Saturday, November 24, 2012

Social Commerce: This Field Needs a Fresh Start

Is, the hugely successful design items shop, the only social commerce shop out there?  With 8  millions customers in 26 countries, the e-commerce rising star is not stopping – it’s actually shopping, buying smaller me-too competitors over the world. Social has been good to Fab, but did not help social commerce industry to rise. So far. 
In 2011 & early 2012, it was all about social commerce & even ‘f-commerce’. Why do you need a Web shop, just put it on Facebook, where people are! Shopping, which had always been a social experience, would become social on the Web too. The intuition was right: social inspiration from friends, social proof, re-assurance, are key elements in the purchase decision, especially for considered purchases (as opposed to everyday groceries). The next generation of ecommerce would integrate those dimensions natively in the shopping experience, resulting in a new era of shops & growth. The most notable experiment had been conducted with Levi’s ‘shop with friends’ experience, in which you could login through Facebook to see what friends had liked & bought (the site is now offline). New players proposed to put your online shop on Facebook. Those experiments were failures. Soon social commerce projects were shelved. Today, most e-commerce shops look exactly the same as they were 5 years ago, with sometimes a few social media logos in the footer of their home page.
 Maybe this whole social commerce thing was just a mirage.
Was it ? I don’t agree.  They were a few wrong expectations:
  • Inserting a shop on Facebook was wrong: first, because people don’t go back to pages once they ‘liked’ it, it’s all about the newsfeed. If you need to push links to your shop in the newsfeed, it might as well be to your Website: people don’t trust Facebook for shopping, and if they do it won’t make a difference to send a link within or outside Facebook (apart for Facebook itself, which may serve ads about your competitor while the users are shopping on your page)
  • Thinking that you can personalize the shopping experience through social login was too early: unless you are an Amazon or a top 5 retailer, chances that you don’t shop to the same shops as you friends, & even if they do, they did not necessarily optin to share what they do. Maybe the Facebook ‘Want’ button will change that, but not quite yet.
  • People had a too narrow understanding of social mechanisms: social is not simply about ‘seeing what friends do’. For example, the simple ‘Star reviews & ratings’, which have been there forever, are social elements: it’s the value of people talking about the products or services, it’s the content of the review but it’s as well the fact that others are interested, others are buying.

We are still convinced that social commerce has a bright future, as long as the human being will remain a social specie, and that digital matters (you will agree on those two points). The question is more: what should you expect, and how to conduct a realistic, pragmatic social commerce strategy ?
We propose the following ‘maturity model’ – ie depending on your size and degree of sophistication, a simple step-by-step to follow:
  1. Give basic social visibility on your site. Free widgets of Facebook or Twitter exist. They will help, especially if they go along the ‘like’/’follow’ buttons. If you web real estate is precious & you want more control, use a software to integrate on your site.  The first objective of a site is to convince or sell, the second ? Generate an opt-in.
  2. Be multi-social: Social media can be used for both social proofing & inspiration: ensure that you are where your customers are to provide the type of engagement they like at the place. Twitter is more useful for customer service, Pinterest for inspiration, Youtube for education, Facebook for fun & keeping the brand alive (oversimplifying a bit here, but you get the point).
  3. Create & amplify social currency: ask for tweets (even if you are not on Twitter, use hashtags!), Facebook posts, from your happy customers. Engage with a few and amplify to a lot, by then republishing this on your site at key points (product pages, delivery pages, etc…). By doing this on social media, you’ll have more engagement since people don’t need to login, it will be viral since they friends/followers will see it, and it will be credible as attached to a social profile. The result ? A virtuous circle for your shop, highly valuable content for the flock of passive visitors who are desperate for social cues that you have such an amazing web shop & products/services, and as a result much stronger conversion rate.
  4. Curate & amplify: could part of your site be a magazine, that you partly write partly curated ? Why not. People go for ecommerce site to transact but as well to get inspiration. In your area, you might want to be the ‘place to go’ for great content, be it yours or someone’s else, through curation of social content. You could put e.g. youtube videos about golfing on the golf equipement landing page. Remember: people don’t buy at first visit, but then end up buying if you make them come back for more. They will shop with you, for more goods, and more often. In addition, this will nicely boost your SEO performance.
  5. Create on site-engagement: ask questions, quizzes, make sure you enable people to use a social login with an email behind it to gain a lead you will follow. You could even ‘gamify’ your experience, if you dare…
  6. Personalize: this is the holy grail of social shopping. Only a few shops will get there, but who knows it might be yours ? By using social login you will be able to show what others have seen, bought, or simply want, or even shopping with friends. This is completely emerging but may be big in the future. However, if you don’t start with the basic steps, you may never get to that point.
We are only at the beginning of social commerce. We think that now the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ has passed, we can now focus on creating approaches that deliver the results. More than becoming a nice add-on to a social media plan, those steps might become the main focus of your social media strategy, because it’s about what matters to a Web shop: using social media to drive traffic & conversions.

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