I was talking to one of my friends the other day who is quite heavily involved in the startup scene. He was talking about social commerce and how he believes it just doesn’t work. He labeled people who influence other people’s buying decisions as taste makers rather than social connections. An example he gave me was if he was looking to purchase some good quality headphones he would not look at his social graph for suggestions or recommendations but would rather seek the opinion and thoughts of one particular person because he trusted their opinion about headphones. He saw this as seeking advice and following a taste maker rather than social commerce.
I on the other hand disagree that social commerce doesn’t work. I do agree that you put weight on different people’s recommendations and that different people can influence you in different ways. Social commerce has been a space that a lot of people have ventured into. It seems to be an area that should be “the next big thing” but just hasn’t taken off yet. In my opinion the reason for this is because no one has really sat down and thought about what social commerce really is. There are a lot of companies that facilitate having your very own store inside of Facebook on your own Facebook fan page. This would include beetailer, payvment and many others. This isn’t social commerce at all. It is just online commerce. These services allow you to create an online store on one of your Facebook fan page tabs. There isn’t anything social about it at all. Pinterest is a new player that has grown tremendously. Again it isn’t really that social. You simply scroll through pages and pages of stuff people pin and repin if you like it and possible buy it. This is more of a social wishlist which is close, but it’s not social shopping.
I think the closest thing to social commerce is Facebook connect. This sounds strange but let me explain it to you with an example. When I first came across Udemy I thought it seemed interesting and clicked sign up to check it out. I was not taken to a registration page with fields such as username, email, password etc but instead taken to a page with a big “Connect with your Facebook account” button. What was powerful though was since I was logged into Facebook I could see under the button the profile photos of about a dozen of my friends that are already registered with Udemy. This gave me strong social proof and prompted me to hit that connect with Facebook button which I did. I think successful social commerce will take this same principal. When online shopping and looking to purchase something you should be able to see your friends that have purchased that same item before. It’s very powerful when comparing two different expresso machines and seeing 3 profile photos of your friends next to one of them telling you that they have bought that one.
Here is an example of this on Quora.
In the offline world when you are looking to buy something, for example a new BBQ or a new TV one of the first things you do is ask your friends what they bought. I think social commerce will work in the same way allowing people to see what their friends bought.