How does Discovery Commerce boost e-commerce sales?


E-commerce is booming. As a result of the pandemic, online shopping increased by 32% in 2020. More surprisingly, online selling recycles practices specific to traditional commerce, such as targeting consumers who don’t know exactly what they want but are open to discovery and spontaneity. This is an example of ‘Discovery Commerce’: a digital version of window shopping used by brands to sell their products via ads and the purchase functions on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Let’s take a look at how Discovery Commerce boosts online sales, and how you can seize this opportunity to reach new audiences.

What is Discovery Commerce?

Online selling generally relies on a path to purchase model. A consumer wants a certain product, searches for it online, finds one which meets their needs and buys it. But Discovery Commerce is based on a different approach: impulse buying. Here, rather than waiting for the buyer to search for a product, the retailer anticipates their needs by recommending a product to grab their attention.

Discovery Commerce targets consumers who don’t know what they want, but are open to suggestions: those in discovery mode rather than search mode. The idea is to suggest products based on their purchase history, web searches or interests — using data collected through advertising and harnessed through machine learning — even if the consumer hasn’t (yet) expressed a preference for a particular item. Whilst with traditional commerce it is the client who finds the right product, Discovery Commerce inverts the process: it is the product that seeks out the right target.

With this method, you can add an element of surprise to online shopping, making use of the possibilities offered by social networksas social shopping is clearly at the forefront of Discovery Commerce. Indeed, 63% of consumers like the idea of discovering products online that they weren’t even looking for (Facebook), in the same way, they would in a shop by browsing and picking up items that weren’t on their shopping list.  

For consumers, ‘discovery shopping’ gives them the opportunity to come across products that they wouldn’t otherwise have found. For brands, it’s a marketing opportunity to target audiences they wouldn’t have been able to reach in other ways (including international audiences), to turn interest into demand and to increase sales.

How does ‘discovery shopping’ boost online sales?

Discovery Commerce enables impulse buying which, in turn, boosts online commerce sales. How do you explain this boost? Social networks play a big role here, providing brands with an ecosystem that supports personalised product recommendations aimed at consumers, using advertising formats adapted to ‘discovery shopping’.

Take the case of Dynamic Ads on Facebook and Instagram. Dynamic Ads display product offers according to the user’s interests, previous actions or intentions. The idea is to suggest the right product at the right moment via personalisation, made possible by using personal data provided by the Internet user. Product offers are customised and they hit the mark! Pinterest Ads work in the same way.

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For example, a Facebook user who shows an interest in tennis (they join a dedicated group, read tennis-related posts etc.) will receive recommendations for accessories (rackets, balls, trainers) or tickets to buy for a local tournament.

To generate these targeted ads, social networks rely on learning systems based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. The technical base comprises the most popular shopping platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as their messaging apps. These systems do not limit themselves to targeting the expectations of Internet users: they anticipate consumers’ needs by providing them with both the products and the retailers’ complete product catalogues, where they can then browse and buy.

Along the same lines, the ‘Collection’ ad format, found on most social networks (Facebook Collection, Pinterest Collection etc.), boosts Discovery Commerce by providing a smoother browsing experience on mobile phones, from finding the product to payment. This improved feed contributes to reducing the path to purchase duration, specifically allowing Internet users to directly access the product catalogue and even pay from the social media app in no time at all – surely the very premise of impulse buying!

Other ad formats suited to ‘Discovery Shopping’:

  • Instagram Shopping Ads, which are based on the principle of visual searches. Basically, an Internet user browsing a site can click on products visible as images and then access the corresponding pages on the brand’s website.
  • Live Shopping, which allows Internet users to buy a product they have seen in a live video in just a few clicks, is a function that brands use primarily in the beauty e-commerce sector. 
  • Augmented Reality ads, which you can already find on Facebook, enable a greater interactive experience.

How can you reap the benefits of Discovery Commerce?

The Discovery Commerce approach offers many advantages for online selling. This method brings us closer to traditional commerce: the retailer once again becomes the local shopkeeper who knows their clients well enough to offer them products based on their preferences, interests and needs.

But to benefit, you first have to display your products on the social networks which have the appropriate functionality. To this end, start by exporting your product catalogues to Facebook (whose ecosystem also includes Instagram) and Pinterest, using a product feed management company like Lengow. Then all you have to do is create your own personalised ads!

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Naomi Botting

Field Marketing Specialist

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