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Social commerce – the key to staying ahead

Social commerce is growing at an incredible speed, with many retailers having realised the mass reach that social platforms can offer to their brands and now turning this into sales. Anton Gething, co-founder and product director of nToklo discusses the impact that social commerce can have for brands and how it can be best utilised.

It is undeniable that s-commerce is on the rise, but are retailers really doing all they can to benefit from this trend?

Social Commerce: So much more than a ‘Like’-button

It is a generally accepted viewpoint that the rise of online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and social commerce services like Groupon, are changing the face of business. For retailers, it can often be a bewildering challenge that comes with disruptive changes everywhere. Social commerce is something often discussed as a natural progression of two successful market arenas – social networking and e-commerce. However, many brands today are failing to make inroads in this rapidly rising trend. Current forays amount to little more than adding a ‘Like’ button or setting up a Twitter feed. While this approach is fine in the short term, it is not a recipe for long-term success in the world of s-commerce, which arguably has the potential to be one of the biggest revenue generators for retailers in the coming years. The underwhelming adoption of Facebook Commerce, for example, is evidence of this. If the largest social networking site with over 800 million active users is not implementing s-commerce successfully, clearly something is being lost in translation and online retailers remain unable to leverage various social activities to strengthen their user base and sales.

Dumb pipes and brand dilution

There are many examples of brands and retailers using s-commerce to improve their business model and reach out to customers. ASOS is one example. Many clothing manufacturers sell their products on the ASOS website, which has become a marketplace of different brands under one umbrella. This results in the user making their purchase from a third party without actually engaging with the brand that they are buying. And it is this approach that could lead to content providers and retailers losing all of their brand relationships online. While it is true that marketers will find it difficult to market unless they have an online presence, driving people to a virtual mall away from the brand itself means that the effect of the marketing becomes diluted. S-commerce should offer them a way to engage with their customers directly, rather than risk turning into ‘dumb pipes’ of content.

There must be another way

The entire concept of social commerce hinges on one main principle: making the right offer to the right person. At the heart of all commerce is the customer and in order to be successful, s-commerce needs to put the customer first and prepare the retailers for their voice. Reviews and the ability to connect with like-minded individuals online should be available to customers on-site. Customers need to be able to be social when they shop online, just as they would in real life. If users could connect to one another, they could replicate the high street experience by finding users with similar tastes to their own and connecting with them in real-time. B&Q’s social hub is a step towards this, as it allows users to share content which connects back to the company’s presence online. However, in the user experience it does not actually connect users to each other or with the very useful customer advice they offer, which is a disadvantage. Evidenced by the popularity of sites such as Tumblr, there are many customers and consumers who are willing to share their experiences or opinions online, this information could very quickly become valuable to the retailer and their users. Moreover, without compromising the privacy or anonymity of these users, retailers could leverage this information to bring like-minded people together on their websites and give them relevant recommendations. 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 third party. And by socially engaging with users, brands will find it easier to create brand loyalty.

S-commerce should be used to provide correct recommendations and relevant content, allow like-minded users to connect and enable brand participation. Retailers and brands should be leveraging their customers’ social network channels but they must also allow them to shop online in a social way. Done correctly, s-commerce could be very powerful, not to mention profitable, and will breed brand trust and shopping confidence. S-commerce therefore, is the future, because it is a perfecting of targeted marketing that will allow businesses to communicate directly with their customers, person to person, brand to fan.

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