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Social Commerce: an add-on or a necessity?

Shopping is an inherently social experience. Even before the online world took over, people preferred to have a companion who could join on shopping trips or give a second opinion. How many times have you asked family or friends for their opinion on something you were looking to buy? Or sent images of a product to someone you know just to ask for their opinion? Probably we are all familiar with such behaviors.

But ecommerce is not so social by nature. Actually it seems to isolate you from the opinions of people you know and trust. You shop alone at home or on your phone on the way to work. So, how will digital transformation trends address the natural need of buyers to make online shopping experiences social? Will they open new doors for the social networks to grow in a marketplace and commerce direction?

Social networks are the place where people are most likely to spend their free time online—whether they’re staying connected with family and friends, following world news, learning a new skill, planning meetups, or making new friends. Even work relations have taken up the form of social networks with channels like LinkedIn and Twitter. We spend a lot of time on these platforms. It may sound scary, but in many cases the social media networks we use might know us better than our friends and family.

A lot of brands and manufacturers have recognized that channels like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, or Instagram are often the first place where a customer will learn about a product or service. That is why businesses are using social networks for the “product discovery” phase of the customer journey. In fact, nowadays, the product experience begins long before a consumer lands on a brand’s website.

 

So how might commerce trends change when more and more social networks enable marketplaces and brands to sell directly to consumers on these channels?

It can, and will, open up a whole new path for online selling and online marketing. Some social channels have started work on this but, when done right and at scale, it could disrupt the whole ecommerce industry.

And why would it not? If these are the channels where you discover and experience a product, wouldn’t you want to be able to buy it right there as well?

Imagine the way these efforts could support the social aspect of shopping. This way, a consumer could very clearly see the opinions that family and friends have about a certain product. On these networks, it is easier not just to find a product, but also to find someone you know who can give you an informed opinion on it.

 

The other, and relatively bigger, aspect of such social selling is the “customer experience” and “know-your-customer” element.

These networks know the customers very well, and this allows the whole idea of customized product suggestions to take on a new dimension. Imagine YouTube offering a one-click buy option for the ingredients of a cooking tutorial you’ve just watched. Or Facebook enabling smart “product recognition” where you can buy a product the moment you see it in a picture. Why not? They know your style, your location, and the next event you’re attending, so why not help you make purchases? They could easily send you relevant suggestions. They might even tell you which friends in your network have bought something similar in the past.

All of this should make the buying experience feel more personal. For example, Instagram pictures of real customers are now embedded by fashion brands and retailers on product pages. It’s great to see real people wearing a certain garment and not only models in airbrushed photographs. Feels more authentic, doesn’t it?

Then, take this a step further and imagine how the concept of “loyalty cards” are evolving. Loyalty points for posting a product picture and tagging the product, when you write a review, when a friend buys the same product, when you return to the social page of that brand, and so on.

This overarching transformation also imposes a lot of shifts in commerce strategy for brands. Customer engagement, consistency across all channels, and selling an experience rather than a product become even more relevant.

The whole shopping experience combined with social networks can take many directions. Whether it poses a threat or an opportunity for your business is something that will be defined by the speed with which you transform and your willingness to change along with the changing customer expectations.

 

Beenish Maqsood is a business process enthusiast, specialized in building sustainable partnerships and go-to-market initiatives. As a Partner Manager at Productsup, she is an essential member of the commerce team, focussing on enterprise sales, market, and partner development. Beenish has a degree in Economics from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and over a decade of experience in marketing, business development and partner management, for startups and big enterprises alike. She has worked for companies like Cisco, Blackberry, Hybris, and SAP. She’s a civil rights advocate and an avid traveler, with her own travel blog. You can find more about her on LinkedIn

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