Scrolling to success: the power of community commerce


How to build social credibility – and profits – with community commerce

Social platforms are becoming increasingly popular B2C and B2B sales channels, with many adopters achieving impressive results. But they’re no marketplace for any business that struggles to deliver on its promises

As the number of social network users worldwide rocketed in the late 2010s, it was only a matter of time before businesses worked out how to tap into this huge potential market. 

Initially, they recognised the likes of TikTok, Instagram and YouTube as fantastic forums for promotion, as trusted influencers and other tech-savvy consumers created content about the brands they loved and shared it with their online communities.

More recently, such providers have offered tailored features to support businesses, such as digital storefronts and in-app shopping functionality. This has created a huge retail space that enables consumers to buy seamlessly from brands they discovered without having to leave their chosen platform. 

Uptake, particularly among younger consumers, has been immense. A recent forecast by Emarketer estimates that the number of social shoppers in the US this year will exceed 110 million, representing nearly half of the nation’s social network users. The global social commerce market, meanwhile, is set to be worth $6.2tn (£5tn) by 2030, according to Grand View Research. That total would be more than eight times the value recorded in 2022.  

‘Gateway to a global market’ 

With the close association to product discovery and the ability to create emotional connection, community commerce is benefiting businesses of all sizes and proving particularly beneficial for smaller firms.

Social shopping is perfect for small businesses

“Social shopping is perfect for small businesses, as there are few barriers to entry and it’s an immediate gateway to a global market,” says Catherine Shuttleworth, founder and CEO of retail consultancy Savvy. “Set-up costs are low and the challenges of trading across geographical boundaries are neutralised.” 

Like other online concerns, social businesses tend to need fewer employees and pay less in tax, rates and rent than bricks-and-mortar traders. They don’t need to handle cash either – an advantage in terms of security and bookkeeping efficiency. 

But there are significant ways in which those trading on social media differ from traditional online retailers. The former don’t have to invest as much in technology, for instance, because the platform provides infrastructure such as digital storefronts, payment systems and features such as livestreaming (albeit in exchange for ongoing sales commission fees).

“Many independent retailers and makers find that setting up a store on TikTok or Instagram is a reassuringly simple process,” reports Amy Knight, personal finance expert and lead writer at comparison site NerdWallet UK. “On Instagram, for instance, all you need is a website and Meta verification to start reaching shoppers in a highly targeted way.” 

‘Super-simple and highly effective’

Community commerce offers clear marketing advantages too. When creators produce content – even sponsored material – about goods and services on these platforms, it brings these items to life for viewers. Consumers like seeing what like-minded people think of a new offering. They also rely on trusted social media influencers for unbiased reviews. Surveys conducted by Deloitte in the US suggest that a third of consumers have been swayed in their purchasing choices by such influencers.

“The great thing about social shopping is that followers ‘pass it on’ – if the product is good, they will tell their friends by sharing content about it. It’s super-simple and highly effective,” Shuttleworth says. “Also, what were once niche products can suddenly get traction. Who knew, for instance, that we needed car-detailing products? This has created a huge market of mostly male middle-aged consumers who go online to discuss the virtues of special lotions and brushes to clean every nook and cranny of their cars. 

With social media, there’s always the potential for a chance viral marketing boost, she adds. In 2016, for instance, the craze for slime – a toy product introduced in the mid-1970s – “created millionaire sellers from bedrooms and kitchens across the world”. 

Social shopping caveats

But running a community commerce business is not without its challenges. Research suggests that a significant proportion of consumers are wary of sharing any more data – especially financial information – than they already do with the platforms they use. Some have had poor customer experiences, complaining of unacceptable delays in order fulfilment, for example. Others have even found their purchases to be counterfeit goods. 

Knight warns that there are also many “impulse shoppers on these platforms, who may be more likely to return products”. 

She adds: “Many small brands and creators struggle with reach – their posts don’t appear in people’s social feeds as often as they’d like. Platforms can feel ‘noisy’ and, as more businesses embrace social selling, competition is on the up.”

