An introduction to social commerce

Social commerce enables businesses to use social platforms to showcase and sell their products and services. Find out what options are available and how to get started.


10 min read

1. Overview

Many ecommerce businesses selling tangible products use their social media presence and social ads to reach their target audience, increase awareness, and drive sales on their own ecommerce website.

'Social commerce' is where some - or all - elements of selling directly to customers are handled within the social media platform itself, including browsing a catalogue of products and selecting a purchase. In some platforms even the checkout process can be completed without users needing to exit the social platform to go to the sellers’ websites - however this functionality is not live in the UK.

In this guide, we will look at the social commerce options currently available across the primary social platforms in the UK, with details on how to get started.

2. The rise of social commerce

Social commerce is a growing industry, and this has been driven by a number of factors:

  • The increasing number of customers using social platforms to find new products
  • More customers relying on user generated content, images and reviews to give them confidence to purchase
  • Customers benefitting from a more seamless experience if they don’t have to leave the platform to browse products

This can offer a big opportunity for businesses. Indeed, to stay relevant to some audiences in the future, many businesses may need to actively explore this option.

However, putting control of the commerce side of your business entirely within a social media platform (and not just the promotion of it), means your business could be more vulnerable for example if a platform changes their functionality.

3. Before you begin

There are a few things to think about to determine whether this could be a fit for your business.

  • Access to your target audience. You need to have clear evidence that your target audiences are active on that platform and that they use it to engage with brands.
  • Propensity to buy. The functionality of social commerce is still evolving and it is currently younger audiences who are leading the adoption of this way of shopping. Consider whether your target audience is likely to shop on social.
  • Appropriate products. As you are entering your customers’ social space, the sort of products that are more likely to be successful are impulse purchases, lifestyle products, lower value simple items that are easy to understand from an image, or fashion and accessories. More complex and higher value items may be less suitable to this method of selling as customers generally do more online comparison and research.
  • Imagery. High quality images and video will be critical to success.
  • User journeys. As customers will still have to complete part of the transaction on your own site, ensure that the journey is as seamless as possible when people land on your own webpages.
  • Different levels of functionality across platforms. For most social platforms, social commerce functionality is still in development and being rolled out in phases in different countries.
  • Potential risks. As with anything, there are risks. If platforms change their policies of how they operate and engage with audiences and businesses (which they do frequently), then that could have an impact on your business. So view social commerce as part of your selling strategy, not all of it, for example by keeping your own ecommerce site too.

4. Social commerce platforms

The main platforms with social commerce functionality in the UK market are:

  • Pinterest, the visual search engine, which can link directly with your website to provide a shop front on their platform (free of charge), with checkout transactions completed on your own site at present.
  • Facebook and Instagram social networking platforms offer a few different selling options for businesses, including shoppable ads and their 'Shops' functionality which enables businesses to catalogue their products within their Facebook or Instagram profiles. Shoppers can then browse and select products, and be taken to the business’s own website to complete their purchase.

(Please note that although Facebook and Instagram are separate platforms, Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, so the two platforms share some of the basic technology in the background, under the umbrella 'Meta'. Therefore, when it comes to registering and then setting up your shopping features, you do this via the Meta Commerce Manager and then select whether you want to use Facebook, Instagram or both.)

5. Pinterest

Pinterest describes itself as a “visual discovery engine” and is where people (described as “Pinners”) search for inspiration for styling almost anything (including interiors, fashion and events) as well as ideas for gifts, hobbies and recipes. Many Pinners are looking for ideas of what to buy, so making a purchase is the next logical step for users when curating their own boards of image-led “pins”.

Selling on Pinterest

With its commerce functionality, Pinterest can work as a storefront for your business by pulling through data from your own ecommerce website. ‘Product Pins’ are formatted so it’s clear to users that they are displaying items for purchase (in other words, they're “shoppable”). People on Pinterest can see the real-time product description, cost and availability of these products (which is pulled through from the metadata that is applied to it). Users are then taken to your website to complete the transaction.

