The shopping ads landscape has evolved significantly so far in 2017 and, as retailers gear up for the crucial holiday shopping season, some are likely to consider shifting budgets away from Google to reach consumers on several social media sites aggressively pursuing a land grab.
Google holds the number one spot for shopping ads because online search is often the first place consumers go when they start a shopping journey. However, Facebook, Pinterest and other social platforms have all recently ramped up their offerings and could play a bigger role for retailers looking to capitalize on the time consumers spend on social media.
Several trends support the idea that social shopping ads could be on the upswing, including that paid social was the fastest-growing sector of online display spend in 2016, according to "The State of Retailing Online 2016: Marketing and Merchandising" report by Shop.org and Forrester. At the same time, in-store traffic is declining while digital commerce spending continues to hit record numbers, with Q2 2017 as the first non-holiday season to exceed $100 billion, according to figures from comScore.
"Brands have been waiting for quite some time for social channels to incorporate e-commerce opportunities well," Stephen Boidock, director of marketing and business development, Drumroll, told Marketing Dive. "Though met with initial resistance, social users are finally coming around to connecting their pay accounts to social channels."
Taking it up a notch
Broadly defined, shopping campaigns are ads and sponsored posts for specific products that data suggests browsers are interested in and which seamlessly link to a purchasing experience, with differences in capabilities evident by platform. Google is a leader with Google Shopping ads capturing more than half of retail marketers' AdWords budgets in 2016, surpassing Google text ad spending for the first time.
However, Facebook is making inroads with retailers. Seventy-one percent more retailers invested with Facebook ads in 2016 compared with 2015, noted the Shop.org report.
For the upcoming holiday season, the social media giant is ramping up its efforts to attract retail dollars again with its new Collections format, which integrates video into shopping ads. Because consumers have a strong appetite for digital video, which can paint a better picture of what a product looks like, Facebook also recently enabled marketers to upload product videos to dynamic ads instead of static images.
"Facebook recently rolled out Collection units which bring together the best of video and link ads," Phillip Huynh, New York paid social lead and director at 360i, told Marketing Dive. "Advertisers have been finding exciting ways to use these units, such as combining influencer videos with links driving directly to the products highlighted."
The race for shoppers
Beyond ads, social marketing can work well for retailers because native content isn't as intrusive to the user. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat all offer ways to create authentic and organic engagement, said Hayley Selch, account executive at Barker.
A growing number of programs enable retailers to take advantage of organic engagements on social media. A new program from MikMak connects retailers' Instagram Stories and Snap Ads with links to e-commerce sites. Early testers include Birchbox and SheaMoisture.
Instagram also has a shopping feature that allows retailers to link showcased products to their websites. Following testing last year, the organic posts were recently made more widely available to apparel, jewelry and beauty brands and introduced to Instagram stories.
Pinterest might present one of the biggest opportunities for retailers because of its ease of use. Users can click on a product pin and go directly to the brand's website for more information.
Pinterest introduced Search Ads, including Shopping Campaigns, in January, and has continued to fine-tune its offerings as a visual browsing platform this year.
"Pinterest has created a seamless shopping experience that allows the customer to see something, buy it quickly and return to browsing within seconds," Boidock said.
Reaching the top
Google isn't resting on its laurels amid growing competition, however, and continues to enhance its shopping campaigns, including by enabling retailers to target their ads with customer match and offering Purchases on Google ads to streamline the completion of an acquisition. Google is also ramping up its Showcase Shopping Ads, which expand to reveal a carousel of relevant products when someone searches for an item and clicks on the ad. This makes them different from traditional shopping ads, which take the user to a product landing page after a click.
Google recently highlighted these and other developments in a guide for retailers offering tips for how to prepare their AdWords strategy in advance of the holidays.
Beyond competing with Google, social media sites are still likely to face some push back from consumers with shopping ads as concerns over privacy and data security remain. Research shows that retailers and social networks are among the least trusted by consumers when it comes to protecting sensitive personal data.
Google is likely to hold onto its leadership role in shopping ads — for now. But social is definitely on its way. As platforms continue to roll out more ad features with conversion tracking, social's role will only continue to grow.
"The channel that gets it right could solidify its spot near the top, as it will surely attract exponentially more advertisers," Drumroll's Boidock said.