Social media as a sales channel

We all know the reach of social media in today’s world. This size, coupled with the amount of customer personal data held by social networks offers a significant opportunity for relevant and targeted marketing and sales communications. With native social commerce forecast to top $10 billion in revenue for Instagram in 20212, we believe that social has significant potential as a growth channel for online sales.

eCommerce incumbents have seen the potential. For example, Shopify has struck a strategic partnership with TikTok – allowing Shopify’s more than 1 million merchants to directly market to TikTok users.3

The nature of social also offers fundamentally new digital shopping experiences. Looking again at TikTok, we are seeing the beginnings of new ways to shop: specifically the concept of live shopping.

In the US, Walmart has partnered with TikTok to allow users to purchase, "fashion items featured in content from some of the app's most popular creators without ever having to leave the platform" during Walmart live streams. "We're excited that we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this innovation in a shoppable live stream – a first on TikTok in the US," stated Walmart Chief Marketing Officer William White.4

It’s clear that social media offers a platform for brands to innovate in how they market and sell to customers online. In our research we wanted to understand how ready customers are for this change. Fundamentally, are customers buying goods and services through social channels and if so what are they buying?

Social media as a sales channel

2. Deutsche Bank: Shopping on Instagram Worth $10 Billion in 2021 (


4. Walmart is teaming up with TikTok to sell products on the app months after agreeing to acquire a stake in the video-based social media platform | Business Insider India

What did we find?

Overall we saw clear evidence that customers are willing to use social media sites as a sales channel, albeit with a generational divide. Our survey found a majority of respondents under 45 have bought a promoted product through a social media site, demonstrating a clear opportunity for brands to target this audience directly.

We also found 45% of people surveyed would be willing to purchase through social media sites in the future, again with likelihood decreasing by age. The takeaway for us is clear: customers are already using social as a sales channel, and we expect its importance to grow further. We’ve already seen this begin in the UK, with in app checkout testing starting in June 2021.

On the flip side, there are areas for brands to be mindful of when planning social sales. More than half (52%) of shoppers felt the main disadvantage of buying through social was the inability to physically experience the product. Whilst there are opportunities to design experiences around social, we still see this as a fundamental challenge for online commerce in general.

We already see social networks experimenting with augmented and virtual reality as a medium term strategy to bridge this divide. Instagram and Snapchat already offer augmented reality services to try on makeup, for example.5

Disadvantages of buying through social media