3 strategies for making e-commerce truly social

In just one year from now, we’ll see social technologies disrupt e-commerce the same way they’ve already disrupted online gaming, music and news.

Commerce has always been social. Shopping in the real world is a form of social entertainment, and we turn to people we know for advice on products and services.

This social dimension, however, is not yet reflected in today’s search-driven online ecommerce sites.

I’ve been deeply focues on social commerce within the Facebbok ecosystem for more than three years already, building out Oodle’s classifieds service, and I’ve learned three core lessons that I think are broadly applicable to anyone working in the social commerce space.

1. Make your user experience more like TV than search
Users tune in to Facebook to be entertained or to discover new things. It’s an experience driven by browsing and serendipity. Today’s commerce experiences, however, are search-driven. They expect users to show up with intent. Amazon and eBay are great places to buy something once you’re already in the market to buy, but they fall short for people who want to browse or “window shop” as a form of entertainment. To embrace social commerce, a new layer needs to be added to the top of the e-commerce purchase funnel, one fueled by serendipity and browsing. If you engage users in this way, they’ll tune in more frequently (not just to buy something) and buy more things (that they discover socially).

One company that does this exceedingly well on TV is QVC. QVC shoppers tune in to shop with people they know – hosts and celebrities, as well as other members of the QVC community who call in. The experience, which is based on shared stories, is about discovering great new items rather than searching for specific ones.

2. Engage social circles beyond friends
Facebook defines its social experience through friends. A consumer’s buying behavior, however, is also typically informed by broader social circles of trust that include friends, neighbors, and co-workers (for example, when picking a real estate agent); circles of taste or shared interest (for example, when shopping for a new pair of black leather boots); and circles of expertise (for example., when researching the right digital telescope).

To fully engage in social commerce, you need to build your own graph – one that complements Facebook’s. Buying and sharing activity can be used to define broader social circles beyond friends – such as other people who share a love of gourmet cooking or are frequent business travelers. At the end of the day, this is really the social evolution of customer relationship management. Traditional CRM lets you to identify your customers so you can personalize the user experience based on a user’s profile. Social CRM is about knowing your communities of customers beyond users and users’ friends. This lets you socially personalize the experience based not only on a user’s profile but also on what that user’s communities are doing. For example, when a user is shopping for a suitcase, it would be helpful for an Amazon or an eBay to know which ones have been purchased, recommended or even looked at by friends, co-workers, and other business travelers.

3. Build out a footprint on Facebook
Having a native footprint (or “store within a store”) on Facebook is critical for two reasons. First, to get the social flywheel rolling, you need to effectively engage users through the NewsFeed on Facebook. Sharing activity distributed to friends through the NewsFeed is best converted and propagated within Facebook where users are already in a social context. Oodle sees four times better social engagement (in terms of getting people to connect, share, comment, etc.) if we take users from the NewsFeed into our Marketplace application on Facebook (vs. out of Facebook to Oodle.com).

Second, it’s hard to aggressively integrate social on a traditional e-commerce site that is well tuned for converting users within a search-driven experience. It’s much easier to innovate with social commerce on Facebook where users expect a truly social experience. Indeed, the emerging best practice for social is to establish two points of presence: one on Facebook optimized for a deep social experience, the other a web presence where social is more lightly applied (and remains optimized for an intent-based funnel).

These three insights are grounded in one key idea: Social commerce requires more than the proliferation of share and connect buttons within the e-commerce funnel. It requires us to produce a truly new commerce experience in which users show up to shop (not just buy), and in which the interaction model revolves around other people who share their interests and passions.

Craig Donato is CEO of Oodle, which operates a network of online marketplaces with more than 15 million monthly unique visitors, including the Oodle Marketplace and Marketplace on Facebook.

[Top photo credit: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock]


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