Social Commerce: Meaning and Differences with e-Commerce

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Social media are virtual networks through which we stay in touch with things we like, or discover new things. These discoveries often lead to purchases. Social commerce is a kind of electronic commerce that provides a smooth shopping experience, where the user never leaves the social platform. The digital practice of social commerce therefore maximizes the effectiveness of the sales process thanks to a drastic reduction in the number of steps between the selection of the good/service to the checkout, with interesting benefits for the seller. Reducing the steps, it’s less likely for the potential buyer to change his mind and not finalize the purchase.

Driven by recent events that demotivate physical transactions and technological innovations that favor online transactions, a growing trend of social commerce has begun in Italy that experts believe will remain constant.

This JOurnal article will look at what social commerce is, how it can benefit your business and what the advantages are over traditional e-commerce.

Table of contents

Social commerce: meaning

Social commerce, which all the major social networking platforms are focusing on, can be described as the integration of promotion and sales activities on social media.

Traditionally, social networking platforms are configured as mere displays (however incredibly effective) of goods or services: calls to action do nothing but direct to an external e-commerce on which to purchase. The progressive elimination of the third party by the main operators, such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok, contains the experience within the social network, increasing the probability that the user makes the purchase and shares it with his network.

If social networking is about connecting people with common interests, while businesses try to join the conversation, in social commerce people are welcomed by a community of enthusiasts that marketers are already part of. In other words, by social commerce we mean the union between corporate social networking – understood as a process of aggregation on a theme or product – and e-commerce.

Social commerce in italy

Social commerce in Italy is still present with some limitations. With regard to Facebook and Instagram, for example, it is not yet possible to shop directly on the platforms. However, it is only a matter of time before the features are fully unlocked and several functions that can enhance your business are already available. It’s important already now, therefore, to strengthen your company’s social presence in order to be prepared once the Shops are fully functional.

Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has announced that soon the ratings and reviews section of Shopping on Instagram will be expanded to provide more information to potential buyers (following the Amazon model).

In the future, moreover, companies from different countries (we still don’t know if Italy will be included immediately in the test, it’s not to be excluded) will be given the opportunity to show their Shops on WhatsApp. Users will be able to scroll through the catalogue and ask for information via chat about specific products before buying. Answering clients there won’t necessarily be physical persons, but chatbots, which are becoming increasingly accurate in the simulation of human conversation.

The platforms of the Facebook galaxy are the most powerful in Italy, so any social commerce strategy cannot ignore them. However, we must keep a close eye on TikTok’s growth, in vogue among those generations (Y and Z) that are more inclined to make purchases online. The social network of short videos has recently made several deals with specialized companies, such as Shopify, in order to strengthen the commercial aspect.

Difference between e-commerce and social commerce

But what is the difference between e-commerce and social commerce? The boundaries between the two concepts are often blurred, as different actions can contribute to the same goal (e.g. lead generation or increasing the online presence of the brand), but there is at least one key difference.

While e-commerce is essentially the virtual simulation of the company’s physical store, with a rigidly B2C approach, it’s social commerce when the sales process takes place directly on the social media platform.

Social commerce can be seen as a sub-category of e-commerce, since it is based on the sale of products online. At the same time, however, it represents a web 2.0 evolution, since it provides greater interactivity between companies and consumers and the possibility for the latter not only to purchase and promote the product, but in some cases even to participate in its creation or customization.

Leading social media outlets now quite frequently announce new partnerships or features that promise to improve the quality of online sales integration within their platforms in order to capture the attention of businesses.


Examples of social commerce can be found in most social media apps.

Already on some Facebook pages, Instagram and TikTok, it is possible to display shops with various products. In the United States of America and other markets, these platforms also offer the possibility of purchasing directly from the app.

The social media platform Pinterest has gone even further: the shop coincides directly with the company page. When visiting a company’s account, the first thing that is displayed are, in fact, product images with prices.

