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B2B: Navigating the new digital ecosystems

Danika Petersen

Rapid adoption of ecommerce is modernizing the way we think about advertising ecosystems.

Lockdown behaviours during the pandemic have led to massive increases in ecommerce sales, including a 42.4% YoY rise in non-food categories, and forced many SMBs to adopt online selling.

During this time, several online platforms and publishers have launched products that aim to make their platforms go beyond being solely content, news, or information hubs for consumers, and transition to including ecommerce directly into their offerings.

But the motivations behind this rush towards digital and social commerce differs by channel. Most publishers (e.g., BuzzFeed) currently work on an affiliate revenue model, however, shopping directly on those same sites is becoming more common as consumer habits change and publishers seek revenue beyond ad units sold. On the other hand, the focus on ecommerce for platforms like Facebook isn’t so much about seeking out additional revenue, as likely as it is expanding and strengthening their offerings for brands in order to drive higher usage, reliance, and loyalty of their platform. 

Implication: DTC offerings are solvent opportunities for brands to provide a more seamless experience for their consumers 

Look for integrations within greater publisher ecosystems that include established digital placements as well as more innovative ecommerce offerings.

Look for ways to differentiate your offerings using new forms of ecommerce and unique publishers.

Customer mindsets are accelerating the pace of innovation, and driving the use of creativity and experience within ecommerce.

While the decision making process of a buyer has not necessarily changed, their mobile phones and social media apps have taken on much more significant roles. By providing these seemingly digital ‘one-stop-shops’ of discovery, comparison and transactions all in one place, platforms are able to seemingly achieve the nearly impossible needs of today’s consumers that blend both personalized and engaging experiences with rapid and seamless transactions.

Nevertheless, as powerful as immediate click-to-purchase transactions can be, it’s crucial to understand the consumer's mindset during these interactions. Certain channels are primed for this type of ecommerce experience based on the existing functions they have in a user's purchase journey. For example, platforms that are prone to signals of discovery and consideration, like Facebook and Instagram, have been able to logically transition into these social commerce hybrids while others like Twitter, Reddit, and LinkedIn have not.

The original approach to ecommerce led by the likes of Amazon and Google has long been based on the idea that consumers want their transactions processed and products ordered as quickly as possible. For Amazon specifically, it has led to “the perception (and indeed sometimes criticism) that customers shop on Amazon for products, not brands.” - a bane for SMBs, especially as Amazon has recently been criticized for copying products and selling at cheaper cost (even though store brands have long been a staple of brick and mortar retailers).

This inability to differentiate within the space has led consumers to face bouts of choice paralysis and a thirst for more engaging and richer experiences, so much so that Amazon has matured their formats and offerings, developing a new ‘Stores’ format as well as ‘Follow’ and ‘Post’ features more routinely found on social media platforms. 

Implication: Leverage what you know about the digital consumer’s mindset and purchase journey within your content and media strategies. 

When making advertising decisions, tap into customer intelligence and the nuances within digital purchase journeys. For example, when and where are high dwell and consideration periods taking place for consumers? How can your brand establish themselves within these moments? What are ways for your brand to provide seamless consumer experiences within the digital space?

Advanced integration of ecommerce and content will lead advertisers to be more thoughtful with their placements. 

Based on the recent launches, it feels Facebook’s Shops is focusing on onboarding brands so that they can self-sustain in the long term, whilst Buzzfeed has followed Amazon’s logic of rolling out personalized shopping recommendations to customers of BuzzFeed Shopping. And despite the support brands will get, it all comes down to solving a single problem: the hunt for new revenue.

But Facebook isn't trying to compete with existing ecommerce platforms like Amazon or Shopify. In fact, they seem to be actually approaching Shopify as more of a partner. What’s more important is that while Facebook will charge a fee every time a Store makes a sale, that revenue stream is likely not as valuable as the potential for incremental ad revenue. Facebook Shops, combined with Facebook Pay and Instagram Checkout (which allows shoppers to pay for items without leaving the app), ought to lead to higher conversion rates for people who click on ads. And Facebook will be able to provide better measurement statistics for merchants, which would potentially create more value for advertisers, which means higher ad prices.

The historical offerings that drove ROI within digital advertising are no longer cutting it, and even then, ROI alone is no longer enough of a selling point. Ethics, risk, and values have all taken on a larger role in the decision making process among advertisers when it comes to choosing ad platforms. Which is likely why Facebook is betting big on its ecommerce offerings as critical to growing its ecosystem. 

Implication: The industry is evolving at a rapid pace, providing greater opportunities for brands and more succinct yet unique experiences for consumers. 

Over half of all online sales are now done through mobile. So the market for convenience, — through apps, chat bots, VR and AR or more seamless payments — are the layers of commerce and tech that are driving the mass popularity and interest in digital commerce and Shops. Change and evolution of products and offerings is critical for publishers, platforms, and brands.

Summary

The adoption of social commerce and digital ‘shops’, by both platforms and brands, will change the role social channels have within media and marketing strategies. Being aware of the evolving offerings these channels provide, and how they can fit into an overall communications strategy beyond their established roles will allow for innovative and differentiated marketing opportunities. 

Brands who have already established a presence and voice on social channels will be well-equipped for seamless integration of these social commerce offerings, while those who neglect these digital shops risk losing out on digital availability, which has become a key factor in driving brand growth. 

The future of ecommerce, very bright indeed after 2020 adoption gains, is likely to mean more content integration, personalization, and entertainment. Video-first platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels, which have integrated ecommerce features into their content, will presumably continue to grow in popularity and influence.