. Gab resonated with this narrative and allowed it to transcend further for the launch of our platform,” shares Karim, whose commitment to his community goes beyond the usual retail business.“Omnichannel retail is an aspect we cannot ignore. The modern customer is demanding immersive and novel experiences where a brand’s identity is reinforced. Therefore, we haven’t ruled out the possibility of jumping on the metaverse wagon,” he continues.
E-commerce is a battleground. Some fight on socials, others in the metaverse. Tensions and downsides are unavoidable with so many players competing over a massive yet selective audience’s attention. Concerns around authenticity, personal data usage and financial reliability can make or break online purchases.
While experts insist on brands making a customer’s experience as unique as possible, personalisation has its limit. And price. Internet users may have ways to ensure their privacy online, backed by several international governments introducing legislations. However, if it’s getting too intimate in terms of customisation, especially communication in the form of newsletters, consumers tend to feel stalked rather than understood. As Shopify’s report states, 40% of customers refuse to buy from brands due to concerns regarding personal data use.
Social commerce is generally more embraced in growing economies, with China having led the way for a while. Accenture found out that eight out of ten Chinese social media users have bought something using socials.
“In terms of social media, moving along with developments in online technology can really help to enhance your brand, especially when it comes to introducing new pieces.” – Meg Kim
E-commerce’s biggest strength is its accessibility, fast pace, and penchant for innovation. Online shopping for fashion on social media or dressing a Roblox avatar in a $5 Ralph Lauren puffer may be alienating to some, but with their almost innate affinity for the digital world, Gen Z and Gen Alpha are target customers for many businesses, including ones led by their peers. All this is a big plus for talent fresh out of university such as Meg Kim.
Born in Seoul, she started her namesake brand in 2020 after graduating from Fashion Design: Technology Menswear at London College of Fashion. The young designer, has just recently added the shop feature to her Instagram profile to boost the traffic to her website.
“From my perspective, social media is a cost-efficient and effective marketing tool. Using it right can bring a lot of great opportunities for your business, and it also challenges you to plan launches creatively.” – Meg Kim
“In terms of social media, moving along with developments in online technology can really help to enhance your brand, especially when it comes to introducing new pieces,” Meg shares. “From my perspective, social media is a cost-efficient and effective marketing tool. Using it right can bring a lot of great opportunities for your business, and it also challenges you to plan launches creatively.”
When well-known e-tailers aren’t yet willing to stock an emerging brand’s pieces and the means of building a website are missing, they can take matters into their own hands. As with every trend in fashion, the wave of recent technological developments in the online retail space is slowly but surely hitting the masses. Non-fungible tokens are now up there with rare luxury handbags and limited edition sneakers. People seem to be catching on.
Fashion runs on change. It picks up moods, thematises issues and holds a mirror up to society, which is needed now more than ever. What fashion also does is embrace technological process, whether that be in garment production or online shopping. And as peculiar it may initially appear, if the outcome is a more open, fair and creative retail landscape, then we have nothing to worry about.