Shuttleworth believes that the key to commercial success in this increasingly crowded market is ensuring that you always keep your promises. Building trust and establishing a reputation for reliability is vital, given that social media users have a megaphone through which to broadcast their feedback, good or bad. 

“Ultimately, you must deliver what you say you will on time and issue any refunds efficiently. If you don’t, buyers will soon tell everyone,” she warns. “It’s good business to do good business.” 

Any community commerce firm that can stick to this basic principle should be able to profit handsomely from the opportunities ahead, because the huge expansion of this sales channel over the next few years is a racing certainty.

Commercial Feature

Network effect: how social commerce has created a new breed of entrepreneur

UK entrepreneurs like Luke Cameron are using TikTok Shop to reach a huge audience of engaged consumers

Three years ago, Luke Cameron had never used TikTok, let alone considered it as a way to build a thriving business. Yet today, the 35-year-old is among a crop of entrepreneurs enjoying huge success on the platform, both as a content creator with more than a million followers and as the owner of a rapidly growing TikTok business. 

It all started when Cameron, a former PR and marketing executive, tried TikTok for work. He then decided to give the video-sharing platform a go for himself. Cameron began by posting reviews of consumer goods which quickly went viral.

“I remember my first big hit on TikTok – a review of a dog hair remover I did when I only had 40 followers,” he says. “I posted it before going to bed and woke up the next morning to find it had 1.9 million views. It all started from there.”

Using the TikTok handle Lopwert, Cameron developed a knack for creating viral posts and his followers grew exponentially. He began earning enough commission on sales of products tagged in his posts to quit his day job and was soon recognised as one of TikTok’s most valued creators.

One video can change a business overnight

Then, last year, Cameron had a brainwave and decided to make the leap from content creator to TikTok entrepreneur. He launched his own TikTok business called Lopwert Loves, using TikTok Shop UK, the innovative marketplace integrated into the TikTok platform. It allows users to go directly from viewing a video where a product is shown, to purchasing the product within the app.

You can go from nothing to everything in hours. One video can change a business overnight

Lopwert Loves specialises in selling “the most viral products on the internet”, says Cameron – typically affordable and functional gadgets such as electric wine bottle openers, video doorbells, advent calendars and LED light strips. 

Rather than Cameron reviewing the products himself, he relies on a network of 250 like-minded creators who regularly post reviews and take a commission on sales of his products. 

In less than a year, Cameron has gone from running the business by himself to employing a team and making more than £800,000 in turnover. Over the Black Friday period, Lopwert Loves was taking up to 2,000 orders a day, he adds.

“TikTok is an interesting ecommerce space, as you can go from nothing to everything in hours. One video can change a business overnight.”  

Cameron says he would never have grown the business as quickly without TikTok Shop. Through the platform, he can manage the entire sales process, while also accessing support from account managers and onboarding specialists. All his orders are handled by the 'Fulfilled by TikTok' service, which stores, picks and packs his inventory as well as managing deliveries. 

“TikTok’s fulfilment service takes care of everything,” Cameron says. “I just have to focus on growing the brand and the community of creators that support us.”

Huge growth opportunities

There are huge potential growth opportunities for entrepreneurs like Cameron on TikTok. The platform offers UK small and medium enterprises (SMEs) access to millions of engaged users, who can easily find products and services they love. As of 2023, over 150 million people across Europe visit TikTok every month and almost 1.5 million UK firms use the platform to boost their business. Almost half (47%) of TikTok users said they’d purchased a product recommended on the platform at least once in the last year, according to research by Oxford Economics in 2023. 

Cameron advises anyone looking to become a successful entrepreneur on TikTok to be authentic. “If you are a creator, then you need to be real and honest and really show the product and how it works,” he says. “The more videos you make, the more chance you have of selling,” he adds. 

For SME owners, the approach is much the same. Beyond picking the right products, it’s about “harnessing the power of TikTok communities to get your products seen by millions”. 

