The pandemic shaped and altered several aspects of our lives. One of them is the way we shop. As visits to the local store nearly stopped during the peak of COVID-19, people’s online shopping carts filled up. This shift in behaviour made some companies draw up new business plans to lure shoppers.
In parallel, the idea of brand ambassadors was evolving as a creator economy blossomed. A portion of people in this section with a large number of followings are called “influencers”, and within this group an army of digital hawkers play the role of brand ambassadors. They market and sell products made by several brands. This has created a new industry: social commerce.
This army was connected to buyers via social media platforms. According to an Accenture survey of more than 10,000 global users, nearly two-thirds said they have purchased something over social media.
In October 2021, two of China’s top live-streamers sold $3 billion worth of goods in just a single day. That’s roughly three times the average daily sales of Amazon. This industry is all set to sweep the world, growing to $1.2 trillion by 2025, the consulting firm noted.
The trend was too real to be ignored. And usually, after seeing a product on social media, users left the service to make a purchase on e-commerce sites. But now, social media firms were looking to close the sale on their service itself. This is one reason why Instagram introduced its payment feature in chats.
“When you’re chatting with a qualified small business on Instagram, you’ll now be able to make purchases without leaving the chat,” the photo-sharing app said in a blog post in July.
Just two months after this update, Facebook’s sister company is toning down its plans on building an e-commerce vertical within its app. According to a report by The Information, Instagram is planning to drastically scale back its shopping features as it shifts the focus of its e-commerce efforts to those that directly drive advertising. Staff were even notified that the existing shopping page may eventually disappear.
There was once an idea that shopping may provide short time relief to people suffering from depression. This used to be glibly called retail therapy. But the habit made people addicted to the process, like opioid use, either a therapy or an addiction, depending on whether each person uses it adaptively or maladaptively. In Instagram’s case, even before its users could get used to a process, the platform is getting rid of it.
(This article is part of Today’s Cache, The Hindu’s newsletter on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, innovation and policy. To get Today’s Cache in your inbox, subscriber here.)