S-Commerce is more about 'Engage' than 'Like'
Social commerce is often cited as being a natural progression of two successful market arenas - social networking and e-commerce - but the rise of social networks such as Facebook and social commerce services like Groupon are changing the face of business on a much wider scale, according to Anton Gething of social brand engagement specialist nToklo.
Gething's observation is that this change is happening much faster than most online retailers were expecting, or are even prepared to respond to. Retailers have identified the benefits of social media not only in reinforcing links between their physical and online presence, but also for brand awareness, reach, and influence in decision making throughout the purchase process.
But are they really taking full advantage of the opportunities that exist? As a retailer, there is so much more to social commerce than adding a 'Like' button to your web pages and sitting back and waiting for sales to come through. This, or setting up a Twitter feed, seems to be almost the full extent of so-called 'S-Commerce' efforts by many retailers so far. It's true that this approach works in the short term, but it is not necessarily the right approach to ensuring long term success in the world of s-commerce.
S-commerce should offer brands a way to engage with their customers directly. Many brands are relying on marketplace portals such as ASOS, which means that customers are making their purchase from a third party - and subsequently are not engaging with the brand they are buying.
An online presence is vital but driving people to a virtual mall and away from the actual brand can lessen the impact of marketing efforts and the brand relationships that companies work hard to develop. Instead, brands should work toward making their own site truly social and provide a channel that allows users, where possible, to engage with their brand.
To do this successfully, s-commerce must put consumers first and content second, rather than the other way round, as is currently the case. By all means, retailers and brands should take advantage of their customers' social network channels, but they must also provide the tools and features to enable them to enjoy online shopping in a social way - by including social functionality within the brand's own site. This way, customers can be as sociable when shopping online as they would in real life - a prerequisite these days for successful online selling and engagement.
Done the right way, s-commerce gives users a voice on the site. For example, put reviews where the users are and allow them to connect with like-minded individuals to share thoughts and content. UK-based DIY retailer B&Q's social hub is a good example of where a brand lets its customers share content. The hub also connects back to the retailer's brick and mortar presence, but what it doesn't do is connect users to each other - a key element of true s-commerce, allowing users of likeminded taste and opinion to share and connect with one another. Doing this allows retailers to reclaim the purchase funnel decision making real-estate that is currently lost to social networks. Similarly, High Street retailers should consider improving this functionality within their own online shopping sites, in order to build stronger links between their virtual and physical identities.
And it's crucial to make the right offer and information to the right person, hence the importance of peer reviews and recommendations. Users tend to be fairly altruistic online, happy to share information and opinions for the benefit of others, according to Gething, as this attitude is demonstrated and confirmed by the growing popularity of social and blogging web sites such as Tumblr. This information could very quickly become valuable to retailers as the information can - and should - be used to bring like-minded people together on their websites and give them relevant recommendations, all without compromising the privacy or anonymity of these users. In turn, if valuable and relevant information is given to the user, the brand can truly take part in the conversation between consumers rather than being an invasive and annoying third party. Engaging socially with users makes it easier for brands to create brand loyalty.
S-commerce, when correctly implemented, can be very powerful, not to mention profitable, and will create shopping confidence and brand trust. By creating a seamless portal on their site that allows consumers to use their existing social networks and engage with likeminded users, brands can create a new type of retail experience; an experience that is effectively a shop window into the site where customers can see what their friends and peers are doing and buying.
S-commerce therefore has the potential to be one of the biggest revenue generators for retailers in the coming years, and brands must act now and make inroads into this rapidly growing trend. This may be only the beginning, but s-commerce is here to stay.