Social commerce - the future of e-commerce?

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We’ve written previously about the value of social shopping and how it can benefit online retailers,  and it seems that the issue of social commerce has risen to the forefront of e-commerce strategy discussions again.

Social commerce involves the use of social media, in the context of e-commerce, to assist with buying and selling products and services online. It includes features like customer ratings and reviews, user recommendations and referrals, social shopping tools and online communities.

While social commerce has existed for some time now, with brands like Dell claiming to have made $6.5m (£4.2m) from computer sales via Twitter since 2007, social commerce has become a major point of strategic discussion for online retailers again because of 2 reasons:

  1. Facebook announced it will shut down the Facebook Gift Shop next month in order to prepare for the launch of its virtual currency,  Facebook Credits, possibly as early as September. Facebook Credits will initially allow users to pay for virtual goods such as games, but will eventually let them buy anything. It is expected that Facebook will take a 30% cut of all transactions.
  2. FMCG giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) has started selling its Max Factor brand cosmetics through Facebook .

Michael Nutley, editor-in-chief of New Media Age, rightly points out in his Marketing Week article that these two approaches to social commerce take social media a step further by bringing the ability to purchase what’s being talked about on the social network within the network itself.

Etailers are more than aware of the fact that every page they ask customers to click through to results in a drop-off in numbers of people who convert, so the strategy employed by P&G is a clever one in that it brings the checkout to the potential customer, rather than the other way round.

It’s this ease of purchase, in combination with the persuasive buzz and consumer-driven product discussions that will have been generated on the social networking site, that’s likely to increase sales.

So is social commerce the future of e-commerce? Will etailers move more towards using Facebook or their own branded online communities as a direct space for selling products? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.