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Guest comment: How exactly can Social Commerce drive success for multichannel retailers?

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By Hosein Moghaddas

Social Commerce is the phrase on everyone's lips this year. But what does it mean for established retailers? Do consumers even want companies prying into their personal space? And, more prudently, is it a threat to traditional e-tail business models? My belief is that far from being apprehensive, multichannel retailers should see social commerce as a great opportunity for growth.

From Starbucks to ASOS's cleverly designed Facebook store, everywhere you look, the social commerce revolution is well and truly underway. Some retailers are approaching the changes with trepidation. 'Like' buttons and list recommendations mean that products and brands are exposed to increasing scrutiny. The fear for many is that one disdainful comment could destroy a brand's marketing initiative.

However, brands should not be shying away from allowing their customers to speak up. If retailers make intelligent decisions based upon the information that consumers give them, multichannel retailers could reap rewards in a way they never have done before.

Allow your customers to talk back

Far from repelling interaction with companies, consumers are crying out for the latest information from them. More than ever, purchasing behaviour is influenced by the comments and actions of others online, and surprisingly, this barely varies between age groups. Recent E-Marketer research found that a nearly three quarters (73%) of the population (14 - 75 year olds) had learned of a new product on a social networking site, and half had purchased products based on online recommendations from peers.

Essentially, social networking has become the internet's answer to the question 'does my bum look big in this?' Users on social networks are already proactively interacting with brands and retailers, be it through searching out discounts, looking for new products or suggesting room for improvement; and more often than not, consumers will answer the question for you.

With this in mind, what better way to sell the benefits of your products than to allow your captive audience to do this for you organically? Think about it. How many times have you skipped straight to the product reviews section of a website without even so much as glancing at a product description, or any other painstaking attempt by the manufacturer to sell it?

Consider it as a balanced exchange of information. Consumers want to be able to feed back to the brand as much as the brand want to seed out their own information, so my advice on the matter is: embrace it! Be it a Facebook or Twitter page or a Geo-location service, social networks provide retailers with a platform on which consumers can tell you want they want.

Promotions

So how have transactional capabilities on social networks fared so far? Stateside, JC Penney has launched an e-commerce app, powered by Usablenet. Usablenet allows customers to add to cart, checkout, edit and remove products from the cart, specify shipping address, ship to store and pay with their credit card. All from the comfort of Facebook.

Promotions are also big news on social networks. A quarter of Twitter and Facebook users are following brands and products with the sole intention of hearing about the latest deals or promotions[1] , and will generally spend one and a half times more than the average internet user. As such, there are a wealth of opportunities available for multichannel retailers to drive in-store footfall. Take a look at Gap, for instance, who managed to drive vast spikes of in-store footfall on the back of their free jeans Facebook offer.

Retailers should see the social commerce shift less as a threat and more as a great opportunity. Yes, there is a risk that your brands or products will be criticised on a public domain, however when executed well, social commerce is targeted, measured and gives you a surfeit of information about the wants and needs of your customer base. Create content that is fun, of the minute, and relevant to your brand, and the rest will follow.

Hosein Moghaddas is VP & MD International of GSI Commerce
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