The future of social commerce is here. Sprout Social’s latest social shopping study found that 68 percent of consumers made at least one purchase directly from social media in 2021. 

In December last year, the firm surveyed 1,000 US consumers about their social media habits and their thoughts on social commerce as social media constantly redefines how we communicate, learn, connect and now: shop.

Consumers are increasingly turning to TikTok Shopping, Instagram Shopping and Facebook Shops when embarking on their purchase journey, a trend that seems to be picking up speed. This year, 98 percent of consumers said they plan to make at least one purchase through social apps or influencer commerce, found the report.

Social media apps have evolved into a “digital mall” where connecting with friends, like-minded individuals, influencers and celebrities are just the beginning. Now, users can socialize while they shop and even get guidance from influencers while doing so—just the way they’d receive advice from a Google search or a rec from a friend. 

As a result, brands play an even bigger role in guiding customers through their shopping journey. Where once consumers had to email or call a brand about questions, now they can direct message them or interact with them during a live shopping event. Sprout Social’s research found that more people discover a product directly from the brand that sells it than they do through their own research, peers and influencers.

Finding the perfect purchase while using social media is as seamless as it seems. The most common ways consumers are finding those products are by seeing a targeted ad (49 percent), organic post by a brand (40 percent), doing research on social media (34 percent), seeing a friend’s post (34 percent) and hearing about it via tags and direct messages (22 percent).

Sprout Social also found that in 2022 consumers intend on shopping through the social platforms where they feel most comfortable and spend the most time. Gen Z social shoppers are most excited when it comes to visual-first social networks like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Baby boomers are more inclined to use Facebook to make purchases while women look forward to shopping on TikTok and Pinterest. Men will be spending their social shopping time on Twitch and Twitter. Don’t be surprised at not seeing Facebook at the top of any of these cohorts’ lists—only those above age 57 anticipate using it to make an online purchase this year.

When people shop via social, they turn to friends for recommendations—especially those aged 18 to 40—consider comments or product reviews, assess their familiarity with the brand and consider their significant other’s recommendation – in that order.

During lockdowns, Gen Z, millennials and Gen X started trusting influencers as much as they trust their friends. According to associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago Dr. Jenna Drenten, these “parasocial” relationships between consumers and influencers have grown to be a key driver of purchase intention, especially given influencers often cultivate communities of trust and shared passions. 

Baby boomers haven’t incorporated influencers into their decision-making the way they have friends and family. For all cohorts of consumers, a lack of established trust may be why strangers’ product reviews and crowdsourced comments have such little impact on purchase decisions.

Inclusivity is another important driver of social commerce. As much as 60 percent of consumers report being more likely to buy from a brand with inclusive marketing. Inclusivity is particularly important for Gen Z (73 percent) and millennial (72 percent) shoppers while consumers over the age of 41 are more likely to remain neutral about the extent of which inclusivity matters.

The features that consumers use currently and expect to use more frequently into 2022 include watching live streams (61 percent and 53 percent), in-app shopping (41 percent and 46 percent) and commenting and engaging on livestreams (35 percent and 33 percent). Only 16 percent of respondents reported using virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) through 21 percent hope to use it more this year.

Livestreams are the most popular feature on social media platforms. About 71 percent of livestream watchers have bought something on social while 48 percent expect to buy more through in-platform features in 2022. 

Note that audience matters here – 61 percent of Gen X shoppers and 44 percent of Gen Z shoppers expect to watch livestreams this year. Additionally, 45 percent of shoppers are excited about buying directly via their favorite social platforms. That number rises to 52 percent for Gen Zers.

Early adopters of AR and VR are prepared to spend more, with 85 percent of consumers who currently use AR and VR saying they’ve already started social shopping.

By 2025, social shopping is set to become a $1.2 trillion channel. Brands seeking to capitalize on the trend should prioritize a streamlined in-platform shopping experience.