It’s funny how a few years ago, e-commerce was a questionable concept and now, we can’t seem to live without our daily dose of online shopping. Let’s face it, online shopping has been our saving grace. But with the internet in a frenzy with social media and e-commerce, it seemed only likely that these two would converge into a single path. They paved the way for what can be called Social Commerce.
So what is it? How is it any different from e-commerce and what does it entail?
Social commerce is a subset of e-commerce that involves social media that supports social interaction and user contributions to assist online buying and selling of products and services. Social commerce utilizes social media to carry forward transactions between the user and the retailer.
Social Commerce – The Origins
Here’s a little trivia to get your brain ticking. Did you know Yahoo! was the first to introduce the concept of social commerce? Way back in 2005, shoppers could obtain reliable advice and support from online experts regarding their purchases and online transactions. The idea caught on and now, almost every major social media platform is following in those footsteps.
Social commerce is a broad concept. It is made up of smaller yet equally important categories like Peer-to-peer sales platform, Social network-driven sales, Group buying, Peer recommendations, User-curated shopping, Participatory commerce, and social shopping.
The peer-to-peer sales platform is basically a ‘market’ type platform where individuals sell products to other individuals. Think Flipkart or Amazon.
Social network-driven sales are sales that occur due to some influence or referral from, say a social influencer on a social media site or a transaction that occurs after viewing an ad on a social media site like the paid ads you see on Facebook. This is the most common form of social commerce that occurs daily.
Group buying is like buying things in bulk at a discounted price. A large group purchasing a particular product will get it at a lower price. Groupon is one such platform that deals with group buying.
Peer recommendations, as the name suggests, is making a transaction based on what your ‘peers’ have bought. Usually, sites like Amazon or Myntra will suggest you buy some products based on what other people have been buying lately. They also ask people to refer a few items they think their friends would enjoy and reward them accordingly.
User-curated shopping involves shoppers making personalized lists or custom-designed carts with items they think their friends would love and send these to them when they’re next shopping.
Participatory commerce is an interactive and more engaging method of getting consumers on board with the design, production and ultimately purchase of a product they would’ve voted, commented, liked or talked about.
Social shopping gives people the feel of friends shopping together in a mall without the hassle of actually being there. It’s a virtual shopping complex where friends can see and like the same item and there’s a chat portal where friends can chat about the items and their purchased goods.
It’s incredible how social commerce has neatly tied up all these sub-categories and emerged as this new face of modern marketing.
Social Commerce – a Growing Phenomenon
2015 was definitely the year of online shopping. From apparel to gadgets – online shopping hit a fever pitch and brands were just making the best of all this chaos. There was a huge influx of traffic on e-commerce sites and all this credit has to go to social media networks.
The power of social media cannot be stressed enough. One person can spread the message to twenty; twenty can spread it to forty and so on and so forth. It becomes a chain reaction and leads to a set of events culminating. Social influencers can reach thousands. When a social influencer becomes a brand advocate for a particular brand, that brand reaches even more such thousands. This being the basis of influencer marketing, in turn, gave birth to social commerce.
The reason why e-commerce has boomed is that several web users got influenced by social influencers, who played brand advocates and were on the lookout for these brands. Social media marketing changed the face of online shopping to what we know today. A ‘share’ on Facebook has become more than just sharing a post or a picture to a group of people. It results in content sharing and content distribution. Brand publicity spreads faster on social media than through regular ads. It makes sense that e-commerce joined forces with social media.
The Future of Social Commerce
It seems pretty clear that social commerce isn’t just a passing trend – it’s here for the long haul. Although there has been quite a bit of development on this front, customers can’t directly buy on social media networks. Instead, they are redirected to the shopping portal on clicking the ‘Buy Now’ link. In the years to come, we will definitely see this changing. Social media and e-commerce portals will have much stronger collaborations and buying retail on shopping websites may reduce and probably even become obsolete as web users will be directly shopping on social media.