Getting Social Media into the eCommerce Loop

Discussion
Jan 19, 2010
Rick Moss

By Rick Moss

“Social commerce” is
a term that may be new to many, although a Wikipedia article claims it
entered the lexicon in late 2005, coined by venture capitalist David Beisel.
Originally, references were limited to third-party recommendation and review
sites, but the term now encompasses “collaborative commerce activities
such as social shopping (co-browsing), collaborative purchasing (collective
buying power), collaborative filtering (social recommendations), and collaborative
funding (e.g. Crowdfunder),” according to the Wikipedia entry.

For most e-retailers,
the combination of “social” and “commerce” is decidedly aspirational. Many
retailers include product reviews, ratings and employee blogs on their
websites, but they find it hard enough to manage the content, let alone
find ways to quantify the commercial benefits.

At the NRF BIG
Show last week, Bazaarvoice was demonstrating its “social commerce suites,” geared
toward turning social media content into tangible
business for retailers. Bazaarvoice offers its solutions
in SaaS (software as a service) form. The
company hosts the engine that integrates the user- and employee-created
content into the retailers’ sites. Content in the retailer suite can take
various forms: the “Ratings & Reviews” module manages customer opinions; “Ask & Answer” enables
a pre-sale dialog with the retail staff as well as other customers; and “Stories” is
for long-form content, generally from reviewers or from employees offering
how-to advice. There is another
entire suite designed for brands to improve channel sales based with Bazaarvoice-collected
user-generated content.

Control — for
both the customers and retailers — is fundamental to many of the innovations
being seen in the social commerce area. Bazaarvoice offers online shoppers
the ability to filter reviews by various criteria. A customer could, for
example, bring all of the reviews to the top of the list written by those
who share their interests or demographic traits. Retailers are given a
variety of content management tools and can present social content to shoppers
based on their browsing and purchase histories.

A higher level
of integration is also seen in the ability of Bazaarvoice products to push
content out to Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. In its
demo, for example, the company showed how a customer interested in a product
on a retailer website could,
without leaving the product page, poll her Facebook account for “friends” who
had reviewed the product.

But perhaps
the piece of the social commerce puzzle retailers are most anxious for
is the ability to aggregate insights from all the social content being
generated. Encouraging shoppers to share opinions and experiences may improve
trust and loyalty, but it’s likely the “social” will earn the right to
be paired with the “commerce” when retailers learn how to make use of all
this information that’s being shared with them and others.

Discussion
Questions: What do you see as being necessary to leverage social media
for improved online sales? Do you believe retailers will be able to “manage
the conversation” among and with their customers, or is it intrinsically
out of their control?

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17 Comments on "Getting Social Media into the eCommerce Loop"


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Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 3 months ago

This is a new era with new strategies. Each company should have a social media guru; someone who understands it and can manipulate it to the benefit of the company. Most companies are trying to use social media with a team of people that already have their day jobs. It’s hard to have the focus and expertise if you are worried about media ads, placements, and store promotions. Analytic software is also important to track benefits, responses, and promotions.

Social media is not out of their control but it will definitely need a focus.

Pete Reilly
Guest
Pete Reilly
11 years 3 months ago

Tools like Bazaarvoice are a great way for retailers to establish a bit more control over the conversation but the truth is, no retailer can control it. The only answer is to participate, not try to dominate the conversation. Be authentic, be human, be humble. Listen, contribute and act on behalf of your customers. Social media is not a means of control, but of understanding and insight.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

If retailers manage social media the way they manage the customer data they currently have, they will get nowhere. Successful communication with social media requires dedication and resources. It entails an ongoing dialogue with consumers, not just pushing out information. How many retailers have social media specialists on staff? How many regularly monitor and respond to what is being said about their stores and their private label products? Social media requires a commitment. How many retailers are really ready to make that commitment?

