It was once predicted that e-commerce would be a flash in the pan; something lingering momentarily before being swallowed up once again by the high street.

Quite clearly, and I don’t think numbers are needed to back up this statement, e-commerce is here to stay and has been for many years. It’s feet are well and truly under the table.

E-Commerce at Christmas

And at no time of the year is there more truth in this than at Christmas; the numbers are truly impressive.

Figures supplied by the Centre for Retail Research show that ‘online retail accounted for almost one quarter (23.4%) of Christmas spending in 2014,’ growing 19.5% to £17.37bn.

This represents a year-on-year increase in spending at Christmas of 2.2% (£1.6bn) in the UK alone, a figure only outstripped by the US.

Perhaps even more importantly, ‘in 2014 almost 30% of Christmas spending (£5.18bn) was done using mobile technology’, demonstrating an increased willingness to simplify the process of purchasing and trust in new technology.

Tying E-Commerce to Social Commerce

Traditionally, social media has always been the stepping-stone between online retail and the high street, building awareness and driving sales indirectly.

Interestingly, however, is that it’s rarely ever been about that all important final purchase. Until recently, social media has never been able to provide consumers with closure.

Of course, you can attribute a certain number of sales to social media, but its contribution to retail is only going to grow as direct sales on social media – the so-called ‘buy button’ – emerge from infancy.

As e-commerce showed us more than 10 years ago, as processes are simplified and, therefore, better understood by the consumer, trust in the technology grows, as does its adoption.

From that point, it’s not difficult to see that as methods of social commerce become more widespread, so does its share of ecommerce throughout the year and at Christmas.

2014 vs. 2015

The idea of social commerce is not a new one. Almost as soon as social media became a ‘thing’, companies began exploiting it for marketing gains. So what’s changed in 2015?

In one sentence… Social media has taken the step from passive marketing platform to direct sales machine.

The culprit? As mentioned above, the ‘buy button’. Though not yet globally available across all platforms, the buy button has nevertheless been making waves.

Pinterest ‘Buy It’

In the US, for instance, Pinterest allows retailers to add a ‘buy it’ button to products they pin to their boards. Upon clicking you might expect to be taken to an online shop somewhere else to grapple with checkouts and confirmation screens.

Not so. Everything is done in app using Apple Pay or your credit card; simply hold your assigned finger to your iPhone home button and the deed is done. A great way to capitalise on the impulse purchase, don’t you think?

The Rest

And it isn’t just Pinterest; as you might expect, all the social media giants are over direct social commerce: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.

Instagram provides a particularly interesting case study; it’s a channel that was conceived around creativity and not commerce.

Instagram-Commerce

But with the unveiling of Instagram ads two years ago, there was a feeling that these business changes were just around the corner. And so it was that Instagram began rolling out its ‘shop now’ buttons.

And while Instagram is naturally a less accessible platform than Pinterest, it does pose impressive opportunities for bigger brands looking to sell to customers directly via the network.

So, Will It?

The bottom line is that while social commerce and the ‘buy button’ are still in their infancy, they’re certainly on the verge of blossoming into a superbly viable solution for direct sales.

Ok, so social commerce may not define the Christmas sales period in 2015, but we certainly expect it to have an impact, especially as buttons for direct sales move out of testing phases (Facebook) and get rolled out globally (Pinterest).

And once direct social commerce wins the trust of consumers, who knows? It could well become a sales phenomenon.