The Surprising Trends Behind Sales from Social Media Platforms

The Surprising Trends Behind Sales from Social Media Platforms


A few years ago, eCommerce platform Shopify released some interesting stats that indicated which were the best social media sites for generating sales. Shopify examined traffic from popular social media sites to eCommerce sites built on its platform to see which traffic sources returned the most sales.

The findings were perhaps surprising: social commerce hub Polyvore emerged as the best site for average order value, and quirky community forum Reddit returned an unexpectedly high level of electronics sales.

Shopify’s data is now somewhat dated: the study was done in 2013, and things move fast in this area of digital. But are the social media sales trends still evident, and what does it mean for retailers if they are?

Polyvore’s high spenders

Back in 2013, Shopify found that the highest average order value from social media traffic originated from fashion junkie’s website Polyvore – and it seems Polyvore users are still high spenders.

At the start of last year, Polyvore reported an average order value of $383 (around £260 at the time). Users are known to be female, mostly Millennial and with a healthy household income.

Polyvore’s not seen as a mainstream player in the social media arena now any more than it was in 2013. The sites limited social functionality acts very like Pinterest, enabling users to put fashion and occasionally home furnishing looks together, or create inspiration boards reflecting a celebrity’s style.

Other users can view these boards (known as ‘sets’ on the site), which link to product websites where individual items can be purchased. Polyvore’s essentially a site for fashion addicts, and with 20 million users it’s not rivalling social media giants like Facebook or Instagram just yet.

Users can browse by trends, such as ruffled shorts, to see products from across a range of brands. They can also browse by celebrities they admire, to see looks put together by other users based on their style.

Actress Lupita Nyong’o inspired several sets, including one featuring a skirt that’s sold through a Shopify fashion site, however, the item is out of stock. That’s perhaps the frustration with Polyvore – it raises a desire for products that are frequently out of stock.

It may still be sending great traffic to Shopify but the volumes aren’t high enough to really disrupt the market for larger retailers.

Purchase by discovery

Shopify’s original study indicated that, back in 2013, Pinterest drove a lot of sales in the antiques and collectables genre. Like Polyvore, Pinterest, is an example of ‘purchasing by discovery’.

Sites like these introduce consumers to new ideas and brands, usually via themes the consumer has expressed an interest in. A typical example might be someone browsing for spring wedding ideas and discovering a particular jeweller they like on the site, then going on to buy from the jeweller directly.

This social commerce model is still valid, but it’s not taken off significantly since 2013. The hotly anticipated ‘buyable pins’ that Pinterest has since introduced have not taken off quite as retailers might have hoped.

According to Forrester, sales volumes remain low and the impact has been minor for larger retailers (although canny small retailers may find them beneficial). The majority of popular pins aren’t shoppable, and individual pieces of content easily get lost in everything that’s available onsite.

Research by GlobalWebIndex also suggests low consumer interest in buy button type functionality on visual sites such as Instagram and Pinterest. This supports the theory that Western audiences like to separate online socialising from online shopping (Chinese consumers seem keener to integrate these activities).

Buyable pins may be contributing to Pinterest’s rising revenues, but Facebook remains a far more important social media sales channel. According to Social Media Examiner data, in 2016 more than half of marketers said Facebook was their most important channel: only 6% said the same for visual sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.

Reddit is surprisingly influential

Another surprising outcome from Shopify’s 2013 study was the impact of Reddit. At that time, the number of orders Reddit was sending to Shopify sites was showing strong growth, and orders from Reddit were relatively high in value; greater than Twitter, or LinkedIn. Almost a third of electronics orders from Shopify stores came from Reddit.

Reddit has a high user base but it remains something of a bear pit. The site has its own impenetrable etiquette and the community resists blatant marketing efforts. Tell a story well though, and you may have success bringing in customers attracted by a truthful account of your offering.

Reddit’s been described as the ‘world’s biggest water cooler’. The site’s divided into discussion groups for various topics, from obscure computer games to niche photography styles and TV shows.

In theory, the site offers terrific potential for targeting niche audiences. Brands that tell a good story about how they built the business have managed to bring in customers from Reddit, but expect your story to be pulled apart mercilessly.

Although the website isn’t significantly better setup for delivering eCommerce traffic now than it was in 2013, advertising on the platform has increased and it’s making efforts to woo more advertisers.

Its audience is predominantly male, young, and university educated. It’s cheap to reach them, with ad costs much lower than Facebook.

In 2013, Shopify traders found it a good source of traffic for their electronics sales. It’s likely that fearless brands can still gain sales from this social media platform but it hasn’t got much easier yet.

Re-evaluating Shopify’s 2013 findings suggest there’s still something to be learned from the state of the traffic flow at that time.

Ultimately, social media hasn’t advanced all that much as a source of traffic for eCommerce sites: some are making a success of their presence there, but it remains hard work to generate sales from these platforms.

Some retailers are clearly having success on non-conventional social media platforms such as Polyvore and Reddit but Facebook continues to drive the bulk of traffic across the web.

Related posts

Subscribe to our newsletter