By clicking on a product, the system can either refer to the e-commerce (in this case, we speak of a product pin) or allow purchase directly from the platform. Whenever a product pin is saved, it is also automatically added to the shopping list.

Social commerce: advantages

This e-commerce innovation has specific features that can make it an important component in expanding your business. Below are the benefits of social commerce.

Increased engagement

When it comes to lead generation, social commerce is a very powerful tool. Buyers can interact directly with the brands they love, read reviews and talk about potential purchases with friends and, why not, convince them to make a purchase. In the latter case it’s specifically social shopping.

Precise targeting

The main reason social media platforms have seen their revenue grow exponentially is their ability to collect user data in order to sell highly targeted advertising space.

Promotional posts will arrive on the potential customer’s feed at the right time and with the precision of a sniper. The latest functions are able to create customized paths within the company catalogues in line with the user’s profile.

Frictionless shopping experience

With traditional e-commerce, the purchase process involves many steps: first, the user sees the advertisement on the social network and decides, if he is interested, to click on it; then, once landed on the company’s website, he has to select the product, log in, enter the payment data, etc.

In social commerce, the product discovery and purchase experience are frictionless: all the user has to do is see it, tap and buy it. There are no passwords to remember or long numeric codes to type in. In the virtual world, where a minute counts as much as an hour in the real world, each step is one more opportunity for your customer to reconsider and not make the purchase.

Growing trend

Every year society becomes more and more digital. According to a recent study (Nielsen Italy), during the first confinement to March 2020, 79.8% of Italians purchased consumer goods online. In the first 5 months of 2020, online shoppers tripled compared to the same period last year.

The trend is certainly driven by social distancing and other restrictions, but experts believe that the mindset has now changed and more and more purchases will be made online. According to Facebook, currently the 1.2 million active Shops on the blue social and Instagram receive 300 million monthly visitors.

The 5 best platforms for social commerce

There are many social media that, over the years, have tried to win the hearts of users, but when it comes to social commerce, the alternatives on which to invest are a handful.

Below, let’s briefly look at what social media to focus on to expand your online business.


Facebook is the social media that, more than any other, is focusing on improving interactions between users and companies. In addition to the tools already available (personalized audience, ads with product tags) augmented reality technologies are being studied with apps like Modiface and Perfect Corp.

Confirming the commitment, Mark Zuckerberg announced that, in markets where Shops are already active, no commissions will be charged to companies until June 2022.


The potential of Instagram in social commerce is very high given its focus on visuality and augmented reality. The social media provides companies with the ability to integrate different options for brand and product promotion: Shopping, Stories, Branded Content and Reels. According to the company’s own data, 90% of people follow at least one company, while 50% of people say they are more interested in a brand if they see it advertised on Instagram.


Pinterest’s audience is largely made up of people looking for inspiration on things to buy, whether it’s health and wellness, fashion or interior design. Although it engages significantly fewer users than Facebook, Pinterest is therefore an ideal platform for brand awareness and for those who are planning to include social commerce in their online commerce strategy.

The recent expansion of the agreement with Shopify has enhanced tools for marketers, such as automatic connection between stores and Pinterest and dynamic retargeting.


After celebrating one billion users, TikTok has launched new solutions for online advertising and selling. According to a Disqo study, promotional content on TikTok has been shown to be more capable than others of generating action because its formats do not interrupt the user experience.


The social media from which all the others have taken the idea of ephemeral content and that in Italy has never managed to make a hold, Snapchat can be an option if you sell a lot abroad (for example in France or Spain, where it is widely used) and your target is young.

Strategies for social commerce

When you’re planning a strategy to sell online, it’s almost never a matter of choosing whether to invest in one channel over another: any of them could contribute to increase the sales.

Social commerce consists of integrating the promotion and sale of a product or service and, therefore, allows you to optimize costs while providing the opportunity to develop consistent brand awareness.

Although some functions have not yet been unlocked in the Italian market, social commerce can already represent an important component in terms of communication and sales within a broader e-commerce strategy.

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