The Rise of Social Commerce and What Can Brands Do?

“Location is the soul of retail business” these were the first few words from my father when I joined his retail store as a 17-year-old boy in the late 90s and they continue to form the holy grail of the retail industry. A simple definition of retail would be sale of goods and services to make a profit.

Facebook’s report Southeast Asia published at the end of last year has found that in the last one-year online commerce has attracted 70 million new customers in Southeast Asia, equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom and by the end of 2021 there will be 350 million consumer making online transaction, that’s an 85% annual growth.

The average spending per person jumped from $238 last year to $381 this year taking the gross merchandise value (GMV) in the region to $132 billion. With almost 70% of the 15+ population spending online with a 60% growth in per person spending SEA is witnessing a maturity in both footfall and quality of customers. Clearly retail has moved online.

In the online world with technology and connectivity moving at a lightning pace the intrinsic human experiences are moving back to the most convenient and connected space. Shopping or retail has since its inception been a highly social experience at multiple levels.

Right from discovery through word of mouth to going out together to touch and trial to post-purchase chatter each step is about community and a highly focused social event.

Amazon started as a simple online book retailer and a highly transactional platform in 1995 and today has become a full-funnel platform encompassing the journey from discovery to post-purchase reviews.

This advancement of technology infused with strong connectivity forces us to look at social commerce as a broader concept than just the ability to buy products from social platforms.

Social commerce has evolved to become an always-on shopping mindset backed by the human experience of community, conversation and validation. The lighting speed evolution of technology acts as the spark to turn this into a blaze.

Today a vast population around the world is running their businesses on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, telegram, WeChat and hundreds of platforms that bring footfall and quality of customers.

The ability to add layers of social interaction on top of these platforms in terms of live streams, catalogues, payment solutions, logistics and direct conversation with seller as well as friends and families transforms the entire experience from a transaction to a social relationship.

What is the change from ecommerce to social commerce?

  1. From transaction to relationship: Luxury brands have traditionally managed to forge deep relationships with their clients through high service level and on-demand communications and now social commerce with its strong technology is democratising these core features to enable relationships at scale. Chang Ming has been selling hundreds of gaming computers through WhatsApp and Instagram every month and the pre-sales service to quotation after-sales troubleshooting all happens within the platform. There are millions of sellers like this across the globe and when asked for recommendations all one does is share their mobile numbers of IG handles. We are not sharing retailers to transact with but rather recommending sellers we have relationships with.
  2. Always on shopping mindset: Shopping has always been an activity that had a place and time in our schedules. For most of the working families the weekend was the time to head out and do the chore. Even at our own store, I have been helping my family over the weekend since I was 14. Now with 24×7 access shopping is an always-on mindset. Interestingly weekends are the least traffic days and office hours are the peak shopping hours with two crests at 10 am and 8pm. It’s no longer a chore but an integral part of the social experience repository.
  3. From the need to discovery: Ecommerce started as an alternative distribution channel to where the users knew what they wanted and hence search played a very important role. Today with customers spending hours on the platform every day it has taken the role of a discovery platform where consumers are finding new products and services. Live streams, Influencer marketing, personal video calls, product usage videos, and troubleshooting via chatting apps are the ammunitions available to the sellers in the social commerce repository.
  4. From effort to frictionless: The biggest tech giants are putting the focus on making the commerce experience frictionless. Uber successfully manage to build their entire business on convenience removing the need to walk to the taxi stand and then removing the need to look for change to pay the fair. WeChat leads the way where listing to payment is all a click away. WahtsApp is working its way into payments on the

platform and we will see tons of rapid advancement in this area of removing friction. There is enough success in integration of googlepay to google ecosystem where the user doesn’t need to step out of the social environment and we will witness convenience as the single drive of removing all friction.


