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It’s only social commerce when the retailer replies

For a while in the early 2000s, we thought that we could take the element of human interaction out of the purchase process. E-commerce platforms were built as great online emporiums where customers could effectively serve themselves without ever having to speak to a company employee. It seemed like a great model: after all, the best kind of business is one where you wake up in the morning and ask your accountant how much money you made while you were sleeping.

Of course, there have always been a few exceptions to the lonely web emporium rule – sites like eBay and Amazon have always been slightly social, and buyer-seller interactions are encouraged through mechanisms like leaving feedback, reviews and forms where users can “ask the seller”. On these sites, the social element of shopping was built in before we ever coined the term “social media.”

Social Shopping recommendations

In recent years, and in tandem with the evolution of social media, we have seen a complete overhaul of the lonesome online shopper model; from sites like Threadless which invites users to create their own products for other users to buy, to Shopstyle and ASOS, which invite you to curate and share your favourite collections, and a new emerging breed of born-social sites which includes the likes of Kaboodle which goes one further and learns from your reviews and interactions, linking you up with likeminded shoppers in a trend which has become known as “discovery shopping.” The potential for retailers to cross and up-sell to users by adding bringing peers into the equation is clearly enormous. Even sites which haven’t gone so far in creating a truly social shopping experience usually at least offer social sharing buttons, allowing shoppers to share their wishlists or purchases with their friends on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

But we have eschewed the issue somewhat – most of these sites increase interaction between shoppers, or between shoppers and their social network, but very few of them actually allow users to have a dialogue with the retailer itself, which is why F-commerce is uniquely fascinating. Facebook commerce is effectively putting online shopping inside your online community, wrapping up the ability to purchase products with the option to interact with other customers or indeed a company representative, in real time.

Your friends might be able to tell you whether those mink coloured harem pants will suit you, but only the retailer itself can tell you if they will be delivered in time for your Christmas party, or give you the bust measurement of that little sexy black dress you’re dying to squeeze into. Providing shoppers with this information in real time, while their shopping cart is still full, and the smooth plastic of their credit card warm in their pocket, is where retailers can really use social to make a difference to their bottom line. But of course, how companies will manage to adapt to putting their staff back into the consumer dialogue at their online checkouts is another question entirely.

Do you think that retailers should be involved in the social shopping dialogue, or should their focus be on providing great products and facilitating conversation between consumers? Let me know in the comments!


LinkedIn, your career advice is creepy, let me opt out

Facebook has been running “sponsored stories” ads for quite some time, and with good results – most of my clients achieve a significantly higher CTR running this type of ad over standard Facebook ads, outweighing the downside of the slightly higher CPC.

LinkedIn, too, leverages the activity of your network to drive actions on the site, from analysing your contacts and their connections in order to identify “People you may know”, to highlighting what your connections are up to via status updates and an activity feed. I’ve always found these features unobtrustive, and sometimes pretty useful. But today LinkedIn went too far, and in my mind, crossed the line between “clever” and “creepy”.

LinkedIn, when did I ask you for career advice?

I logged in to LinkedIn and immediately did a double take, when I saw my profile picture, not only in the top left-hand corner of my screen where it usually sits, but in the right-hand column. Moreover, my picture sat next to a job title that isn’t mine. Above the logo of a company I don’t work for. So far, so freaky. Then I read the caption, and I got it. “Picture yourself with this new job” – I guess this is the new breed of recruitment adverts, the new levels of subversion that LinkedIn adverts have to go to in order to elicit sufficient levels of awareness and raise CTRs. That doesn’t stop it being creepy.

It got me thinking, at what point does using data and leveraging generous user permissions stop being clever and start being invasive? I think as marketers, the onus is on us to take a step back from time to time and think not only about what’s possible given all the new tools we have at our fingertips to harness user data, but about what’s ethical and acceptable.

Oh, and if my boss is reading this – no, I didn’t apply for the job.

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