• Chinese retail social commerce sales will reach $351.65 billion
  • 35.9% of US internet users will make at least one social commerce purchase this year
  • Facebook is the top social commerce platform in the US, boasting 56.1 million buyers.
  • US social commerce sales will grow more than 35% to surpass $36 billion in 2021.
  • Brands are leveraging social media checkout and shopping integrations as tech-savvy consumers engage with social commerce more often.
  • Do you work in the Ecommerce and Retail industry? Get business insights on the latest tech innovations, market trends, and your competitors with data-driven research.

In 2021, US social commerce sales will rise by 35.8% to $36.62 billion. That’s only a slight deceleration in growth from social commerce’s blowout 2020, when sales surged by 38.9%, thanks mainly to the pandemic-driven boom in ecommerce and increased social media consumption.

Even so, that $36.62 billion in sales this year means that the US’s social commerce market will be about one-tenth the size of China’s—$351.65 billion in 2021.

US retail social commerce sales will reach $36.62 billion in 2021, but that’s still about one-tenth the size of China’s social commerce market. - Insider Intelligence
US retail social commerce sales will reach $36.62 billion in 2021, but that’s still about one-tenth the size of China’s social commerce market. Insider Intelligence

And as brands continue to leverage social media checkout and shopping integrations, tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Zers, who are familiar with and motivated by influencer content, will likely engage with social commerce more often.

What is social commerce?

Social commerce falls under the larger ecommerce umbrella, and refers to when a consumer’s shopping experience occurs directly on a social media platform. It can also include clicking links on a social network that lead to a retailer’s product page with an immediate purchase option. 

In 2021, we expect more than 424 million people ages 14 and up in China to make at least one social commerce purchase during the calendar year, equating to 46.4% of internet users. Of the 13 countries where we forecast the number of social buyers, the US is in second place in terms of penetration among internet users, at 35.9%, or 90.2 million people.

Social commerce marketing strategies for brands

No one marketing strategy is going to work for every brand—a social shopping experience for athleisure is going to look very different from a campaign for electronics. However, all brands can utilize influencers, consumer calls to action, and user generated content, to successfully compete in the social commerce market. 

Phrases such as “swipe up to purchase,” or “store link in bio,” have become extremely popular calls to action—pushing social media users to purchase the items or services they see advertised on their newsfeeds. 

User-generated content has risen in importance for marketers—with TikTok videos and hashtag challenges providing value for brands. This viewer-friendly content combined with appropriate call to action steps has been a boon for advertisers and marketers alike. In addition to these organic opportunities, companies should keep influencers top of mind when planning their social commerce strategy.

In 2019, Instagram gave some influencers the ability to create shoppable posts using Checkout on Instagram, while Snapchat gave select top-tier influencers a “shop” button. And even TikTok has tapped the social commerce market—announcing its partnership with Shopify in November 2020. 

According to a September 2020 GlobalWebIndex survey, 70% of internet users in the US who regularly watched influencer-led livestreams said they were likely to buy products recommended by those influencers. Overall, we forecast that 67.9% of US marketers from companies with 100 employees or more will use influencer marketing this year.

Social commerce trends

Thanks to the example set by China, brands remain optimistic about the future of social commerce. According to Insider Intelligence’s Social Commerce 2021 report, social commerce will be a key source of ecommerce growth in the US, and China offers a road map for innovation.  

Specifically, China’s WeChat platform will stand as the model US companies and other brands will look to when constructing a social commerce strategy. By allowing merchants to house virtual storefronts on the platform, WeChat functions as a one-stop shop for ecommerce.

While consumers may go online to search for a product that they need, social commerce could fill a void when people go online without knowledge of what they’re looking for or even intent to buy. Through social media platforms, brands and companies are looking to help consumers with product discovery.

Examples of social commerce companies

Social media companies have comparative strengths that determine its approach to social commerce. Here are some of the top social media platforms that are helping brands leverage social commerce: 

Facebook

Facebook’s massive scale is what drives it to the top of the list brands look to when deciding where to market. According to our inaugural forecast, Facebook is the top social commerce platform in the US, boasting 56.1 million buyers in 2021.

In 2020, Facebook launched Facebook Shops—a mobile platform where businesses can create online stores for free—to help small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) bring their storefronts online amid the pandemic. And if the effort is successful, Facebook Shops could work its way upstream to larger brands.

Instagram

The influencer culture associated with Facebook-owned Instagram makes it a top player in the social commerce space. 

In 2019 Instagram launched Instagram Checkout— streamlining the way brands allow purchases directly on the platform. In 2020 Instagram took their shoppable content a step further by placing the shop tab icon at the bottom of the homepage. This enables Instagram users to click on the icon and instantly see and purchase products advertised by brands, influencers, or celebrities they follow.

Pinterest

Some of the most popular categories searched on Pinterest have to do with interior design, fashion, and health & fitness—making its contextual relevance for shopping and brand awareness an ideal platform for social commerce. 

While Pinterest drives significantly less engagement than Facebook, it still registers as a key purchase channel because its entire premise is centered around creating inspiration for what to buy.

TikTok

Even though TikTok is new to the social commerce industry, its heritage as a Chinese company already gives it a leg up on platform competitors as it has the benefit of understanding what’s worked and what hasn’t in other markets. 

TikTok’s algorithmic prowess and engaged, tech-savvy user base have potential to unleash rapid growth as it achieves product-market fit. And its recent tie-up with Walmart gives it a formidable ecommerce partner to fuel and fulfill consumer demand.

Twitter

Probably the least popular social platform when it comes to social commerce is Twitter—especially after dropping its buy button feature in 2017. But the platform does offer marketers and brands the ability to engage in social listening, which can later assist in their social commerce strategy.

By gaining insight into exactly what their audience is talking about, being honest about what they like and what they don’t like, brands can analyze that information and develop a social media strategy based off of the data collected.

Social commerce market stats & outlook

Insider Intelligence forecasts that US retail social commerce sales will rise by 35.8% to $36.62 billion in 2021. While fashion categories including apparel and accessories remain the largest for social commerce, other lifestyle brands looking to market electronics and home decor are also key players. And brands featuring new and differentiated products are best suited for the social commerce environment.