What is social commerce and how is it reshaping "How We Buy"? - Retail Council of Canada
Marketing & Merchandising | Digital Retail & Technology

What is social commerce and how is it reshaping “How We Buy”?

October 27, 2021
Image of a phone on an e-commerce website looking at products. Online retail

This article is provided by Reshift Media, a Canadian-based digital marketing and development organization specializing in retail businesses.

Combine the elements of retail shopping with the influence and power of social media, and you’ve got a force that is progressively taking the retail industry by storm – social commerce. Projected to reach $604.5 billion US by 2027, this is a market that retailers should consider jumping into as a way to increase brand engagement and meet consumers where they are – scrolling through their social feeds. It can also help make the shopping experience simplified and get your products more visibility in the digital space.

But what does social commerce really entail for a retail brand? Is it worth branching out and adding an additional stream of purchasing, or should retailers keep their attention on improving the consumer experience on their own websites? This article will help answer all of those questions and also help illustrate how social commerce is reshaping how consumers buy.

What is Social Commerce?

Simply put, social commerce is the process of selling products on social media. Essentially, social networking platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook become the virtual storefront for consumers to find and purchase products, typically without having to leave the website or app.

Take for instance someone who is scrolling through Instagram and sees an advertisement for a pair of sneakers among the images on their feed. Once the individual clicks on “Buy Now” (or whatever the call-to-action is) they can purchase the sneakers right there in the Instagram app and continue scrolling on their feed in mere minutes. This ease is what is so appealing to consumers and retailers alike.

The Difference Between Social Commerce and E-commerce

Is there a difference? Well, sort of. Social commerce is a subsection of e-commerce, but they differ in some ways. Yes, e-commerce stands for electronic commerce, and social media platforms are electronic. However, social commerce allows customers to make a purchase on the social platform itself. E-commerce, on the other hand, relies on consumers visiting the brand’s website to make a purchase.

Even if brands use social media to promote their products, if a consumer is redirected to the brand’s main website, that process gets categorized under e-commerce, but if the consumer can purchase a product on the social media website, that’s social commerce.

What Does Social Commerce Look Like?

Just like every social media platform looks different from a design standpoint, the way consumers purchase from a brand on these platforms will differ. Of course, the end goal looks the same, so let’s look at how two major social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook, do it. 


Instagram Shops has a similar design and format as the rest of the platform. Products are displayed in picture and video formats and users simply tap on the product(s) they want to buy. Since 60% of users find new products on Instagram, being able to purchase items easily on the app is quite a convenient feature.

Instagram has categorized its shop into four subsections.

  • Your Shop: Think of this as the main stopping ground. It’s a place where all of the products are presented from a brand, and consumers can explore various collections here.
  • Collections: Speaking of collections, Instagram Shops allows retailers to lump together products into different categories, such as New Arrivals and Seasonal Trends, which creates an even easier way for consumers to find what they are looking for.
  • Product Detail Pages (PDPs): This will provide the user with the product they are interested in purchasing, along with information like pricing and descriptions. This is also the place where brands can link to their website.

Instagram Shops also offers Product Tags which allow brands to essentially tag the image or video of their products. Users can tap on the content then tap the tag to learn more about the product and potentially complete their purchase. As well, Instagram now has a shopping tab on the platform’s home screen that makes finding new items even easier.


Facebook Shops is very similar to Instagram, and they are joined in several ways. Your brand’s Facebook shop is accessible from your Facebook Page and your Instagram page, and the entire design aspect (the images of products, the buttons to purchase, etc.) are essentially the same. It is also hosted within your Facebook Business profile.

A great thing about Facebook Shops is the customizable options that are available. You can edit the fonts, images, buttons, and colours, of the catalogue of products, which can help create some brand consistency and recognition.

Facebook & Instagram: Important Stats

Since Facebook and Instagram Shops are intertwined, the benefits they offer to brands can also be linked. For instance, research by Facebook indicates that 78% of consumers perceive brands on Instagram as popular, 77% see them as creative, 76% as entertaining, and 74% as relevant. This creates a great platform for retailers to take advantage of, making social commerce options even more appealing.

Additionally, 80% of Instagram users say they go to the platform to decide whether or not to buy a product, while 81% say they research products on the platform. If a brand has a shop set up, this makes the consumer shopping experience extremely seamless; they see a product they like or that they looked up, and they can purchase right there and then.

The Benefits of Social Commerce for Brands

According to polling by Shopify in September 2020, 22% of Canadian social commerce buyers between the ages of 18 – 34 years old made a purchase on social media within the last six months. Now, this may not seem like a particularly large number, but social commerce accelerated quite a bit during the pandemic. The rise of retail e-commerce sales in Canada grew 20.7% in 2021, with social commerce mixed in the bunch. eMarketer estimates that there will be 7.9 million social buyers in Canada in 2021, which makes this market one that brands should infiltrate.

Beyond the large market, brands can also benefit from an increased engagement that generates conversions from consumers to customers and in users to followers. When a retailer inputs products on their social media platform, it allows the chance for consumers to engage with the products as they would with any other content on the platform. For instance, on Instagram, consumers can save the post of your product, share it with a friend, like the post, and even follow you. This creates a great chance to get your brand out there and to your target audiences.

Although there are many benefits of social commerce, the main underlying benefit is the relationships that brands can maintain with their followers. In the retail space, meeting your customers’ needs is essential. When a brand utilizes social commerce features, it provides the chance to meet potential customers where they are and provide them insight into who the brand is. All of this builds to create a relationship between the customer and the retailer, and if they are happy with their purchase, they will be more likely to purchase again and tell a friend or post about it on social media!

How Social Commerce is Changing the Game

With approximately 31.76 million Canadians who use social networks, this is a large space for retailers to dive into. As of right now, around 55% of Canadian e-commerce retailers sell through these social networks, and social commerce has reached a point in popularity that is not going anywhere. Of course, in-store buying will still remain a popular choice among consumers (which will increase as pandemic restrictions ease), e-commerce and its subsection social commerce provide the convenience that consumers are looking for.

If a brand can make multiple streams of purchasing available for consumers, it can create positive results for everyone involved. Of course, making the user experience as seamless as possible on your brand’s website remains essential, but allowing for more opportunities to buy in a digital space is what can provide a greater chance for relationship building and loyal customers.

About Reshift Media

Reshift Media is a long-time partner of the Retail Council of Canada. The company is a Toronto-based digital marketing and development organization that provides leading-edge social media, search and website/mobile development services to retailers around the world. Please visit www.reshiftmedia.com to learn more.