Establishing the real meaning of social commerce.

Too much focus on commerce and not enough on social could be hindering social commerce campaigns.

By Gareth Roberts23rd May 2017

Shopping is a social procedure. An emotional endeavour. Step into a shopping centre or onto the high street and you’ll see people everywhere. The internet hasn’t killed these physical shops because they still offer something we as humans crave: Opportunities for social interaction.

Replicating the social shopping experience.

Wikipedia state: “Social commerce aims to assist companies in achieving the following purposes. Firstly, social commerce helps companies engage customers with their brands according to the customers' social behaviours. Secondly, it provides an incentive for customers to return to their website. Thirdly, it provides customers with a platform to talk about their brand on their website. Fourthly, it provides all the information customers need to research, compare, and ultimately choose you over your competitor.”

These are all true. But they are true for any brand adopting a digital strategy. What Wikipedia forgets is the true meaning of the word social in this context. Social media users don’t sign up to those platforms to buy; they use them to connect with their friends. The commerce part is purely secondary. If brands understand social media, and the dynamics within shopping, it can create a social commerce strategy that can succeed in the noisy online marketplace.

The power of peers.

Inserting ads in people’s social feeds isn’t social commerce. Brands need to focus on the social element of shopping with the view of trying to replicate that experience as close as possible. I’ll pick out eight pre-purchase elements of a shopping experience and explore where brands can substitute face-to-face interactions by means of digital. It's worth noting although they appear as separate elements, they very much cross-over and integrate within most shopping experiences.

Conversation.

Social interaction has long been considered imperative to human health. Shopping presents an opportunity to catch up with a friend or family member at the same time as fulfilling a purchasing need. Personal and purchasing based conversations may take place. But the important aspect is that it allows for connection with other people.

Chat, messaging and forum features can connect shoppers to each other. Allowing for a general conversation that may revolve around the brand or products. If a brand can create this conversation environment, it will create a home turf advantage, naturally attracting more people to its site and to its products. Creating a safe and trusted environment to talk to other people.

The PlayStation Forum allows gamers to discuss all topics related to the games and its platforms, creating a trusted community of people formed around its products:

Inspiration.

Shoppers might want a specific item from a shopping trip, accompanied by several other unplanned purchases. Others might go shopping with an open mind. To browse for ideas. Digital can aid this process, like store displays and free testers, but in a much more creative way.

Instagram and Snapchat stories provide great value in the way they present good quality previews of products. Presenting products and brand stories in a fun and digestible way making product inspiration quick and easy. Brands are also testing e-commerce integrations with these platforms to enable purchasing. MikMak lets users buy products on Instagram stories and Snapchat ads with a single URL through a shoppable video layer.

Pinterest is also great for inspiration. It gives users the opportunity to browse and save other users’ preferences. User generated content can inspire sales like no other method. Equally, Buyable Pins allow shoppers to find and buy products on the social platform. Shopify can provide this service. Twitter offer this same “Buy Now” feature with similar e-commerce partners.

Instagram has a growing market of users and is one highly sought-after for marketers and e-commerce managers:

Pinterest is one of the most used platforms for inspiration, whatever the subject matter. Now, retailers can sell directly on there:

Convenience.

Out of town shopping centres are the epitome of convenience. They’re easy to access and make shops easy to find. In a hurried world, time is always of the essence – shoppers are looking for a seamless experience whilst shopping. There’s also a focus on convenience shopping in the online world via social media.

Facebook Marketplace offers a similar kind of convenience. It allows retailers to sell – update product catalogues and manage orders - via their business pages. Customers can buy from shops without leaving the platform – without having to leave the comfort of their group of friends on Facebook. Brands such as those in the travel industry have also integrated flight-booking capabilities within Facebook Messenger. So people can buy without having to move around on to different holiday websites, bridging the gap from channel to channel. Its user base is without doubt the biggest of the social platforms and requires attention.

The Harry Potter store sells books, Blu-rays, DVDs and a wide selection of miscellaneous merchandise on Facebook:

Icelandair are bringing travel booking directly to users on Facebook through Facebook Messenger:

Interaction.

