Online commerce and payments have grown significantly since their beginnings, and they are continuously advancing as technological developments take leaps forward. The history of ecommerce began as we know it in 1991 when the Internet first opened for commercial use. Online store websites launched and initially accepted payments performed through EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) and credit card transactions. In 1998, PayPal began the era of e-wallets, which was followed much later by Bitcoin, a decentralized virtual currency that allows peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries. And without a doubt, mobile payment solutions have increasingly become some of the most popular payment methods, especially in Africa.
In parallel to the growth and development of the ecommerce and payments arenas, social media usage and popularity have been growing exponentially. Social networks have quickly become an integral part of many people’s lives, and as such, it is only natural that the three worlds meet to create an ideal environment for merchants to sell their products and services. This is precisely what is happening, now. You, as an African merchant, can - and should - leverage social media to your advantage, taking into consideration four key aspects.
1. Social Storefronts and Payments
Social media networks, specifically Facebook, present a unique opportunity for you to be (and sell!) where your customers are. How? By enabling you to operate storefronts directly from your company page and allowing customers to purchase without the need to leave the platform. You can leverage this by running social media campaigns and driving traffic to your company page.
Shopify’s ecommerce shopping cart software is a good option to get your store up and running on Facebook. All you have to do is use Shopify’s Facebook sales channel to make all your products from your website appear under the “Shop” tab on your company’s Facebook page. Shopify is optimized for all devices, allows 2-click payments directly from Facebook, and lets you easily keep track of your sales and traffic data.
Twitter and Pinterest also present merchants with a unique opportunity to sell directly through a tweet or a pin with embedded “Buy Now” and “Buy It” buttons. African social networks, like Mxit, have also added mobile payments to their social network.
It would be wise to open a store on your company social media pages and allow customers to buy directly through the platforms, thus ensuring optimal reach of your target audience and increased sales.
2. Purchase Decisions
Purchase decisions are largely influenced by what consumers see on social media, as opposed to the company website and search engines, as it was in past years. Consumers are continuously giving more importance to the actions of brands, as well as to customer testimonials, reviews and comments on social media sites.
It is imperative that you monitor your brand exposure on social media – promptly reply to customer comments, build relationships and engage with followers, and provide relevant and useful content to your fans.
Many people access social media through their mobile phones. And you know what they say about mobile users, right? They are, well…mobile! They are constantly on-the-go. As such, when consumers are presented with a product or advertisement that interests them via mobile, their purchase decision is very quick and they act fast, especially if the ability to buy is so accessible, like with the social network “Buy” buttons mentioned in point #1.
You can capitalize on the quick purchase decisions of your potential customers by making it simple and seamless to buy – this can be done by enabling, simple, one-click mobile payments from within your social media storefront.
3. Data Insights
Social media networks have amassed an extensive amount of data regarding their users, ranging from age, gender and location, to interests, “Likes” and purchase history. Facebook, for example, has more users than the major credit card companies; As such, they have extensive data analytics on their users, allowing merchants to target audiences based on past actions.
This information can help you develop content and marketing strategies to specifically target your main audiences within social media networks.
Social media networks should be utilized to run targeted campaigns with a clear CTA (call to action) and an easily-accessible buying button. In addition to producing content to attract new customers, content should also be created to target existing followers, which will increase the chance of repeat purchases. It will also raise the probability that your existing customers will share your content amongst their peers and social circles, resulting in new fans and leads.
4. Mobile Usage and Mobile Payments
Usage of mobile devices to browse social networks (and websites in general) is at a sharp incline and expected to continue to rise. Facebook recently reported that 40% of their users now access Facebook exclusively through the mobile app. In Africa, also, many people use their mobile phones to access websites and social networks, and mobile payment solutions are increasingly popular, with 90% of adults having a mobile payments account.
As most Africans are already using at least one mobile payment platform, they are growing increasingly comfortable with making purchases through their mobile devices. As such, their trust will extend to social network payments, as well, as the two are virtually the same concept when the payments are done via the social media mobile app.
It could be a good idea to focus your marketing efforts on mobile campaigns within social networks and enable customers to make purchases directly from those campaigns.
You can utilize Facebook’s mobile payments optimization guide to ensure you are reaching your target audience in an efficient manner.
The steep rise in social media usage for ecommerce, coupled with the huge acceptance of mobile phones and mobile payment platforms, give African merchants a unique and new way to reach their target audience and convert them into active customers. By opening social media stores, using “Buy” buttons, and utilizing mobile payment systems, you can tap into a very large potential user base that can, very quickly, increase your sales and grow your business.