The Very Near Future of the Web Part 3 – Social Commerce

originally posted on Concept Hub

I have an 8  year old son who wants it all! He sincerely believes that SantaClaus is very wealthy and can deliver him everything is asks for including an iPhone and a laptop, just because that is what he is asking for.

As his mom I am challenged with providing him some perspective on reality as well as capturing some of his best requests and sharing them with our family members who would like to know what to get him. My solution this year has been to create a Delicious account for our wish lists. Each time he tells me what he wants, we look it up on the Internet, compare prices and tag (categorize) the links accordingly; such as “appropriate” and “not_reality.” We are then able to share our ideas and research with family members.

According to recent data published by eMarkter, I am part of a growing number of people turning to the social web this holiday. 27% of online shoppers are looking to social networks for gift hints and 45% are using social sites to research items while 60% will be looking for discounts.

Is 2009 the year for social commerce?

Wikipedia defines social commerce as employing collaborative social media tools to assist in online purchasing and selling, typically referring to recommendation engines and review sites.

According to the above definition, social commerce is nothing new. The Internet first revolutionized our shopping habits when sites such as eBay, Amazon.com and Priceline.com were introduced in the mid-late 90’s.

What has changed recently is where the reviews and recommendations are happening, which is away from the store and into our virtual communities.

In April 2007 I wrote a piece titled The Corner Store in the Global Community which explored how social media was helping brands create real relationships with their customers; the kind of relationships the old corner store owner’s  had back in the day. These relationships are not happening at a brand’s eCommerce site exclusively, but throughout the social web, wherever the brand is welcomed. More and more, brands are being welcomed throughout the web.

The Performics and ROI team surveyed 3011 social network users and found that 4 in 10 talked about brands on social networks and that 1 in 4 have gone directly to an eCommerce site after learning about a new product or brand in social media.

With more and more brands being welcomed into the various trusted communities throughout the web, it seems that retailers should begin to start thinking of ways beyond word of mouth marketing to increase sales and build loyal customers.

I recently came across a whitepaper which explores ideas and trends of using open APIs to drive sales directly from the social sites that brands have a presence in. What that means is you would no longer have to get your customers to your site, you can sell directly to them where they are hanging out!

Imagine the possibilities!

You do not have to go far to imagine them actually. Just reflect back to how retailers have leveraged eBay and Amazon.com to increase sales through their affiliate sales model. Now extend that model to blogs and social networking sites.

Not only will a retailer be able to sell to their audience in their immediate virtual locations, but through the rise in various location-based mobile apps, retailers will be able to sell to consumers wherever they may be in their physical world. Imagine I check in on my FourSquare network at my local Starbucks on Northpoint next to Barnes & Noble and then Barnes & Noble informs me that they have one of the books I have on my wishlist in stock and on sale and all I have to do is walk next door and pick it up.

Through mobile apps such as FourSquare, retailers can get better insights into who their best customers are and provide incentives for them to become their most vocal advocate, and perhaps even their best virtual salesperson.