noun: social; plural noun: socials

The last few months has provided me with a question that I have been thinking about – “Is ecommerce a social event?”.  As an ecommerce executive when planning is done for new features, the social aspect of shopping will get a mention. However – I feel that referral marketing is being seen as social commerce. Share a product via a facebook post, a tweet or an Instagram post. In some cases it will lead to a discussion on the respective product but it will not lead to a discussion over a possible sale..

Social commerce is a subset of electronic commerce that involves social media, online media that supports social interaction, and user contributions to assist online buying and selling of products and services. More succinctly, social commerce is the use of social network(s) in the context of e-commerce transactions. (Wikipedia)


Over the last 5 years we have seen the creation of tablet commerce (t-commerce which has been used interchangeably with TV commerce). TV based commerce is nothing new and is seen in most markets in the form of infomercials or a dedicated shopping channel (Home Shopping Network or QVC). This past week TV based commerce has made a reappearance via the latest Apple TV.

The team at Button have highlighted the fact that in some cases it feels like use cases are being made to suit an updated product line.  Just think about what was shown at the Apple announcement by the Gilt TV App demonstration:

While I wonder who would want to use this, I know that loads of people still shop on the QVC and HSN channels, and even though I don’t think I want to shop with my family on the TV, many others might want to. (MarketingLand)

The point is and remains for me in most cases when we shop online via our phones or notebooks – it is an intensely individual experience. Yet there are huge Internet companies (I am looking at you facebook, twitter and to lesser degree Pinterest) that almost on annual occasion release a social commerce feature that will provide a new avenue for sales.

Fundamentally – are you kidding me?

What are the fundamental activity seen in ecommerce? A customer has a need and starts his search on either Amazon or Google to find the product that he/she wants and then puts that same item in a basket and goes through the check out process. Amazon whom I believe is the gold standard will then leverage your browsing history to potentially get additional items into your shopping cart. It is a one to one relationship between a server and client.

On mobile the above process is somewhat different. The customer will go to his homescreen (the peak place for attention for app developers) and tap an app. The app will then have the details of customer already completed (by an earlier non-converting visit to the app or while working through the app during the first transaction). The customer will then browse for an item that is desired or will do a search to find the item. Currently – the top performing on-demand and commerce apps all have an experience in which search is almost non-existent.

So what is missing in both of my situations? Discussions with friends about the product and their input on it.

The East is different

I am a strong believer that the East (Asia and China) are providing us with clues about the future of commerce. In both cases it needs to be mentioned that the cultural dynamics of Asians are one in which mobile is their digital passport and that in most cases social activity occurs alongside commerce.

WeChat has also been busy creating tools so that official accounts can open e-commerce stores that accept WeChat Payments — essentially making every business, including mom-and-pop shops without advanced tech or e-commerce resources, an instant mobile store.

Beyond these promotions and resources, Tencent architected, and in some cases, subsidized the payments system in WeChat’s early days. The resulting user adoption and portal model has given Tencent a kind of “kingmaking power” for Chinese apps (and by association, internet startups in China) because partner companies selected to be part of the WeChat Wallet portal get instant exposure to hundreds of millions of users. A16Z

WeChat provides a lot more tools to their users to allow them to provide a true mix of social and commerce. WeChat is how taxis are hailed, items are bought etc. The point is that WeChat has become a multidimensional platform that allows for commerce, social etc.

In 2013 WeChat provided then unknown Xiaomi with a platform to sell their new mobile phone directly to customers.

WeChat flexed its muscles as a real e-commerce platform when Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi sold 150,000 of its flagship Mi3 smartphones in less than 10 minutes.  Tech in Asia

The point I am trying to make is that these messaging platforms were designed to be transactional from day one. The interaction between customers and brands was not pushed but occurred naturally.

The King does not have any clothes on

In the midst of this an Indian ecommerce marketplace has decided to put a chat platform inside their commerce apps. It is called Ping (surely someone should have researched this name as the connotations are negative..) and there is a waiting list of 25 million users for access to this.

Flipkart is 8 years old. They have 45 million users and 10 million daily visits. Yet they feel that now they have to add messaging into their platform to “transform mobile commerce”.  My counter thought is simple – why is Alibaba whom is the largest developing economy market not adding chat functionality to their apps? (Users can contact sellers but there is no communication between customers.)

So where does this leave us?

Normal retail (when you visit a mall etc) has a social element in it. Meeting with friends or family before the retail therapy occurs. For millennials the reality is that everything is order through an on-demand service or an ecommerce business.

The assistants whom are currently appearing all over the place (Operator, Fancy Hands, GoButler and Magic) are all one to one which in my opinion is the future of commerce.  Social commerce is a myth that is used by Internet companies to sell advertising to retailers.