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.