How technology is driving serendipitous shopping on social

How technology is driving serendipitous shopping on social

Shopping is undergoing a revolution. Rather than going to stores and markets to buy the things they need, consumers are ordering whenever and wherever they want. Often, the items they’re purchasing are products and experiences they didn’t even set out to buy. The phenomenon is called discovery commerce, and it’s changing both the way people shop and the way brands connect with customers. 

The engine that’s driving discovery commerce is social media. For example, consumers are encountering products on their Facebook and Instagram feeds, then buying them with a few taps on their phone. It’s a process that makes shopping an integrated part of everyday life, rather than an occasional activity.

From consumers’ perspectives, the products they discover online may seem to magically appear. In reality, their appearance is the result of thoughtful brand strategy backed by social media algorithms. As consumers become more and more accustomed to this new kind of serendipitous shopping, companies have an enormous opportunity to expand their reach and drive sales.

“Discovery commerce gives companies a chance to make a true connection with consumers,” says Janelle Estes, chief insights officer of UserTesting, a firm that provides companies with reactions and feedback from customers. “The brands that are differentiating themselves in this space are creating content that feels authentic to individual consumers.”

It’s important to always test your assumptions, because you might be limiting your conversions by making generalizations about your customers.”

Megan Streeter, CMO, Prose


A recent survey commissioned by Meta found that three out of five online shoppers surveyed say they buy products after coming across them unexpectedly in their content feeds. This widespread customer embrace of discovery shopping recently spurred Prose, a Brooklyn-based hair care company, to partner with Meta to test the effectiveness of video ads built for specific audiences on Facebook and Instagram Reels. The campaign featured an array of influencers whose unique messages would resonate with customers of differing needs and backgrounds. The goal, says Megan Streeter, Prose’s chief marketing officer, was “to reach customers who didn’t even know that they needed what they’re getting.”

The campaign made sense for a company whose entire business model is driven by personalization and authenticity. To receive the hair care products that are just right for them, Prose customers participate in an online consultation that looks at 85 different factors, from age and hair texture to what they eat and even how often they sweat. The Prose team then crafts made-to-order hair care products that are shipped directly to consumers.

This sharp focus on the consumer resulted in compelling social media content that resonated with individuals of varying backgrounds and interests. For instance, if you were a 30-year-old woman with red, curly hair, you likely would have encountered a different ad than a straight-haired 50-year-old woman. One series of videos featured a self-described “silver fox,” a man with silky, shoulder-length gray hair who helped deliver a 30% bump in incremental reach to Prose’s male audience.

After a couple of weeks, Prose saw its costs to acquire new customers dip by 23% while completed views of videos tripled. These results convinced the company of the importance of creating a broad array of ads, then testing and revising repeatedly to deliver social media content to the consumers who were mostly likely to respond to it. The Meta Discovery Commerce system made it easy for Prose to find new customers and strengthen ties with existing ones.


Prose’s campaign illustrates an underlying truth of discovery commerce: When brands present their content to the right customers at the right time, it can feel like serendipity for those seeing the ads. According to Streeter, this is a never-ending process, aided by Meta’s data insights and AI-driven testing and learning. 

“It’s important to always test your assumptions, because you might be limiting your conversions by making generalizations about your customers,” Streeter says. “The insights we derive from data help us identify which influencers and audiences we should be trying to reach. And we’re able to process this data and make decisions at a much faster pace than would be possible through traditional means.”

Customer engagement data, AI-driven testing and learning, and the actions brands take in response to customer behavior create the perpetual feedback loop that powers discovery shopping. The brands that embrace this process are not just building their customer base—they’re also bringing an element of novelty and joy to their customers’ shopping experiences.