Reshaping India’s digital shopping landscape

From massive e-commerce platforms to a more personalised environment, social commerce is tapping smartphones and data to change the way young Indians shop.

VoicenData Bureau
New Update


Thirty-two-year-old Titas Basu works at a multinational company remotely from her home in Kolkata. About six months ago, while casually browsing through the social media platform Instagram, Basu stumbled upon an influencer’s profile who posted gorgeous photographs of interior decoration and chic, urban home design ideas. This, coincidentally, came about at around the same time when she was about to move to a new house.


“While I was trying to take screenshots, I realised that she had tagged a boutique furnishing brand based in Delhi, along with a link to the brand owner’s profile and their entire product catalogues. I subsequently connected with the owner of the business, who in turn gave me a first-time-buyer discount for my exhaustive shopping list. This was perhaps my best shopping experience to date,” Basu said.

She, interestingly, is hardly the only one. Over the past two years, the concept of social commerce has been steadily on the rise. A subset that sits at the juxtaposition of social media and e-commerce, social commerce refers to a rising industry where social networks double up to offer shopping experiences to their users.

Today, social commerce has emerged as the primary shopping destination of choice for an increasingly online-everything urban generation that trusts sellers who look, feel and speak more like themselves—tapping a personal connection of supporting small businesses. In turn, social commerce is all set to change the way we shop, forever.


Social commerce has emerged as a primary shopping destination for the online-everything urban generation that trusts sellers who are more like themselves.

The Genesis

The idea of social commerce, in retrospect, seems like an obvious evolution of the social network. As the likes of Facebook (now Meta) and Twitter (now X) took off, the idea of these platforms was to create a digital town square; a hub where individuals from around the world could meet and speak as if seated next to each other.


Over the past two decades, billions have joined social media platforms, to a point where today, it is difficult for them to continue growing. However, these platforms have led to an all-new profession, the influencers. These individuals garnered large followings on social media platforms, driven by creating content that appealed to the masses. As time went by, brands associated themselves with influencers to get exposure.

This planted the seeds of social commerce. Over time, social media platforms realised that while influencers help generate eyeballs for a platform, they do not generate revenue per se. Instead, such creators earn up to millions of dollars each month and get away without needing to pay a dime to the platforms themselves.

Yet, the idea was simple for influencers—help a brand sell their products by creating a personal connection between them and a buyer. The latter is what the likes of Amazon and Flipkart have always failed at. Soon, the likes of Meta’s Instagram began a pilot programme with select brands by letting them showcase their products directly on their page—and a link to shop via the platform itself.


Roughly two years ago, social commerce was born.

The Present

Today, much like Basu, social commerce is reaching places by leveraging the popularity of social media among all. Roughly one of every four Indians uses Instagram, as per multiple market statistics. To leverage this, brands on Instagram use targeted advertising to showcase products to various demographics. For instance, a frequent traveller is shown an advertisement for an independent brand making suitcases and backpacks.


It is not just brands—over the past two years, social commerce has been going beyond formal interfaces. Individuals are today putting out their offerings on social platforms, encouraging buyers to contact them via direct messages and pay for their services using the ubiquitous Unified Payments Interface (UPI) applications.

Social commerce, therefore, is a clear example of a successful circular economy—one that has been born off the face of India’s digitalisation. Some of the biggest examples of social commerce becoming successful is the rise of professions such as home chefs and sneaker thrifters.

The size of this economy, now, is on the rise. A Deloitte report, ‘The rise of social commerce: A growth opportunity for brands’, published in February 2023, noted that 64% of all online customers use social media for brand discovery. Further, one out of every three social media users see their shopping preferences being influenced by their online peers—making social media platforms perfect for e-commerce integration.


Deloitte’s analysis states that by next year, the global market for social commerce will hit USD 2 trillion—albeit being largely driven by China (at 80% of the social commerce market). At present, while China’s social commerce market is worth USD 1.25 trillion, India is a tiny fraction of China—a combined demographic of Asia-Pacific today accounts for USD 140 billion in social shopping.

One in three social media users see their shopping preferences being influenced by online peers—making social media platforms perfect for e-commerce integration.

But India is indeed catching up. Over the past two years, unicorn startup Meesho has transformed itself into a social commerce model—a factor that could help its apparent upcoming funding round. It also has competition from the likes of Mumbai-based startup Coutloot, which presently stands at USD 17 million in venture capital funding. There is also DealShare, a Gurgaon-headquartered unicorn that has so far received a whopping USD 393 million in VC funding. At the top of it all sits Instagram—the most urban, organised and deep-pocketed of the bunch.


A Precarious Balance

A senior executive at a top consultancy firm, who requested anonymity since they work with multiple top companies in social commerce, said that the success of social commerce is likely to happen in India. “Even without looking at tech concepts such as the metaverse and virtual reality, or China’s thriving social commerce economy, India is steadily coming to realise that social commerce is a far stronger proposition,” he said.

At the centre of this industry’s strength is its ability to lend a human connection between a brand and a buyer. “Large e-commerce platforms are today laden with complaints about unreliable vendors selling damaged and dissatisfactory products. The thing about such large platforms is that every seller is a faceless entity—they are just shops and warehouses and have no relationship with a buyer,” the consultant added.


“Instead, on social media platforms, a buyer can directly reach out to a business, find its owner, have a conversation with them, and then make a purchase. This not only lends assurance but creates a hyper-personalised shopping experience that is almost akin to shopping at an upscale physical retail outlet.”

The assessment is on point. On Instagram, F&B brands such as VS Mani & Co. founded by GD Prasad, as well as clothing brands such as The Indian Ethnic Co. founded by Lekhinee Desai are social commerce-born. Today, these businesses are thriving on their ability to sell directly to consumers. Each of these brands leverages the ubiquity of the mobile phone—estimates count at least 700 million of them across India already—and the easy availability of data connections.

The availability of user data is yet another factor. Thanks to social media tracking user preferences on their platforms, young brands are leveraging targeted marketing to reach audiences that they otherwise would not be able to on any general e-commerce platform. User data, in fact, is the central conversation piece for social commerce and its rise.

Over the past two years, social commerce has been going beyond formal interfaces with individual users putting out their offerings on social platforms.

However, concerns remain. On Instagram, users are also concerned about the extent to which their data is tracked. With the advent of new laws, it remains to be seen how targeted advertising will change in India. Further, most of these businesses become too over-reliant on the very platforms where they sell—leaving them potentially at the mercy of the platforms in the long run.

The platforms themselves may impose restrictions on accepting payments externally, and request audits to subsequently demand service fees from businesses using them to grow. This is not unlikely—profitability is an issue that has plagued social media for long.

DealShare, for instance, is currently in hot waters after having seen its cofounder and CEO resign in September last year. More recently, in January this year, the company’s FY23 annual earnings filing with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs revealed that while its operating revenue rose only 5.4% to Rs 1,964 crore for the year, its net loss ballooned by 14.1% to hit Rs 503 crore.

At present, though, social commerce in India is only seeing shopping habits get established. While the country still has a long way to go, personal data-driven social commerce could well offer a legitimate new revenue stream to these platforms. At the moment, though, India’s market growth in social commerce remains nascent—awaiting the first marquee push that would bring it to the mainstream.

By Vernika Awal