Also, once you’re registered and verified, when people visit your own website, and they then “Pin” a product direct from your site, it will appear in their boards as a Product pin with all the relevant information to support future purchase.

These services are free, but most businesses will want to commit some budget to advertising their new product pins to raise their profile, which is why the platform is happy to offer the basic service free of charge.

A summary of what’s involved when selling through Pinterest follows below, and full detail is available on the Pinterest site.

1. Setting up a profile

It’s fairly straightforward to set up a business account on Pinterest (which offers different functionality to a personal account). Branding up your profile properly will take some time, as you need to set up a well presented cover, idea pins and highlights. Your profile image could be your logo or your personal photo if your business is centred on you as a brand. Make sure you use relevant keywords in both your profile and pin boards to support your search rankings.

From there, you will link your business account with your main website. Pinterest uses the terminology of “claiming your website” which means you add a Pinterest meta tag or upload their HTML file to your own website. They have instructions on how to do this for a list of different website providers including Squarespace, Wix, Weebly and WordPress.

Once that’s been done, your business profile picture will appear beside Pins that come from your site, people will be able to follow your account and you will be able to access analytics for Pins you publish and on Pins that people create from your site.

You can also “claim” or link up your online marketplace and social media including Instagram, Etsy or YouTube accounts which will mean content from these accounts will be shared directly to Pinterest and automatically attributed to you which will help people find more of your content.

2. Becoming a verified business

The next step is to apply for Pinterest’s Verified Merchant Programme (VMP) to gain access to additional features and even achieve free organic listings. If successful you will receive a blue “Verified Merchant” checkmark on your profile and pins so that people know you are a vetted and approved business. (Verified creators receive a red check mark.)

You will have price and availability information on your product Pins and a Shop tab from which people can browse your full range of products.

To apply, you need to meet the Merchant Guidelines (eligible products, high quality website, proper processes relating to shipping, refunds and contact details) and you need to “connect your catalogue”. What this means is having a feed of product information direct from your eCommerce site that can be sent to Pinterest daily and maintains the quality and accuracy of pricing, product descriptions and availability. This is a technical task you may need support with and Pinterest integrates with a number of ecommerce platforms.

3. Setting up product groups

Before you can set up product groups, you will need to add a ‘data source’ (a product catalogue or product feed) to your Pinterest account, which will enable Pinterest to create pins of your products.

Once you are able to pull through product data from your catalogue/website, you need to work out how best to use “product groups” to filter and organise your product Pins.

Product groups can be featured on your profile under your Shop tab, and you can pay to promote them as “Shopping ads”.

There’s two types of product groups:

  • Automatically generated by Pinterest. They will display as “Auto-created for you” beside the product group name. These are suggestions that can’t be edited or deleted but you can ignore the suggestion if they’re not helpful. If you have a Shopify site you can link your Shopify account to your Pinterest account to feature your Shopify collections as Pinterest product groups. At the moment, Pinterest offers six auto-generated groups based on level of engagement, availability and price of your products and the products they include are updated daily based on the feed from your catalogue/website:
    ○ All products - covers everything
    ○ Top sellers - highest converting products in terms of sales
    ○ Most popular - products that people are engaging with most across all sellers
    ○ Back in stock - items that were out of stock and now available again
    ○ New arrivals - products that are new to your catalogue
    ○ Best deals - biggest drop in price when looking at the sales price field and standard price field
  • Manually created by you. You need to set up at least one manually created product group, and select it to feature on your profile if you want the “Shop” tab to be on your profile. You use filters such as category, product type, brand and custom labels to set up your groups and then choose a group name that reflects those elements - this name is that people can see. E.g. if “handbags” is your product type and “most popular” is the custom label then the group would logically be called “Most popular handbags”. The filter name you choose must always be reflected in your data source or they won’t be pulled through into your product group. Once set up, you can edit and delete these groups when you need to, for example if they are set up for a specific campaign.