  1. Ease and Convenience: Are you meeting me where I am, in the digital world, the physical world, and through a blend of the two? And are you able to deliver what I need, when I need it, at a place I’m present? Accenture’s Life Reimagined study says 49% of customers are ready to switch to another provider if they provide virtual try out tools and/or shopping advisory services via digital channels. L’Oreal Haircolor Concierge has leveraged text and video chat with live experts and virtual try-on tools to enable customers to colour their hair at home with confidence. The company launched this “24/7 hair colour platform” in response to a 40% increase in hair colour inquiries to their consumer care centre during the past year.
  2. Personal Consulting: If you are selling a product or a relationship, I am looking for a single point of contact and I want things to be customised to my need and taste. Are you able to answer my questions with authenticity and help when I and in trouble with your product? Airtel in India has launched Airtel black a service built around priority resolution and personal consulting where customers are provided with packaged connectivity solutions leading to a higher ARPU (average revenue per user) and hence a better service.
  3. Rise of Micro Influencer: I tend to trust ‘Everyday’ people like you and me and that is clearly visible in the explosive growth of influencer marketing in Asia. The biggest jump within the influencers is seen in the micro influencer space with the segment
    of 5 to 50K follower getting the bulk of the sponsored post as per Affable’s report. Social commerce goes beyond just the transaction with trust as a founding pillar and the trusting upcoming content creators seems more natural and authentic.
  4. Social validation in local environment: I want to buy products and services that are relevant to me and are seen as trending in my community. Right from fashion to home cooked food social commerce provides an extremely local and community verified post purchase experience leading to a higher probability of recommendation and stronger post purchase satisfaction.


1. Purpose as the North Star: Among the Reimagined audience (Accenture Life

Reimagined Survey), 66% said they now expect brands to take more responsibility in

motivating them to live by their values and to make them feel more relevant in the

world, versus 16% of Traditional consumers. Price and quality are becoming

commodity and can be compared at the click of a button. Decision making for these

customers goes beyond commerce there is a massive social leg to it. A feeling of being  connected and being able to contribute to the community. They have reevaluated what is important to them in life and are increasingly focused on their personal purpose. This is having a direct impact on what, how and why they buy.

2. Backend as the Anchor: In this Always On space of social commerce consumers demand personalisation and customisation. Whether products or services they want to be treated as individuals and not just an incognito profile in the accounting books. This is where technology makes experiences come alive at scale. For one of our clients Nippon paints, we had created a life journey colour selector tool that pulls your social data and processes it through an AI engine to recommends a colour palette that is absolutely yours. Personalisation at scale is made possible with marrying data, moments, needs stated and social breadcrumbs. Focus has to be on the backend systems.

3. Community as the Vehicle: One of the biggest drivers of social commerce is the feeling of belonging and the rise of micro community. A community to ask review on your local hairdresser to checking on the most advanced home automation systems. The communities are built around known influencers who might not be the experts but have more knowledge than one’s own self. Brands are currently scratching the surface with using communities and influencers as media vehicles to active campaigns. As the social commerce space matures, we will witness more and more brands investing in setting up and actively running these communities and Purpose will acts as the lubricant to keep them going.

4. Customer as the brand custodian: As commerce moves towards communities and social channels especially dark social channels (platforms that can’t be tracked like WhatsApp, telegram, etc) the brand gets more and more decentralised and the influencers within the communities begin to define the brand and its experiences. The scale starts to tilts towards the communities to define, defend and create experiences around the brand and the brand takes a broader approach of providing canvas on which the customers can share their experiences and actively particate in define the brand itself.

Social commerce is here to stay and with the rise of more and more social platforms and frictionless purchase journey the game will move beyond just presence into a stronger brand association space where Purpose becomes the centre that holds the community together and technology becomes the enabler that helps customise individual experiences at scale.

Neeraj Gulati leads brand and marketing transformation for Accenture clients. A software engineer with experience across digital marketing, brand marketing, technology solutions, UX/UI, Content creation, creative services and metaverse, Neeraj has launched and scaled some of the biggest agencies in Asia. Neeraj’s passion in marrying storytelling and technology also birthed Bookyboo, a personalised storybook platform that grew to become a top e-commerce startup in India. It even caught the eye of The Walt Disney Company, which partnered up with the platform. 

Neeraj Gulati, Partner, Accenture Song, 40 under 40 Asia-Pacific Leader

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