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Retail Insights

Amelia Willson

If you’ve browsed your Instagram, TikTok, or even Pinterest feed recently, you already know: social commerce is heating up. 

Social commerce is the ability to browse, add to cart, and complete a purchase without ever leaving a social media app. In 2020 alone, the number of people who bought something using social commerce skyrocketed by 30%

As with so many other retail trends, the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the shift to in-app shopping. Three-quarters of consumers now find themselves shopping via social media more often than they did two years ago.

Instagram shopping grew substantially in 2020, with a growth rate 185% above pre-pandemic levels. In the same timeframe, TikTok experienced a whopping 500% increase, demonstrating the platform’s swift adoption among social commerce shoppers. With growth like this, Instagram and TikTok are set to dominate the social commerce landscape for years to come. 

Ready to get in on the action? Read on for our review of what in-app shopping looks like for shoppers across social platforms, how it is evolving, and the benefits this increasingly convenient social shopping experience offers ecommerce retailers.

From post to purchase: how in-app social shopping works

In-app social shopping allows customers to browse a retailer’s product catalog, add items to their carts, and check out — all without ever leaving the social platform. For retailers, enabling social commerce is nearly as easy. 

First, you’ll need to create a business account on Facebook (for Facebook and Instagram) and TikTok. Then, retailers can connect their ecommerce platform (e.g. Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, WooCommerce) with the social app via a few clicks. Currently, TikTok only supports Shopify integration. If you don’t host your website on one of Facebook’s eCommerce partners, you have the option to manually upload your product catalog.

The evolution of in-app shopping

Social commerce has taken off with such success that it’s easy to forget that it’s still very much in its infancy. Instagram launched the feature in May 2020. Here’s a look at some of the key features.

Catalogs, collections, and more

On your Shop page, social media users can browse your entire ecommerce store within the social media app. They can browse products, add to cart, and check out. 


With Instagram Collections, retailers can curate product collections. These can include all the products in a particular category, as well as creative gift guides and “Complete the Look” style suggestions.

Click-to-cart advertising

Over half (53%) of consumers discover new products through mobile advertising, with video ads seeing the most engagement. Retailers can drive purchases faster via ads that link directly to their in-app shop or individual products.

Exclusive in-app launches

On Instagram, U.S. businesses can share previews of their product launches via Instagram Stories, and let shoppers sign up to be notified when they goes live. 

Additional shopping avenues

In addition to traditional social posts and ads, retailers can leverage in-app shopping in newer formats, including live streams, Instagram Reels, and most recently, TikTok. 

TikTok and Shopify’s pilot social commerce program is set to expand to all merchants this fall. Like Facebook and Instagram, the functionality will include the ability to link to products in posts and add a Shop tab to their user profiles. Prior to launching in-app shopping, the platform was a hotspot for product discovery. The hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit has 4.6 billion views—boding well for the uptake of a formal shopping feature.

Key benefits of social commerce for retailers

Here are three reasons why in-app shopping is a smart move for ecommerce merchants.

1. Reduced friction at checkout

The standout benefit of social commerce — for brands and users alike — is the seamless checkout experience. It looks something like this: 

  • A shopper sees a post, IG Live, or TikTok video with a product that interests them. 
  • They click on it, and are taken to a simplified product page that lives within the social media app. 
  • They select a size or color, add to their cart, and check out. 
  • Then they go straight back to browsing their feed.

The shopper never leaves the app. As a result, there’s no opportunity for a shopper to get distracted on the way to your website. They don’t have to type your product’s name into Google, where they’ll be greeted with paid ads from your competitors. 

Instead, the immediacy of social in-app shopping — and the near absence of friction — prevents shoppers from thinking twice before they buy. That means more sales for ecommerce retailers.

Pro Tip: Social commerce offers such a simplified checkout experience that retailers only have one potential hurdle to overcome: price. That’s where Buy Now, Pay Later can help. BNPL splits a shopper’s cart total into four easy payments, making a purchase seem much more manageable. Learn how to add BNPL to checkout with Zip in just 10 minutes. 

2. Broad appeal across verticals and shoppers

The preference for in-app social shopping spans across retail verticals. Beauty, clothing, and health and wellness products enjoy the most purchases from social media, but categories like electronics, home, and food and beverage also generate a healthy number of purchases.

Social commerce is also widely popular among multiple generations. 85% of Gen Xers plan to use apps for holiday shopping, while nearly half (46%) of Gen Z and millennial shoppers say they make a social media purchase at least monthly. 

Like Buy Now, Pay Later, social commerce checks many of the boxes important to these consumers. Around one-third of Gen Z shoppers say easy checkout is important, and they prefer using digital wallets. BNPL and social commerce both support digital wallets, and taken together they make the checkout and payment process seamless.

3. Increased online sales

Social media has always been effective in driving sales. Over 70% of consumers make  purchase decisions based on something they see on Instagram.

Now, thanks to in-app shopping, one in ten shoppers say they’ve purchased a product immediately after seeing it on social media. 

According to eMarketer, U.S. social commerce sales will reach $36.62 billion in 2021, an increase of 35.8% over last year. Worldwide, social commerce sales are expected to more than quintuple by 2027.

The benefits of social commerce are clear. Users can purchase a product immediately after seeing it on social media, and get right back to browsing. For merchants, the social checkout experience leads to less friction, fewer abandoned carts, and increased sales.

Supercharge your social commerce experience by offering BNPL with Zip. Merchants who add Zip to checkout see an average 20% increase in conversion and 60% increase in AOV. Learn more.

Amelia Willson
Amelia Willson

Amelia Willson is an online marketer-turned-freelance writer, based in sunny southern California. She covers ecommerce, sleep health, tech, and online marketing. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her at the beach or walking her dog Rockefeller. Connect with her on LinkedIn.