How Social Commerce is transforming eCommerce

How Social Commerce is transforming eCommerce

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Perhaps surprisingly, Social Commerce is far from a new concept.  The term was actually coined by Steve Rubel way back in 2005.  At this point in time, about the only social network was MySpace having been launched in 2003, and Facebook was still only available to Harvard students until 2006.  Considering back then social media really wasn't a recognised concept as it is today, the idea of Social Commerce was very forward-thinking.  With it now finally gaining popularity and traction with social media platforms, how is it changing eCommerce, and should you get involved?

The focus of Social Commerce in 2005 really wasn't around social media.  Instead the article talks primarily about blog's, and the need to create an as-yet-unknown place where people can come together to share knowledge and experiences.  In the article Steve says:

Social commerce can take several forms, but in sum it means creating places where people can collaborate online, get advice from trusted individuals, find goods and services and then purchase them. It shrinks the research and purchasing cycle by creating a single destination powered by the power of many. - Steve Rubel

If this was presented as a new concept today, while it wouldn't be revolutionary in the light of the dominance of social media, and prominence of eCommerce, it couldn't be argued that even when approaching 20 years old, it's still a highly relevant concept today.

Remember that when this was presented, UK internet sales were no more than 1 or 2% of total retail sales, and just a few years earlier all Amazon sold was books. So this was really was in the infancy of eCommerce, and in that context, it was an extremely forward-thinking idea.  It was essentially predicting the rise and dominance of a socially focused internet, and not only that, the key role this social element would play in allowing companies to drive online sales.  The reality is that only now is Social Commerce really coming to fruition.

What is Social Commerce?

Social Commerce is simply giving customers the ability to purchase your products through, and without leaving social networks like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.  As the quote above says, it's about shrinking the research and purchasing cycle.  It's giving everything a potential customer needs to learn, and make a purchasing decision about your products available in one place they're already spending an average of 2.5 hours every day.

Remember that people hate being sold to, so having the ability to purchase a brand's products in a place where customers have already chosen to engage with you and what you offer really is a no-brainer.

Who benefits from Social Commerce?

Of course, implementing the ability for brands to sell directly on social media networks is not at all driven by a want to benefit store owners and network users.  Pretty obviously it's driven by the possibility of profit for the social media network.  It's of course another revenue stream for them, and one that has the potential to be huge.  The logic to process payments is already there with the ability to run ads, so allowing businesses to sell products, and of course take a cut of their profits, makes complete business sense.  It also serves their wider goal of simply keeping people on their social network for longer.

So while the social networks themselves stand to benefit significantly from the continued rise of Social Commerce, it's still also a win for both businesses and customers.  Businesses get to sell more product with less friction and in a place where they're already engaging with customers, and customers benefit from the added convenience of making purchases from sites and apps where they already enjoy spending time.

How is Social Commerce changing eCommerce?

Social Commerce is considered a subset of eCommerce so think of it more as another sales channel in the same way as you might choose to sell your products through Amazon or eBay.  Having said that, the social aspect does offer a potentially powerful advantage over other channels you might sell through.  It means that researching and buying is no longer one-sided, with the customer able to interact directly with a brand, and then make a frictionless purchase.

But is it really changing buying habits?  The reality is that right now the primary motivation for people using social media is nothing to do with making a purchase, and buying through a social network is typically just a side benefit for sellers in a place where customers are really just looking to be entertained.

However the same thing I said earlier still applies - people hate being sold to.  Perhaps just having that extra sales channel available for when it makes sense for the customer is benefit enough to make it a worthwhile venture.  It will vary by customer base, but currently people aren't typically buying a great deal through Social Commerce channels.  They're instead sticking to the tried and tested method of research through social media, then making the actual purchase through the stand-alone eCommerce store for that business.

Should I sell through Social Commerce?

Social Commerce doesn't currently represent an unmissable selling opportunity for the majority of stores, but it's still a worthwhile channel to look at as part of your overall eCommerce strategy.

Still, if your customer base engages with you actively on social media, and you're able to attribute a good number of sales to social media activity, then Social Commerce is likely to be a valuable string to your bow, and you should look at it sooner rather than later.

For most of us however, I would suggest it's more one to keep an eye on, and implement when it makes business sense, as opposed to something to jump on immediately.


Social networks are increasingly likely to try and convince you that selling through them is something you can't afford to miss out on.  But when this does happen remember one key point.  Selling through social media will always have been engineered to ensure the social network comes out the biggest winner, both in terms of profit for them, and keeping people using their service for longer.

Also remember that you're never going to be able to present your brand nearly as well as you could on your own store.  While you'll be given a storefront of sorts, it's never going to offer the same opportunities for presenting what you offer in the best possible light.

Over time, I've no doubt that Social Commerce will become a worthwhile sales channel for many sellers, but I'm also sure that other sellers will decide that it's not something that makes sense for their business.

Being active on social media remains hugely important, but typically it's influence is restricted to either near the start of your sales funnel and the awareness stage, or for existing customers.  It doesn't usually play a role immediately before the customer makes a purchasing decision.  At this stage people are looking for more in depth information, particularly if the product is a higher value item.

Restrictions on how you can present your brand on a social media storefront means you're never going to be able to give a potential customers the wealth of information you could on your own eCommerce store.  For this reason, as Social Commerce becomes more standard and more businesses adopt it, I think we'll see sellers with higher quantity, lower value items achieve greater success than those with higher value items and lower quantity.

Thanks for reading this post on Social Commerce, I write about everything eCommerce related every week at Developer Connection, so check out some of my other blogs.

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