The Evolution of Online Shopping

Where it’s been and where it’s going

It’s no surprise that the past year has changed the way that brands engage in ecommerce. We’re seeing marketplaces like Amazon, social networks like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok and even search engines like Google providing shopping features and essentially creating alternatives to traditional ecommerce sites. 

With more consumption than ever before taking place online, brands are looking for ways to meet customers where they are. This shift was undoubtedly propelled by the Covid-19 pandemic that left us in an online world. As exciting as this is, it’s important to take a step back and look at how online shopping has evolved over the years. 

Today we’ll dive into the evolution of online shopping, where it’s been, where it’s going, and how influencer marketing has played a pivotal role in the shift.

Where online shopping has been 

In the early days of ecommerce consumers discovered and purchased products simply by googling them. You could simply search “green sweater” and be presented with your options from a range of brands and websites. While search engines aren’t directly selling products this was the basis of a platform informing the purchase journey. This is the initial place where we saw options and product information being provided to the consumer on a large scale.=

As the shopping experience progressed we started to see the emergence of flash sale sites, like HauteLook, Gilt Groupe & the like. Flash sales allowed for members of the site to shop unique sales of discounted designer inventory. HauteLook’s online sample sales always created a buzz as consumers counted down the hours till the sale began. These flash sales allowed for luxury goods to become more accessible across the world but were most popular during a time when it was common for brands to produce an abundance of excess inventory. Sustainability initiatives have since made this model less popular.

The most recent iteration of online shopping, which most of us are probably familiar with, is social media as a discovery tool. Today consumers learn of new products through social media and influencer marketing. This shift in the consumer journey allowed brands to get in front of their consumers in a new way, encouraging them to discover products on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat rather than going to google and searching for a product. The ability to discover products and brands via social media brought us into a new age of ecommerce and consumption, allowing brands to be more accessible and top of mind for their consumers. This steady foundation made the next transition of ecommerce almost inevitable.

Where online shopping is going 

As the Covid-19 pandemic forced the consumer home and onto their devices, we saw the landscape of ecommerce take a quick turn. We saw online sales skyrocket, according to some reports this accelerated the growth of ecommerce by four to six years. This forced social media platforms to quickly adapt and roll out features to stay competitive in the ecommerce market. Here are some of the ways these platforms have innovated to become more ecommerce friendly: 


Although newer to the social media landscape, TikTok is eager and willing to enhance its ability to facilitate ecommerce activity on the platform. The app has introduced product catalogs and livestreamed shopping that is comparable to TV shopping channels. The feature allows viewers to purchase displayed items from participating retailers during livestream events. Users can tap on the pins related to an item they saw on the video screen and add to their carts to checkout during or after the event (all while staying in the TikTok app). In addition the platform has implemented an array of TikTok LIVE features that will facilitate the brand creator relationship allowing for more ecommerce activity.


Last month, Snapchat acquired Vertebrae, a company that lets brands create and manage 3D versions of their goods. This is the platform’s most recent move toward AR shipping as they strongly believe it is the next big thing. Vertebrae builds 3D versions of a brand’s products that can eventually be purchased directly through snapchat. AR is not a new concept for Snapchat and they see its value being huge in the ecommerce space. Recently they collaborated with Gucci to further prove that shoppers are more inclined to make a purchase after they have interacted with its 3D version in app. As the app makes moves to stay relevant in an ecommerce landscape, brands are able to upload AR versions of their products that people can discover and purchase. 


Historically a powerful platform for product discovery, YouTube will begin testing a new livestream feature similar to TikTok’s mentioned above. Only designed for on-demand videos, the feature even allows viewers to read into the “credibility and knowledge” of the creators sharing the product. There are only a handful of creators and brands leading the initial testing rounds but they hope to expand this feature over the course of 2021 and beyond. Viewers that used to watch product reviews, unboxings, hauls, and other shopping related content no longer have to rely on using the affiliate links in the video description. Instead, they are presented with a more integrated shopping experience that will allow viewers to shop the products shown in the video by tapping on a “view products” button, which brings up a list of the items being featured.

Influencer marketing helped propel this shift

The transformation that we are seeing social media platforms experience was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic pushing our lives to be led majority online, but there was a foundation and structure that was already in place that has allowed this shift toward ecommerce to feel seamless.

Influencer marketing as we know it today has been around for years and continues to evolve. Because consumers are accustomed to using social media and their favorite creators as a means to discover new products, it was only natural that the next step was to be able to complete the purchasing experience without leaving the app.

The creator economy is booming and influencer marketing is set to exceed $3 billion this year. This amount of spending and attention being placed on influencer marketing and creators was the push that social media platforms needed to start implementing ecommerce options and features.

The relationship between creators, brands, advertisers, and social media platforms is ever changing and as we look to the rest of 2021 we’re expecting to see more brands work to meet consumers where they are utilizing all of these new features and functionality that social media platforms are offering.

How we can help

Whether you’re a brand looking to develop a virtual store, leverage advertising on social media, or support a network of influencers, we are here to help you navigate it. Reach out to us at