Next Stop for eCommerce, Social Network Shopping?
There's a lot of focus on one-click buying in order fulfillment circles, and with good reason.
Established online retailers like Amazon and eBay have embraced the impulsive allure of quick click purchases for some time, but it's the more recent roll-outs by social networks, first Facebook and now Twitter, that offer the most promising area for expansion.
Retailers already do plenty of work within their own digital walls to upsell and cross-sell existing customers. Outside of their own ecosystem, the focus has been to attract new customers through advertising and optimizing their sites for search engines.
Social networks, until now, have been an sandpit in which companies can talk to their customers and perhaps raise awareness of their products, but rarely are they seen as a source of direct sales.
Integrating easy-to-use buy buttons within the walls of popular social media sites could change all that, expanding the reach of ecommerce operators exponentially.
Challenges of Social Network Shopping
One of the main challenges to both retailers and social sites to date has been losing control of the customer.
For the retailer, it's a balancing act between showcasing products on a social network without selling too heavily and driving customers away from the brand in general. For the social network, sending users to another site for another activity has to be balanced with the desire to keep them on-site, enjoying the entertainment element that brought them there in the first place.
If immediate buy buttons become a common enough element of social sites both of these problems could be addressed with one solution. Customers can spot a product they like, quickly process the transaction within the walls of Facebook, and get back to catching up with friends, commenting on a cat meme, or playing the latest Facebook game fad (and unwittingly inviting the rest of us to do so). Sale for retailer, easy purchase for customer, increased stickiness for social network, a win-win-win scenario for all involved, no?
The answer to that will slowly be revealed as Facebook and Twitter test their buy buttons, but there are certainly some obstacles.
For one, social sites aren't currently considered as the online malls that retailers and tech startups might like them to be. Although some transactions are carried out already, such as in-app purchases and buying advertising, the general act of social media shopping is in its infancy. As such, there are plenty of bumps in the road to navigate before brands convince customers to not just like or follow them there, but also buy what they're selling. And that selling is also somewhat at odds with the general consensus that social media marketing is based on being informative and entertaining, not yet another sales space. The former could limit the latter, even when simple sales functions are put in place.
The other aspect that still worries many customers is just who they can trust with their details online. The biggest brand names online and off - Target, Apple, Home Depot and many more - have been dragged through the mud this year thanks to digital hacker attacks, making customer leary of expanding their purchase activity outside of the providers they already trust. Overcoming these security concerns will be just as important as convincing customers that social sites are a place they want to shop in the first place.
Even against these pronounced challenges, social network shopping holds so much potential that retailers will be pulling out all the stops to build a foundation for its future.
If they're successful, those of us providing eCommerce order fulfillment services must be ready to meet the resulting rise in demand.