Social commerce: Strategies for extending online shopping beyond the e-commerce site

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For many retailers, 2009 has been the year of social media. Forrester Research reported that 64% of retailers surveyed invested in social media this year. Investment so far has been primarily around interactive marketing and a fairly straightforward presence in blogs, or other third party social media such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. But for retailers interested in expanding their distribution channel, social media and social networks are quickly becoming an area that they cannot ignore. Already we are starting to see some early adopter retailers experiment with social commerce to ramp up their learning curve. We expect that the early adopters will experiment heavily in 2010, with mainstream adoption occurring in 2011. Now is a great time to start laying out the roadmap for how you can keep up with – and even surpass – your competitors.

With all of the excitement surrounding social media, it often seems that key buzzwords have different meanings for different people. It's important to point out here that Allurent defines social commerce as “enabling consumers to browse, view, and add products to a shopping cart, within the context of a social site, like Facebook or a blog.” To us, social commerce means extending online shopping beyond ecommerce sites, to social destinations.

There are three broad phases in which a retailer can adopt social media in its ecommerce strategy. First, participation in social media as a way to represent the brand and to interact directly with customers via existing social channels, such as Facebook and YouTube. Often this is augmented by a company blog or microsite, where more substantial content can be published. This is an extension of the interactive marketing strategy, and the effect on e-commerce is usually indirect.

In addition, participation in social shopping portals such as Polyvore and Kaboodle offers great benefit. Retailers can often get a boost in e-commerce site traffic by participating in these social shopping sites that span across different retailers. Some of these sites accept product feeds and retailer participation, while others don't. For a retailer (or brand) that has highly differentiated products that appeal to the shopping site's demographic, this channel may provide significant addition to the retailer's bottom line.  (An affiliate site taking the form of an expert blog or topic-specific discussion forum, via a revenue-sharing affiliate model, would be a variation of this "third party site" use case.)

By adding commerce capabilities directly into the retailer's or brand's presence described in Phase 1, you can convert social media traffic into sales. Not only will this amplify the traffic to your e-commerce site, but you are likely to reach new customers who (re)discover your brand or products through their social networks. The key is to provide differentiated experiences to your customers so that the shopping experience is a natural extension of their interaction with the brand. A simple link to your ecommerce site will not do. Allurent offers a way to create interactive shopping experiences anywhere on the Web, from your e-commerce site to your social media presence.

It's clear that social media will continue to grow in importance for online retailers. Now is the time to map out a strategy that allows you to start slowly, listen to your customers, and or expand your presence. And wherever possible, take advantage of proven solutions that allow you to experiment easily with little time or investment.

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