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Turning Followers Into Customers: The Tipping Point For Social Commerce

  • Written by  Arthur Lawida, commercetools Inc.

0aaacommercetoolaFor several years now, the concept of social media channels as captive sources for commerce has been a tantalizing promise for retailers and brands.

So far, that promise has yet to be realized. Yet the question remains: With so much consumer engagement on social media, what is the breakthrough needed to transform these channels into new shopping opportunities?

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While a few companies — such as Nike’s sneaker sales on Instagram or buyable pins from Nordstrom on Pinterest — are developing shoppable social media offerings, most lack the tools and expertise to execute a successful social commerce strategy. Unfortunately, the barriers to success are still fairly high.

However, social media companies believe their followers will shop on these platforms, and they are making investments to capitalize. Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook now offer tools that allow brands to target and sell merchandise to customers. And, given the time spent on social media by American consumers — estimates put total hours at anywhere from two hours per day for the average person to nine for teenagers — social commerce is poised to be an exciting revenue generator, when brands and retailers crack the code to social media shopping.

In working with companies to explore and develop social commerce offerings, we have identified five key elements necessary to make the leap from building engagement and influence on social media to successful social selling:

1. Customer First: Most consumers aren’t yet thinking about shopping on social commerce sites, but they spend inordinate amounts of time there. It’s incumbent upon brands to entice and lead customers into the concept of social shopping, instead of thinking about how to launch product campaigns purely on web stores. Retailers and brands must change their approach to serve customers first, rather than channels first. Many brands still consider the web their most important channel and look to SEO/SEM as the driver for their clicks. As the market has already moved squarely into a post-web and app-centric world, the search engines that used to drive traffic aren’t even available. Retailers must change their strategy to drive direct connections with their clients using compelling content and product opportunities that matter on whatever device and channel the customer happens to be using.

2. Micro-Targeting: Companies that are exploring social selling have begun to understand they need to shape a compelling message to their customers so that they take immediate action. Social media platforms allow brands to laser in on their audiences’ unique preferences and tastes, which means that generic campaigns often do not work. The micro-targeting capabilities of social media allow brands to test and target specific messages to specific groups and hone them so they understand which media and messages create an action and which are simply ignored. Traditional mass-marketed messaging campaigns will not work to drive social commerce opportunities.

3. Unified Experience: Customers must have a brand experience in social media that is in alignment with the brand experience they have in the store, on the web and wherever they encounter the brand. This consistency is difficult, but not impossible, to build across social media platforms. It is essential to retain customer loyalty and create an experience that motivates shopping behavior.

4. Ability to Manage Data Across Channels: Many commerce approaches rely on the web as the central hub of the digital business, but success in social selling requires a platform agnostic approach. Having a back-end solution that supports multiple sales channels and allows retailers and brands to set content and pricing by channel is key. Companies must be able to easily manipulate product data across the full enterprise and having a single source of data for all channels provides that capability.

5. A Mindset Shift: Merchandisers and category managers must be trained to see that social channels can drive immediate revenue – not just build influence for a web or in-store purchase. Social media must be viewed as more than just serving up compelling landing pages where an expected jump to the web store is the only way to purchase. When brands keep customers in their social channels, where they’re already loyal and engaged, they have a better chance of conversion. Integrating commerce to social channels will require deeper insights into how customers use these channels so that commerce opportunities are presented in ways that flow with customers’ social media usage patterns. Building and leveraging trusted brand experiences that evolve into trusted sales opportunities is the pathway to success.

As the opportunities for social commerce continue to evolve, brands are beginning to see results when they invest in understanding how consumer buying behavior differs on social media versus other channels, and then shaping their messages and product delivery to meet the conditions of each social situation. Done correctly, social commerce conversion rates and revenue models can be developed to return sales opportunities in a way that traditional marketing and advertising campaigns cannot deliver.


Arthur Lawida is President commercetools Inc. His career has spanned 20 years and several technology waves. From the first company he founded in 1989, he has been focused on a single concept: Freeing business innovation from technology limitations. A serial entrepreneur, Lawida has been focused on e-Commerce and omnichannel commerce platforms and solutions since 1997. He has worked with almost every enterprise commerce platform and has led companies and teams that have delivered some of the largest commerce solutions on the planet.

As a recognized expert on omnichannel commerce, development methodologies and related organizational behavior, he intends to help disrupt the enterprise commerce platform market with a combination of new platform technologies, new development methodologies and new team configurations.

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