Online commerce is on the rise; last year online sales went up by 20% worldwide and touched down at over $1.5 Trillion. Mobile commerce has also made inroads and accelerated commerce through internet-enabled portable device. The turnover of online retailers or marketplaces likes Amazon or EBay is far higher than many yesteryears retail giants and has forced multiple closures and mergers within retail industry.
Despite all this growth, online commerce is always poised for disruption i.e. businesses and start-ups are trying to find new ways to sell their products and services: pure electronic and/or mobile commerce sites/applications (e.g. Amazon); combination of ecommerce and marketplace (e.g. EBay); email subscription-based commerce sites (e.g. Groupon); and price comparison sites (e.g. Kayak.co.uk).
And now with the growing popularity of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram, there are many attempts within these networks, or by start-ups, to find ways to commence transactions in this medium. However, so far success is limited to marketing products and services via various forms of display and notification advertising techniques. Let’s look in to what exactly the issues are with social commerce:
1.People don’t mean what they say on social networks
Many studies suggest that social networks have lost their spontaneity and more become tool for brand and personal perception management. In other words people don’t really say what they mean; instead they broadcast things they believe will improve their perception in the public, which means social networks can’t really predict people’s interests, and therefore businesses are finding it hard to really target people based on their taste for any further transactions.
2.Dark social is far bigger than public social media
Despite the huge success of social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, people still largely use personal messages in the form of mobile text messages, email, WhatsApp, Skype and Snapchat to communicate with their friends, and mainly use public networks for general socialising, which means again businesses are clueless about consumers’ real intentions and fail to convert them to sales.
3.Semantic analysis is not smart enough
Social media is all about freedom of expression and people can express themselves in many ways e.g. write text, share sentiments, and upload videos and images. So far, semantic analysis has failed to understand the intent behind rich media. Therefore businesses are really unable to see their spending on display advertising converting into high sales.
4.Social networks are not designed to support the commerce journey
A typical commerce journey is finding, buying (payment) and delivery of products and services. However, because Social media is still evolving and is not designed to support transactions (LinkedIn has become the place to build a professional circle, Twitter is to catch up with current news and events, and Facebook is to hang out with friends and family), so users are not intending to use these networks for product discovery and delivery.
5.Social Media is too open for phishing
Due to the very open nature and perception of social media, privacy is always a big concern when it comes to divulging some sensitive information such as credit card and bank account details. Therefore consumers are very apprehensive of doing transactions on these platforms, which means businesses are not getting return for advertising investment on these networks.
As mentioned above, social media is still evolving and not designed for commerce. However, considering the amount of time we spend on these networks, which results in our giving out a lot information about our interests, intent and knowledge, even though very dispersed, social commerce is inevitable. As we speak, many efforts are in progress, from social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to start-ups like Tweepforce, to make genuine social transactions a reality.
And being involved myself with a social commerce start-up, I think the first thing these networks need to focus on is to start thinking of simulating the traditional commerce journey (product discovery, transactions and delivery) rather than inventing new ways for consumers to buy on their platforms. For example, when I want to buy a new watch, I should be able discover the best watch and then buy and receive delivery of it, on any given network. This is a humongous task and as I stated above there are many hurdles, but it’s not an impossibility. Let’s see who manages to break this code first.