Social commerce: New ways to grow your business

Joe White, co-founder of Moonfruit.com, looks at the social commerce phenomenon

As the web continues to evolve, smart businesses look to use its new features in ways that can help them expand, compete and remain profitable – even at a time when the economic outlook seems bleak. This is particularly true when the web gives us opportunities to make money. When we created our business, its aim was to allow anyone – from individuals through to small business owners and beyond – to control, maintain and customise their online identities, without needing big budgets or technical expertise. Together with the proliferation of social media platforms, this created a more equal playing field for people vying for online exposure. Since then, people’s online priorities have progressed from controlling their presence to boosting their sales. Online platforms use a number of methods to focus on money-making: traditional e-commerce, where people can buy products or services online using electronic payment; ad-supported platforms, which offer a service or content funded by commercial advertising; and paywalls and micropayments, which allow sites to monetise individual units of content.

What’s new in e-commerce?

So why has e-commerce been so important for smaller businesses with a mandate to grow? In order to reach more customers and offer a more tailored approach, smart businesses are diversifying the shopping experience and going way beyond simply selling products for payment on a single online location. Allowing customers to buy on their preferred platform is the online equivalent of opening new and more convenient shop branches in the real world. This is why so many businesses are looking to open up their e-commerce functions to a variety of platforms – not just their website, but also social networks (particularly Facebook) and via mobile. Similarly, online businesses are looking to use e-commerce in innovative ways, rather than relying on the traditional buy/sell model we associate with eBay and so on. Our customer Yoga Bellies, for example, has done something very interesting with e-commerce: It has set up an online shop with an e-commerce function to pre-emptively collect payment for yoga classes that take place offline. While this isn’t new in itself (most people have purchased tickets for a concert or holiday online), Yoga Bellies is a small business operating regionally – rather than a large airline, tour operator or ticket vendor. It is hugely significant that small businesses and micro-traders are looking into new e-commerce models because they are aiming to remove some of the barriers that may have inhibited growth in the past: customers not carrying the right cash, for example, or not possessing a chequebook.

 
E-commerce vs. social commerce

Social commerce is a concept that builds on e-commerce by adding interactivity and sharebility to the traditional buy/sell structure. A number of studies have shown that people trust the recommendations made by their family and friends online more than they trust other types of promotion. It makes sense: Why would you trust an advert or even a third-party endorsement when you can access unbiased advice from the people you know in real life? Facebook is a particularly fertile platform for social commerce not only because it has so many users, but also because e-commerce functions have started to be integrated with company pages. It’s powerful because it allows people to buy within their own network without needing to visit other websites – and because they can engage with the brand in ways their friends and network can see. This process introduces a viral effect into the selling chain, and enables smaller businesses to grow organically using popular platforms such as Facebook. As Facebook looks to attract more business cooperation, it is likely to create more and more ways to socialise the e-commerce experience – and also to encourage people to sell within Facebook. Just this week, a study showed that Facebook ads that link to a shop or other page within Facebook are cheaper than those that link out to a different site.  So it’s clear already that social commerce isn’t just something businesses need to know about. It’s also something that’s likely to be integral as the shopping experience continues to change.

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