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 3 months ago
The big question I have echos the article’s: what can and will the retailer do with the information collected? As an ops person, my first thinking is, I’m going to have to hire people to manage this all day. So now I have people sitting in an office, scurrying over the internet collecting information about me and my products or services. And what do I do with all the info once it’s collected? Do I have to hire more people to respond to the negatives? How do I root out information that isn’t valid? This is going to take time and money and I’m still wondering what I’m going to get out of this. I like the idea where each individual store would handle its own social media. If anything, local store personnel is more connected to the customer than head office will ever be. Here’s an easy action for managers: Find out who is wasting time on Facebook or Twitter while working and then give them the task of handling social media at the… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

There were countless tools at NRF’s event that can help a social media strategy for retailers. If retailers think they can control that conversation, however, they will reap little value from the effort. Talking with your customers presents inherent risks, including the fact that the retailer may hear things that are not always positive. Whole Foods’ 1M+ Twitter followers aren’t always nice, but the retailer learns a ton and evolves their marketing to respond to what they hear.

This is the thing to do today. Who knows what will be the trend in six months, but for now the retailers who dive into social media will learn a ton…virtually for free!

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
11 years 3 months ago

Definitely insights are a critical part of the puzzle that is social “commerce” today. RSR looks at it this way: it used to be that all of the interactions that led up to a purchase occurred within the four walls of the store. As a consumer, you walk into the store, see what’s available, and decide what to buy. Today, much more of that shopping process happens way before a consumer sets foot in the store–if they ever do! So retailers need as many tools as they can get to gain a better understanding of how they might influence that process or at a minimum, figure out how they’re faring in the early stages of that process. The tools will evolve and change and consumer adoption of technology changes, but the ability to derive insights out of whatever they’re using will be an eternal need.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 3 months ago

I think the conflict is that as soon as a company or brand steps in to moderate, filter, or organize a conversation, it ceases to be “social” in the strictest sense.

The whole point and appeal of social networks is their self-governing quality.

I think brands will get better at setting up comfortable environments for consumers to engage with them online but this won’t replace the unstructured dialogue of social networks.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Whether formal or informal, electronic communications are and will have an earthshaking effect on retail as we know it. The closer the consumer can get to the information they desire when making a purchase decision, the less control any brand or retailer will have over their own business.

Marketers and retailers must move their thinking from brand-oriented activities to product-oriented activities. They can not think that they will have any control over electronic discussions. They must focus on others reporting the “goods” about their products and services and take great care with others reporting the “bads” about their products and services.

Further, if the users get any sense that the conversations are being “managed,” the reaction to that will be significant and will ruin all credibility regarding the positive aspects of the conversation, even if they are true.

Is this bad for retailers? No, it is only bad for the bad retailers.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
11 years 3 months ago
May I suggest that social media is simply a powerful tool in the sales process that can either be adapted into a conscious sales paradigm, or simply investigated by trial and error to find what works. I prefer the first option, and have referred to this under the broad umbrella of “the return of personal selling to retail,” aka “active retailing.” This is in contrast to self-service, literally selling yourself (for the shopper) in which the retailer plays a passive role–teeing up the ball with merchandising and communication strategies, and waiting for the shopper to complete the actual purchase–focus on “purchase,” instead of “sale.” Purchase is inherently passive, relying on the shopper, while SALE is inherently active, relying on the purveyor to SELL. There are three steps to any sale, all of which are focused on getting to the close as soon as possible. This means that when we are reaching the customer (the first step in the process,) we are simply entering the customer’s space, to form some level of engagement/discussion. However, the option… Read more »
Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 3 months ago

Great ad for Bazaarvoice. There are many challenges to “voice of the customer.” The ability to listen to the challenges of the market, but to actually develop solutions that will monetize them is going to be several years down the road.

lisbeth kramer
Guest
lisbeth kramer
11 years 3 months ago

Honestly, ALL of these insights and shared information here I believe have valid content in their thought positioning…but a more general question that occurs to me here is–what kind of retail channel are you all speaking of? Do you really think the “luxury” consumer and a particular age demo is going to find social media an engaging dynamic to shop for outstanding product? Even when you look at what the NYC MERCEDES dealer is doing to “drive” the retail experience, I wonder if that target consumer is interested in these social media, crowd sourcing connections?