Before a purchase, we sometimes look for reasons to validate buying choices; to avoid buyer’s remorse. Usually by asking people questions. Customers actually value the face-to-face interactions and the help from knowledgeable retail staff in this instance. The role of staff members cannot be understated as they contribute highly to the overall customer service.

Chatbots (when they become intelligent enough… which they will) may play an integral part within the role of the staff member. Like Icelandair on Facebook. To offer opinions and advice on top of those of our friends’. Engaging and discussing matters related to the purchase to instil confidence within the buyer. I suspect we’re a while away from this hitting the mainstream but online stores are testing. 

Online clothing retailer Spring has developed a live messaging and personal shopping service called Spring Bot:

Personalisation.

When we walk into a store to be treated like friends rather than customers, we get a feeling of community. A sense of belonging. We’re looking for a place where we can receive personal recommendations and advice based on what books we buy, the type of clothes we like and what genre of music we prefer. We’re almost looking for help, but we don’t always like to ask for that help,

Product feeds curated for us can provide this familiarity. Based on our previous purchases and browsing activity, or even products which we know have been posted or made popular by other users. Tailoring has always been a collaborative buying experience. We might state a preference then we expect others to do the rest. Polls and other forms of questionnaires can indicate product preferences that also allow retailers to provide tailored personal recommendations, build relationships and make deeper connections with shoppers.

Amazon’s recommendations integrates across the buying experience, from discovery to checkout:

Participation.

Participatory commerce is probably unknown to most. But the concept isn’t new. Many agencies and brands work in this field. Nike allows you to design your own trainers just as Coca-Cola have allowed users to name bottles. Digital and social media have also made this more common – allowing customers to participate and contribute to the production process or the package. Selecting features and functions is important for social commerce.

Again, social media can be used as a driver for this kind of recruitment as it’s naturally appealing to groups of friends. Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects, for example, recruit users to determine whether a product is made and rewards them for their contributions. They’ve managed to amass over $2billion using this model with over three million repeat backers.

Global crowdfunding platform Kickstarter:

Rewards.

Loyalty schemes are rooted in psychology. They just work. In exchange for retailers tracking your every purchase and gaining access to your personal details, you receive rewards or points every time you buy. As long as it’s easy for shoppers to gain and redeem these points, they're a win-win. Printed.com offer a points scheme where you can get money off your orders. Starbucks (even though you can’t order a digital coffee) have used digital to their advantage and allowed customers to pay using their app – which has generated a 12% rise in revenue – and collect points in the process.

Social media offers the opportunity to go beyond basic points systems. Brands could set up reward schemes for referring friends. By providing the right incentives and making it easy, the number of referrals from social media could be huge. Which can also be automated.

Groupon allows users to buy products or services at a lower price when enough users agree to make the purchase:

Validation.

A Local Customer Review survey found that 92% of customers read online reviews before purchasing. This isn’t really a surprise – social proof is one of the strongest steers of influence. Customers can’t access the reviews in the physical stores themselves, but they will go online and seek reviews before making purchases.

Social media platforms are, by their very nature, more attractive to host these reviews because users are sharing their experiences at the same time. Customers can share their reviews with friends, and in turn, allows retailers to target those friends with other products and content. Yet, the reviews themselves are what should be leveraged – an Immediate Future report found that customer reviews are 157% more effective than traditional ads. User ratings, reviews, referrals forums, video testimonials, shared lists and user-generated content should all be explored.

Yellow Zebra Safaris encourage Trustpilot reviews; a trusted platform for users to share and learn more about the service from other users:

The #FindYourEpic site showcases Instagram and Twitter images from people who have visited Wales, to inspire future visitors:

The road ahead for social commerce.

Marketing Week revealed that 56% of people follow brands on social media to “see products,” with 41% to “look at new ranges when they launch” and 35% to “get ideas when I next go shopping.” The goal is to drive traffic, engagement, brand equity, authority and social proof. As it gives retailers the opportunity to make deeper connections with customers. People will buy through social media - and I think the key here is the users and their groups.

Social commerce needs to take all the benefits of the offline experience. Of course, we should make it easy for customers to transact online. To create checkout processes that are seamless. But there are other factors involved when it comes to shopping that needs consideration. The goal should be to make shopping more social online. Empowering people and their social groups of friends and bringing them closer to brands and their product offering. Social commerce doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be relevant.