At one point social shopping was hailed as the future of ecommerce.

Online shopping was supposed to be moving towards becoming a more social and collective experience, whereby users could share their shopping journeys, mimicking the sort of interaction that occurs in physical stores.

However, despite all of these predictions, true social commerce has failed to really gain traction with consumers or retailers.

Whilst social elements, such as sharing buttons, have been integrated into retail websites, the overall vision of social shopping has not yet come to fruition.

This failure to take off hasn't been for lack of trying. Second Life was briefly seen as the beginning of a true virtual retail environment, a digital space where users could visit and purchase from virtual reality stores.

Major brands including Adidas and Dell built Second Life presences, only for the phenomenon to fade as fast as it rose.

More recently, Facebook has made multiple attempts to create F-commerce options.

Facebook Gifts was a short-lived attempt to enable people to buy digital gifts and send them to friends within Facebook, whilst Facebook Credits attempted to incorporate ecommerce into the social network via a virtual currency.

Used mostly to purchase virtual goods within Facebook games, the company discontinued this feature in 2012.  

2014: the year of social commerce?

Despite this limited success to date, social shopping is making signs of a comeback. With global ecommerce sales set to hit $1.5 trillion this year, social networks are as keen as ever to break into this lucrative sector, attempting to move from pure engagement and awareness towards actual conversions and sales. 

According to reports, Facebook is currently experimenting with a “Buy” button that will be added to status updates from selected brands.

This feature will enable brands and retailers to post updates about products and, instead of directing customers to the online store to complete the purchase, they will be able to make purchases by simply clicking the “Buy” button.

Credit card details will be kept on file with Facebook’s servers, making transactions easier than ever.  

Meanwhile, Twitter has just announced its acquisition of CardSpring to enable "in the moment" commerce from within user’s Twitter feeds. This has the potential to turn social recommendations into purchasing opportunities.

Anything retailers currently post with the intention of getting a like or retweet will become an avenue to increase sales. 

Another new social shopping initiative comes from Amazon. In early May the online retail giant announced a joint initiative with Twitter called #AmazonBasket (#AmazonCart in the US).

With this hashtag, users can now add items to their Amazon carts directly from a tweet, finishing the checkout process on Amazon.com whenever convenient.

Whilst initial figures are yet to be released, there have already been questions about the service. The mechanic in itself doesn’t provide any immediacy to purchasing, as users still have to log in to complete the transaction.

There are also questions around whether brands can provide enough collateral in 140 characters to truly influence conversion.

For example, social shopping service Soldsie announced the expansion of its social selling presence. The Soldsie shopping experience begins when a brand or retailer posts a photo of a product with pricing information on Facebook or Instagram.

Shoppers express their purchase intent by commenting with the word 'sold' and can then continue browsing. When they are ready to check out, the item they commented on will be in their cart ready to buy.

Whilst social shopping as a concept holds much promises, it remains to be seen whether it will be widely adopted by consumers.

Users have thus far firmly ignored the opportunity to buy as they socialise online and it’s not yet clear if the latest social shopping approaches will change this retail inertia. This being said, if #AmazonBasket, Facebook’s “Buy” button and Twitter’s “in the moment commerce” do catch the attention of consumers, the potential appears to be significant.

The sheer volume of online social users presents a major retail opportunity and, when combined with the acknowledged power of social recommendation, could create a channel of unprecedented reach and power.

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Published 4 September, 2014 by Darryl Adie

Darryl Adie is Managing Director at Ampersand Commerce and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Darryl on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus

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Comments (4)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

The problem with social shopping, as described in this post, is that it automates the wrong thing. It assumes that you want to buy from within a social platform, whereas what you actually want to do is buy from a retailer that you trust and where you already have an account.

A good solution would a "buy" button that just displayed a simple text description of the product - with its name, exact product id, and possibly bar code - so the customer could easily search for that description on a retail site of their choice (not the social network's choice!), check reviews, and buy.

over 3 years ago

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Pamela Wolf

I believe that social shopping is already happening but just not with "classic" social networks. A new type of store has emerged in past few years that is growing traction and am sure that this is only the begining; @polyvore @thefancy @pose and there are many more.
Once magazines get into the whole shopping scene and we add the TV aspect to the experience, it will no linger be about shopping on "social networks".

Perhaps it's time we changed our definition of what social network means?

over 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Here are the links to the stores that pamela mentioned:
http://www.polyvore.com/
http://fancy.com/
https://pose.com/

I've not got much time to analyze these, but
* polyvore looks like a blog with related affiliate marketing (good idea - I can totally see how that would work)
* fancy and pose look like straightfoward shops

Polyvore seems the most useful example. I can totally understand social marketing if the fulfillment side is done as affiliate marketing (possibly to a choice of stores).

over 3 years ago

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Robin Bresnark

The examples cited above are generally either social as link repositories or social as click- savers. Either way, the use social as a way of driving (or speeding up) traffic to conventional, dare I say bland, ecommerce platforms. Which isn't social shopping at all. It's social marketing at best.

The really interesting stuff is happening via innovative brands like Lego (crowd-sourcing product design in social), Mercedes (selling hundreds of Smart cars via Weibo) and Tesco (their Co-buying channels are genuinely pioneering, combining co-creation, dynamic pricing and even gasification). That's real social commerce. The other stuff? Just trad commerce pretending to be waaaay cooler than it really is.

over 3 years ago

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