Where I see more to learn about is driving the e-commerce/social connect to the mobile action of shopping. But again, my overall thought here was, what kind of retailers/consumers do you all see this social e-connect thriving in, even if retailers could get it right? And on that, I so agree with the statements like if you cannot dedicate talent to it…don’t do it.

Great read…thanks!

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 3 months ago

The opportunities here are huge. So are the challenges. Becoming a facilitator and partner in social commentary offers retailers the opportunity to establish what the branding folks call an “emotional connection” with their customers. Handled appropriately, this can lead to a strong “drive by the competition to get to my store/site” capability which, in this environment, is the key to success.

The biggest challenge, as Doron points out, is what to do with all this information–who owns it and what skill sets are required, what do we do with it, and how do we make the most of it? I agree that the best place to handle this is at the store level, since a large percentage of the store associates are already using social media. It can also be invaluable in enabling improved localization, another key opportunity for 4-wall retailers.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
11 years 3 months ago
My mom is 71 and she has a blog and gets mad when I don’t read it. I have 4 nieces and nephews that range between 17-21 and they don’t return my e-mail. They only respond to a text. My brother and my wife don’t like e-mail and prefer to be called. Back to my nieces, they are on Facebook every day while about half my family doesn’t use it or rarely looks at it. All of this is to say, know your customer! I am on Facebook because I value my relationship with my nieces and want to stay close to them. And, I have started to use it more for my company. I call my wife every day, I text my nephews, I speak face to face to my brother (we work together) and I still write letters to grandma. Know the people you want to be close and communicate with, the way they want to communicate. That probably means the need for mastering multiple forms of communication…for family and for retailers. By… Read more »
John Bajorek
Guest
John Bajorek
11 years 3 months ago

Social media and social commerce are less about perceived control and more about creating a dialogue where a consumer can inquire about items, review information, and the retailer should listen and provide the best information for the consumer to make a decision. The other critical part of the equation is closing the loop once the conversation takes place. Then purchase needs to be both encouraged and facilitated wherever the venue–website, social network, and/or mobile app.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

The next wave to manage is not just social media for ecommerce loop but social media integration into multichannel shopping loop all the way to the stores. People are already twittering sales and in-store experience in near real time during shopping trips on their mobile devices. People are taking pictures and writing near real time reviews about restaurants on Yelp and other social media sites.

Rather than picking up the red help phone in the store to ask for product location, is the day of getting aisle directions via twitter far behind?

Raja Sekhar Atluri
Guest
Raja Sekhar Atluri
11 years 3 months ago

Social Media usage by retailers will only grow, and companies will understand that they need to have concentrated efforts to manage and manipulate conversations. But it is out of limits and control to monitor the entirety of social media. With increasing trends of ecommerce and mcommerce also gaining momentum, retailers have no choice but to follow consumer trends which are moving towards “social sharing,” be it through the web or mobile phone apps. Retailers would have large social media teams constantly monitoring, manipulating, and guiding consumers for the benefit of their business.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Guest
Gary Edwards, PhD
11 years 3 months ago
In order to improve sales you must first and foremost know your customer, and then connect with that customer in a very personalized manner. This means listening to the conversation that’s happening about your brand online, and then integrating yourself into the conversation without being overtly promotional. People are willing to make retail recommendations online, you just need to identify the proper outlet to encourage those recommendations. While there is no clear-cut solution yet, 2010 is certainly poised for more growth in social commerce. We’ll see retailers trying to gain control over how their brand is conveyed online, which can be tricky not to backfire. Consumers seek recommendations and reviews in social media because of its authenticity and relevancy. If they feel a retailer is pushing their message in this channel, they’ll be more hesitant to trust the brand. Of course the challenge lies with converting positive comments into new sales. How can this be done? Let consumers be natural advocates of your brand. Our GoRecommend Facebook app is one such example of how retailers… Read more »
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