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.”
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!