The rise of social commerce

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Businesses that are ticking all the relevant retailing boxes these days are very aware that a social presence is necessary. As the most popular activity on the internet, social media is primed to capture the attention of and engage with any potential and current customers. In doing so it takes the retailer on a beneficial path of building a relationship which may well lead to sales all through likes on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and pins on Pinterest.

In order to achieve social commerce retailers need to do more than just open an account and post random events, news and the like on the popular social media platforms. More than 70% of IT-dominated social media initiatives last year were set to fail, according to the Gartner Group. Yet, 79% of Fortune 500 companies currently use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or corporate blogs to communicate with customers. What the successful businesses have though is a targeted, social strategy that communicates with and contributes to their target audience.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Marks and Spencer’s executive director of marketing and business development, says: “Brands are all about interaction and conversation and the role of digital at large is to create conversations. Social media gives us a voice to our consumers, letting us engage with them through the journey.”

Where to start?

Social media provides brand awareness, word-of-mouth and targeted advertising, as well as increased customer loyalty, and an improved reach to and influence over your target audience. It’s a place to share product information and generate user participation around special events, and to analyse and understand customer behaviour.

Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn are some of the leading social media sites with others such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr and YouTube also worthy of a retailer’s interest. However, it’s not necessary to have a presence on every site; keeping each site updated with relevant and appealing content is not a part time job and retailers need to consider the running costs. A few simple starting points are to look at the product and service being offered and decide which social media platforms best lends itself to the retailer’s business, as well as where their audience is. According to statistical research has revealed that more than 95 percent of Facebook users log into their account every day. The same number for Twitter is 60 percent and for LinkedIn is 30 percent. So, a retailer might do well to start by focussing on the social media platform that has a higher level of interaction with its customers.

Share, generate and respond

If there’s one thing your business has, it’s a wealth of product and service information. Offer this insight to your customers through how-to videos, intuitive apps, pictures they can use to create a shopping list or honest customer reviews to help seal the deal. Even simple alerts to generate participation in special in store events and website promotions can help to build on user brand experience and deliver a sale. Betrand Bodson, digital director at Argos, says: “Content is key because it is compelling for customers and an entry point to engagement with the brand. We have to be social to bring people to our platform, get them clicking on our products and get them buying.”

The information shared on social media platforms by customers, sometimes at rapid speed, can be both good and bad. Therefore, retailers need to be ready to react, to what can easily become public conversation. A listening and response team that can seek out and reply positively to such dialogue can diffuse any negative feedback, gain respect back from the customer and create positive exposure for their products and services.


Smartphones and mobile devices see a large proportion of social media user activity with mobile use accounting for just under 40% of time spent social sites, according to social commerce platform Addshoppers. Facebook has passed the 50% mobile usage mark and Pinterest is at 48%. Together, they currently combine for over 56% of social generated e-commerce which is predicted to rise even further.

And, these mobile users are on the move and providing new technology with a route for targeted messaging. For example, if a customer is passing your store or perhaps a competitor’s, businesses can activate and send their promotions and deals while the user is in the vicinity. In the words of Betrand Bodson, digital director at Argos, “Mobile is the absolute connector between the website that people are using at home and the stores.”


Some social media sites, like Facebook use personalised targeted ads, also known as follow me ads. They display brands and products that users have previously looked at on a retailer’s website or those that complement a recent purchase to encourage another sale. They can also flag products by user activity on the site, such as status updates, or those that their friends have liked. Martin Connolly, Co-Founder and Commercial Director at adGenie said “If a customer leaves a site without purchasing, enticing them back to the site will only be successful if they are shown relevant content. Adverts need to be personalised so that they engage with the customer and incite a response. Offers can be pulled dynamically from the retailer’s data feed so that the advert matches products the consumer previously showed interest in during an earlier browsing session.”

According to Petra Jung, head of mobile shopping at eBay UK, eBay, “Social shopping may be in its infancy, but it’s only going to grow. The impact that it will have on the way people shop, and as a result the impact on a retailer or brand’s bottom line, is set to be huge. In fact, new research from eBay estimates that in the next two years the value of social media for retail will more than double from £1.5bn to reach around £3.3bn.”

His research predicts that UK retail sales as a result of social media are set to rise by 44% between now and 2014 as more and more retailers target consumers with personalised offers and deals on social networks.