The key, Cameron says, is building a trustworthy and reliable community of users and creators to give products the best chance of success. “I have helped support other brands as a creator and now creators are helping me,” he says. “It’s a virtuous circle.”

Five tips for growing a business with your community

What essential steps must brands take to ensure success in a social commerce market that’s becoming ever more competitive? Here’s what experts in the field would advise

Opportunities to build a business on social media abound as this global marketplace goes from strength to strength. But the ease with which any player can enter it is a double-edged sword, because it means that competition is intensifying too. What should a firm – especially a newcomer – do to stand out in an increasingly crowded field and maximise its chances of success?

01 Track behavioural trends

Predicting which goods will do well on social platforms isn’t easy. Social shoppers are particularly driven by viral content. It can often be a niche product, which people didn’t even know they wanted before one influencer gave it their seal of approval, that unexpectedly ends up becoming a bestseller.

Brands should focus on tracking cultural shifts in user behaviour and shopping preferences, according to Khairat Shaaban, social media and marketing consultant at PR firm Babel.

“First, do your research,” she advises. “Know your audience: what makes them tick? What do they want to see? What do they react to?”

Know your audience: what makes them tick?
02 Optimise your storefront

A business’s social media account serves as a shop window, so good presentation is crucial here. 

The likes of Facebook and Instagram make it easier for brands to look professional by letting them set up their own digital storefronts, run sales events and use in-app shopping and payment processes. Brands must then create shareable content, get their messaging right and build a community of trusted influencers around them to spread the word.

“Small businesses should think of their social pages as their storefront, taking every opportunity to encourage shoppers to follow them,” advises Amy Knight, personal finance expert and lead writer at comparison site NerdWallet UK. “Each time they interact with you online, it increases the memorability of your brand.” 

She adds: “Making your content and ecommerce experience mobile-friendly also means that your customers can take you with them wherever they go.”

03 Bring products to life

The key to social selling is bringing products to life, according to Catherine Shuttleworth, founder and CEO of retail consultancy Savvy. 

“The art is in active selling, with the vendor showing the virtues of the product and, most crucially, engaging with potential buyers through conversations and events,” she says.

Brands and their influencers should consider using any tool that might help in this respect. Livestreaming, for instance, is a great way to interact with consumers. Immersive augmented-reality experiences, such as those on Instagram, also engage shoppers and encourage them to try out products virtually before buying. 

Good old-fashioned self-promotion is important too, says Shuttleworth, who notes that effective vendors “make their sales events must-attend moments by letting their followers know what’s coming and when”. This creates a sense of anticipation among shoppers and can even stoke up the fear of missing out.

04 Build trust among consumers

Consumers’ complaints about shoddy goods and poor customer service travel especially fast on social networks. Given this risk, it’s vital for any business selling in such channels to establish and maintain a reputation for dependability. 

Shuttleworth advises brands to keep their promises and offer timely deliveries and refunds to keep shoppers happy, while Knight recommends that they share customer testimonials and good reviews. 

“Having a business website alongside a social media presence can also enhance credibility,” she adds. “Plenty of user-friendly site-building tools are available, such as Shopify, Squarespace and Wix.”

05 Employ a social media manager

In view of the amount of work involved, it’s worth hiring a specialist to manage your social accounts if you can afford it. Many business owners won’t have grown up with social media and don’t use all the platforms regularly, thereby distancing themselves from the market they’re likely to be targeting. 

While it may be tempting to recruit the first gen-Zer who applies for the role, Shaaban argues that brands should be thinking more holistically than that.

“It’s not all about the latest trends; it’s about the trends that suit your brand,” she says. “The reality is that you need a recruit who ‘gets it’, with a keen understanding of human behaviour and your audience.”

Whoever you select should conduct a thorough triage of your social profile before coming up with an action plan backed by investment from the brand. Such a thorough approach, Shaaban notes, can be the difference between “lead generation and blasting into the ether”. 

Daniel Thomas
Daniel Thomas Writer and editor, he has contributed to The Telegraph, Newsweek, Fund Strategy and EducationInvestor, among other publications.