Soundview Executive Book Summaries

The Dawn of Social Commerce

If you read this blog with any frequency, you know that I’m a bit old fashioned. I still pay some of my bills by writing a check. My phone is mainly used to make phone calls. I even still enjoy dropping by people’s homes for a visit rather than viewing their photos on various Facebook pages. However, one area of modern life to which even I’ve taken quite a fancy is the ability to shop online. Not only is it a matter of convenience, but the “global mall” and all its treasures ensures that family members get exactly what they want for birthdays.

Yet for some people, the ability to shop in “real world” establishments is still an important social activity. The occasional trip to the mall is less about the products and more about spending time with others. The fun people have during these excursions helps associate positive feelings with shopping, making the process something that is likely to be repeated, a joy for retailers. By contrast, online shopping is a solo activity. People may occasionally e-mail product links to friends and seek opinions about a pair of shoes or a set of golf clubs, but the process isn’t the same as standing next to a friend in a store and saying, “I can’t in good conscience let you buy that!”

So where do we go from here? According to Online Media Daily, we may be on the verge of combining social interaction and online shopping. As the author of the article in the above link Dave Jackson indicates, some of the technology that companies are considering implementing has existed for years. We”ve had live chat functions and shared Web browsing capabilities for quite some time, but retailers had previously deemed this technology’s value less important than traditional strategies such as sending coupons via e-mail.

The benefits of sharing the online shopping experience could prove tremendous for companies currently struggling to get shoppers to buy. As I referred to earlier, people currently e-mail each other links or photos of items and wait for a response from the other person. By the time the other person replies, even if he or she says, “You have to buy that!” the potential buyer may have moved on. The trail, in essence, has gone cold and the sale is not made. A chat feature on a retailer’s Web site would allow instant feedback. The concepts of “impulse buying” and “peer pressure” have driven retailing for decades. This technology is a way to bring a real-time version of both of these ideas into the world of online buying.

Much of this discussion ties into the concepts in Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust. There is a considerable lack of trust online and the authors note that the average online consumer is “cynical, savvy and informed.” One way the social commerce concept could play out is if a clothing retailer offered the option to chat with a store-appointed “fashion consultant” who could help gentlemen pair shirts and ties or give women advice on the right outfit for a particular event. Brogan and Smith would likely point out that the key to this interaction is sincerity on the part of the retailer. In Trust Agents, the authors discuss the need for businesses to cut back on the sledgehammer promotion tactics and instead be genuine in their efforts to help customers. I, for one, wouldn’t mind a little friendly advice now and again while trying to pick an outfit for my fashionable daughter.

In the meantime, it may interest you to know that Soundview will be featuring a summary of Trust Agents very soon. Stay tuned to this blog for more information.


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