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Ecommerce | Marketing

Why Social Shopping Hasn't Taken Off... Yet

Social shopping – young lady causally on her laptop at home
In real life, shopping is a popular social activity. But ecommerce companies have yet to translate the concept online

You're strolling down the street on a sunny day with your friends, all enjoying your time together. And then you see it: a dress propped up behind a window. It's the right size, the right style, the right color, the right everything. You bolt into the store and check the price. Fifteen minutes later, you've bought it and you're back on the boardwalk, enjoying your day.



It's a classic purchase story: Hanging out with friends turns to shopping turns back to hanging out without skipping a beat. Consumerism gently slides in and out of a social experience with nary a hiccup. This mentality led to the inclusion of buy buttons on social media. Yet this social-shopping concept that works so well in "real life" hasn't taken off online—so far.



Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest all incorporated versions of the buy button. The idea was simple: Companies would post their products on social media venues, attach buy buttons, and attract people to their sites for more shopping. The buy button relies on impulse purchases, hoping to attract people scanning through their feeds, particularly on mobile devices. In 2015, mobile represented 16% of ecommerce purchases, making it ripe ground for expansion.



But a November 2015 study revealed that only 14% of social media users showed interest in Instagram buy buttons, while a mere 9% gave a thumbs up to using Facebook's buy buttons. Twitter and Facebook buy-button clicks have been sluggish since their inception; in fact, Twitter is reported to have given up on the concept.



Given how seamlessly social and shopping merge in "real life" (think of all the selfies you've seen of people shopping with friends), the buy button's lack of success is perplexing. One problem could be the buy button's design. Missy Ryan works at the Bella Rose Arts Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It implemented the Facebook buy button to sell tickets and provide information for renting out the venue. But Ryan says the buy button is too vague, as it only provides a "book now" icon for theatre groups. What's more, the button can lead only to one page. In Bella Rose's case, it directs to the theatre's ticket reservations page, forcing customers to search through the website for further information.



"It doesn't really work for us," Ryan says. "We don't have a way to individualize it.

People don't want to put in the effort to search through the website. (Facebook) needs to offer more customisation."



In fact, inserting a shopping icon into a social experience may be the wrong approach altogether. Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, told the Washington Post that people scrolling through social feeds may not be in the mood for a hard sell. He used the example of a bar, "where it feels right to socialize but would seem awfully weird to buy a sweater or a plane ticket." That inherent awkwardness is a big hurdle for the buy button.



Then there's the buy button's lack of a personal touch. It sells something to the user without giving anything back, nor does not take into account a user's preferences or past purchases. An ideal platform would not insert a shopping feature into a social feed, or vice versa. It would marry the two concepts, creating a social network with consumer input.



This integrated platform would provide a service to consumers by improving their shopping experience. It would track a user's interests and bring them possible purchases in a list form. It would sell the audience something, but the products would be presented as a resource. It would connect users to their peers, keeping them up to date on what is popular in their friends. It would organize content as neatly as possible so customers can comfortably and easily find the best products. This platform can best be described as "ergonomic discovery."



Consider a product that people often buy as part of a social experience: makeup. Ainsley Cochrane, a cosmetics buyer who has studied makeup sales methods, notes the difficulty of selling makeup online. "Historically, you can't really buy makeup online unless you've done extensive research and you know your shades and tones," she says.


image: Mobile application showing The Makeup Spot cosmetics with animated heart icons

image: Mobile application showing The Makeup Spot cosmetics with animated heart icons


An "ergonomic discovery" social-commerce platform would present makeup choices to the consumer, showing her the products that best match her personal style, as per information she has submitted, previous purchase history, and/or information culled (with her permission) from her social media feeds. It would reduce the hassle of online purchases by streamlining the experience for the consumer. It would be a social, knowledgeable platform for the informed shopper—the next best friend to shopping in a store with her best friend.



"This could really personalise that buying process, which until now hasn't been done," Cochrane says.



The buy button might yet have potential as a consumerist addition to social feeds. Nonetheless, companies should also look for platforms that seamlessly marry the social with the economic. When you are shopping with friends, you like to get their opinions. You want to know what they think of a certain product. It's often a key component of shopping. Ecommerce should reflect that experience: Even when we're shopping alone, we should be connected.

author: Sean Mott

Sean Mott

Sean Mott is the communications specialist for watzan, a provider of social shopping and online personalisation solutions.


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