4. Promotion

Pinterest offers a couple of approaches for business to run paid-for advertising to augment their organic listings:

  • Shopping ads: Single image product ads
  • Personalised collections ads with multiple images

Sellers can also use retargeting to reach people who have previously visited your website.

5. Interacting with Pinners

If you opt-in, your profile will include a “Message” button so Pinners visiting your page can message you direct to your Pinterest inbox. You can also add your phone number and email address - in which case, the button will be “Contact”.

6. Analytics

Don’t forget to make full use of the analytics offered by Pinterest to see what approaches are working best and to continue improving.

6. Facebook and Instagram

Understanding the selling landscape on Facebook and Instagram

On Facebook and Instagram, there are a few options available to UK businesses to support their business presence and social commerce. These include:

  • Business profiles with Pages or accounts
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Shopping features and ads

Business profiles

Your business profiles are the main pages that you will set up when you create your business’s presence on Facebook or Instagram. You must have a business profile on Facebook and/or Instagram to run ads and use the shopping features.

  • Facebook Pages (also referred to as a Business Page)
    This is a great channel for you to build engagement and awareness of your business and products. Once you have a business Page, you can run advertising. If your products are eligible, your business can go on to sell on Marketplace or use the Shops functionality (see below).
  • Instagram business account
    Instagram business accounts enable you to build engagement with customers, drive traffic to your own website through your bio and clickable stories, and use paid-for promoted posts to reach new customers. The platform provides useful guidance on the basics for using your profile.


  • Facebook Marketplace
    This a product listing platform (rather than an e-commerce platform) which can be used by both individuals and businesses. Businesses can list products to sell and can advertise their products in Marketplace. It allows customers to find the products and then contact the seller directly to arrange the transaction. For businesses, although it’s not possible to customise the look and feel to build a brand presence, Marketplace can be useful for:
    • selling a small range of products in small quantities (often, but not always, lower value items)
    • providing a highly personalised service
    • testing new products to see if there is interest and if so, from which audiences (although remember audiences on Marketplace may have a different mindset from those going direct to ecommerce websites - so what sells on one platform may not always sell on another)
    • It’s also possible to use paid-for advertising on Marketplace as well as simply listing products.
    • For more information see Meta Business help

Facebook ‘Shop’ functionality

The ‘shops’ functionality was developed as part of Facebook's social commerce offering. On Facebook, ‘Facebook Shops’ are an upgrade of the original ‘Shop’ tab within Facebook business pages.

Facebook Shops enable businesses to showcase their products in an ‘online shop’ within their Facebook Page. Facebook explains that with shops “you can display and sell products on Facebook. People who visit your shop can browse your products, make purchases and get to know your brand”

Users can view your products within the ‘shop’ tab and then click onto your website to complete the sale, or can click to message you to arrange a sale.

Another key feature in selling on Facebook is their sales ads. These are ads that you can create that have the ‘sales’ or ‘purchase’ campaign objective, which enable you to showcase a product and drive traffic to your website via the ‘shop now’ call to action button.

Instagram Shopping

Instagram Shopping is a range of features that run across Instagram that enable businesses to sell through their profile, videos and photos. These features include:

  • Shopping tags Instagram shopping tags allow you to tag products in your image and video posts, Stories, Lives, and Reels to direct customers to purchase those products from your website.
  • Shops Just like Facebook Shops, shops on Instagram are a digital storefront that enables shoppers to browse and select products within your Instagram profile. As with Facebook, customers will click out to your website to complete the payment process.
  • Shoppable ads These are promoted posts and ads within Instagram that contain product tags. Instagram explains that “Businesses can ‘boost’ new or existing shopping posts in Ads Manager and Instagram”. This allows your shoppable posts to reach a new and wider audience within the Instagram feed.

However, do keep in mind that this is a changing landscape, with Meta launching and removing features as their ‘shop’ offering matures and develops. For example, Instagram is now focusing more on its shopping ad features than its onsite commerce function and shop tabs.

