The Future of Social Commerce

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I think it is fair to say that commerce has always been a very social activity. Marketplaces have been a gathering place for people for thousands of years and word of mouth has always been a huge influence on what people buy. But as more and more people engage in social networking activities and platforms (1.3 billion people use Facebook every month), there is a new opportunity to provide commerce as part of people’s interactions in social networking activity.

In addition to the shear number of people engaging in social activities, many of them are doing so on their mobile devices. In fact, 1.07 billion of those 1.3 billion monthly users did so on a mobile device. This provides an opportunity to make commerce more social than ever before.

In the past (pre mobile device saturation and smartphone emergence), the social part of commerce was not immediate. Conversations around what to buy and where to buy it, often took place outside the active process of buying something. They had to; it was difficult for consumers to connect to each other during the purchase process. It had to be done when it was convenient for consumers to interact with one another – over the phone, during dinner, at the workplace, etc.

Many of these social networking platforms are trying to make the process of buying something more integrated with their platforms. Both Facebook and Twitter have made recent acquisitions and or product announcements that make it simple to purchase a something as part of the product experience. For example, Twitter offers product cards, which provide price and ability to buy a product from a merchant with a “buy now” button. You can add a product to your Amazon shopping cart by replying to an Amazon tweet. Facebook announced the ability to buy a product without ever leaving the website. There are other experiments that go on, and there will be many more in the near future.

This of course has implications for both product manufacturers and retailers. One of the common impacts will be on consistency and quality of product data. In a world where social commerce becomes more prevalent, product information and images will go much farther, much faster, than ever before. If your product information is in good shape, this is great news, if it is not however; this is anything but good news. Additionally, this will put pressure on manufacturers and retailers to get better at communication, and participation in social media. You can’t control the conversation any longer, but you must still participate. Lastly, there are far reaching implications on the IT systems for manufacturers and retailers. Are they flexible enough to ensure consistency of information across consumer experiences? In other words, if a consumer discovers your product on Twitter, when they get to your website, will the imagery and information be consistent? Will the price be the same for the consumer from Facebook to e-com, to in store? These types of things are generally challenges if existing IT infrastructure is outdated or inflexible.

It is certainly the early days of commerce in these platforms, and the companies are clearly experimenting to see what works. Now, consumers can have purchase related social interaction during the process of buying something. Friend’s advice and opinions are a mere text, Snapchat, IM, or phone call away. Commerce has always been, at least in part, a social activity. Today’s social media platforms and smartphones are creating new opportunities for manufacturers and retailers to participate in the social aspect of commerce more than ever. It’s likely that those who invest and experiment will reap the dividends over the next decade.

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About Ken Sickles

VP of Global Product & Strategy - "Crafting a better world with technology."

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