Today, the use of social media has become a part of our daily routine. According to (Statista), there are 2.34 billion people around the world that have at least 1 social media account. For many users, the reasons for using social media are connecting with family and friends, entertainment, dating etc. However, in the last few years, we've seen an increasing number of businesses use these platforms to showcase their products and services. Instagram recently reported that there are some 25 million businesses on its platform (Hoostsuite Stats). For these businesses, the main attractions of using social media are the direct engagement that you can have with your customers, no costs involved in set up and direct marketing opportunities.
While these attractions are valid reasons for businesses to use sell on social media, when the nature of the transactions with customers are considered, we found several limitations for businesses and customers. An important reason for these limitations, is the fact that social media platforms are not built to support commerce. This means that important features that help businesses provide high quality services are not readily available.
To illustrate this, we've selected 3 common methods that businesses transact with their customers on social media. Looking at the benefits available of each method, as well as the drawbacks for both businesses and customers. We conclude by talking about how Terminal helps its users eliminate these drawbacks without taking away the benefits provided by each method.
1. Selling via Website
- Customers can easily find information without contacting the business. e.g. product prices, available products, etc.
- Digital payments.
- Automated order confirmation, fulfilment, inventory management, record keeping.
There are actually so many benefits for this channel to list, so I'll let you read more about this here: (Benefits of selling online)
- Leaving social media platform to complete transaction.
- Difficult to communicate with the business while shopping.
- Adding card / bank details to online platforms.
Selling products via a website offers so many benefits for merchants, such as automatic confirmation, record keeping, inventory management, and so much more. However, on social media, the main drawback for this channel is the fact that the user has to leave the social media experience to complete the transaction. In countries with high costs of data plans and major concerns for online fraud, you find that most users are sceptical about shopping on a business's website. The concerns of data consumption as well as inconvenience of having to leave the social platform, means most shoppers on social media usually look for alternative ways to complete their transactions.
2. Send a DM
- Everything goes down in the DM! From initial contact, questions, right down to payment.
- Security of not adding card / bank details to any online platform. This is a major concern for areas with high rates of online fraud.
- Business has to repeatedly answer the same questions about prices or time frames to several customers (DM for price).
- Offline payments means businesses have to manually record sales, update inventory, and confirm payment.
This is perhaps the most popular method for conducting business on social media. The fact that customers can easily converse with a business, get quick responses to any questions on price, delivery times are huge attractions for this channel. However, when it comes to completing the transaction, customers mostly prefer to make payments offline i.e. via a direct bank transfer to the business. While it is convenient for the customer to carry out a transaction in this manner, the business has to manually record the information from the transaction. In a situation where a sole trader receives between 3 - 5 orders per day, it would require a lot of consistency and discipline to maintain these records daily.
- Rich communication channel, especially for new customers that may have doubts about the business. Nothing beats real-time conversations with a customer in doubt.
- Security of not adding card / bank details to any online platform.
- Time spent taking phone calls cuts into productivity hours.
- Business has to repeatedly answer the same questions about prices or time frames to several customers.
- Offline payments means manual record keeping, inventory control, and order confirmation.
Another popular option for customers as businesses can readily make their phone numbers and operating hours visible on their profiles. The benefits for this channel are similar with the DM as customers can get instant answers to questions. This a huge factor in completing a transaction for first time customers. The drawbacks for businesses are also similar to the DM as payments are mostly made offline, records have to be updated manually, and there is also the additional drawback of time spent taking phone calls. While a DM gives businesses a time buffer to provide responses, a phone call requires constant engagement over a period of time. Running a business that relies heavily on phone interactions with customers could be difficult for sole traders that get a high volume of patronage.
The methods listed above should give a picture of the issues that businesses selling on social media have to deal with. Therefore, the ideal solution will keep all the benefits offered by these channels and address the various drawbacks. Considering the information presented above, it can be suggested that the main drawbacks for businesses are the manual processes involved with offline transactions. For customers, the main drawbacks would be navigating away from the social media experience, or entering sensitive information online. Therefore, the ideal solution will allow customers to purchase a product without leaving the social media experience. It will also provide options for customers who do not wish to share sensitive information online to make payments securely. While solving these problems for customers, the solution must also ensure that manual processes for businesses are eliminated.
Here's how Terminal is solving these problems:
1) Payment Links - Merchants selling on social media with Terminal can create an order while conversing with the customers in the DM. It works like a digital invoice that uses information about the merchant's products, the customer, delivery address and shipping fee to create an order. Once created, the merchant can send this link to the customer in the DM on any social platform. When payment is made, all records are automatically updated on the merchant's dashboard. The customer receives automated confirmation as well as a digital receipt for payments. Win win for everyone.
2) Offline Orders - While payment links offer a seamless experience for the customers, it does not address the concerns of customers that do not want to make use of digital payment platforms. Terminal enables customers to pay via bank transfer or cash, in a way that gives the merchant an opportunity to digitise the transaction after payment is confirmed. We allow customers to process orders on the merchant's website and generate a unique code that can be used as a reference when making a transfer. If the customer prefers transacting in the DM, the merchant can create the order using the same process for payment links, and send them the unique code instead of the link. Once payment is received by the merchant, with one click of a button, all records are automatically updated on the merchant's dashboard as well as the customer receiving automated confirmation and receipt for payments.
In summary, social media currently offers opportunities for businesses to connect with their customers in a unique way that can hardly be matched on any other platform. However, the drawbacks of social media for business is in the ability to provide tools that support efficient commerce, especially in emerging economies, where lack of trust in digital payments and online transactions remains high. This is the problem we're working to solve because at Terminal, because we believe the future of online commerce is social.
Thanks for reading. If you're a merchant interested in using Terminal to run your business, kindly register your interest here: Register interest