Setting up Facebook and Instagram shopping features

Below we look at what’s involved to be able to set up and use the shopping features within both Facebook and Instagram (as they use the same Meta functionality).

1. Setting up Facebook and Instagram profiles

To begin, you will first need a personal Facebook and/or Instagram profile if you don’t already have them. From there, set up a Facebook Business Page or an Instagram business account.

2. Set up Commerce Manager

Next you will use Meta's Commerce Manager tool.

Commerce Manager is a platform that allows businesses to manage their products on both Facebook and Instagram.

Businesses who sell physical products and want to promote and sell via Facebook or Instagram, will need to use Commerce Manager to set up their Facebook or Instagram shops and use Instagram Shopping features.

While creating your shop, you choose your checkout method. (In the UK, there is no option to process payments within Facebook and Instagram, so the options are for customers to click out to your website or checkout with messaging through Messenger or WhatsApp where you arrange a more manual process for managing payments and fulfilling orders).

You must also select the catalogue of products to use for your shop and shopping features. As with Pinterest, there’s two options:

  • If you’re also selling on your own ecommerce website on a platform like Shopify or BigCommerce, then you can link with this to import and sync your product catalogue. There is the option to create a test shop to check it works.
  • Using the catalogue Meta creates in Commerce Manager and then manually add your items after you’ve completed your shop set-up.

Once you’ve agreed with the Seller Agreement, and completed the set-up, Meta will then be able to check your products and set-up to approve your Shop.

3. Setting up collections

As with Pinterest you can create product groups (called “collections”). You create, arrange and customise these within Commerce Manager, using themes such as latest trends or seasonal collections to be relevant to your customers, and providing a name, description and cover media.

You can also tailor your shop style and use of colour, within “Layout”, and use preview tools to see how it appears in both light and dark modes, for Facebook and Instagram.

When you’re ready to publish your shop, Meta will then review and approve it before people can see it.

4. Promotion

Once your Shop is published, it will be viewable on full-screen through the Facebook or Instagram apps, in a mobile-first design.

Businesses with Shops set up can then use other shopping features, including Facebook ads and Instagram shopping ads, to create posts and ads which will be “shoppable”.

5. Analytics

The platforms provide very useful analytics which you should use in tandem with your own website analytics. A useful feature is being able to use insights from A/B testing of different ads to find what works best for your business and products on the different platforms and for different audiences.

7. Other social commerce platforms

New developments in social commerce and updates on other social platforms are rapidly progressing and change is constant. The following platforms are also developing their social commerce offerings.


TikTok, the entertainment and short-form video platform, has launched TikTok Shop. This shopping feature enables businesses to sell and showcase their products within the TikTok platform - both within a shopping tab in your business profile (which is a mini-storefront synced with your product catalogue) and also within LIVEs and videos. You can also create shopping ads, which allow businesses to create in-feed ads with their livestreams or short videos.

This is a developing offering and one that your business may not be ready to trial now - particularly if your business is not currently using TikTok. However it is worth keeping an eye on developments as this product matures to see whether this platforms could be a fit for your business.

See TikTok Academy for more details.


YouTube, is also rapidly developing their social commerce offering. Aptly named ‘YouTube Shopping’, this functionality allows eligible businesses and video creators to promote products within their videos and in other features across YouTube. You can set up a ‘shop’ for your channel, pin products in chat, showcase products in video end-screens, and tag products in live streams, shorts and videos.

To access these features, your channel must be approved for monetisation.

Find out more in YouTube Help.


Snapchat, the mobile messaging app, has moved into advertising and recently launched public profiles for businesses enabling them to create a store and place products. The platform is working on bringing a unique experience to social commerce where audiences experienced with engaging through a camera lens and using augmented reality (AR) will be able to try on a product and purchase it through the camera. As well as bringing a lot of fun to shopping, virtual try-on experiences have the potential to reduce ecommerce returns.

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