3 ways to build social commerce on your site

When Howard Schultz came on board with Starbucks in 1982, he advised the company to evolve its business from coffee beans and accessories to coffeehouse culture and espresso by the cup.  The idea was initially met with rejection from company founders.  Given Starbucks’ meteoric rise since then, the rest is history, with the lesson that businesses must be cognizant of market trends and embrace new channels that promise growth.

Similarly, retailers ignore social channels at their own risk, and a number of recent market trends have coalesced to make social commerce top of mind.  A majority (58%) of all consumers now research products online before purchasing, and half of those consumers publish comments or reviews online about the products they buy. Global e-commerce revenue figures continue to grow at a faster rate (19%) than the economy as a whole.  Over 750 million users have flocked to Facebook to interact and share with friends.  These developments have created a fertile ecosystem for retailers seeking to cultivate new revenue streams using social media.

Previously, I shared a few reasons why the future of social commerce may not be on Facebook and outlined ways to harness the power of Facebook directly on your site.  This article highlights additional methods to drive revenue by leveraging social tools on your commerce site.

Ratings & reviews

Over a decade ago, Amazon.com pioneered the concept of integrating social into the online shopping experience.  Recognizing that peer recommendations trump other influencers of buying behavior, Amazon helped fuel its pervasive growth by making ratings and reviews core to its site.

A recent study by the e-tailing group revealed that 71% of shoppers rely on customer reviews to influence purchase behavior, but 35% of online merchants still lack user-generated content on their sites.  These merchants often outsource user-generated content to their Facebook page.

But despite Facebook’s sheer volume of users and abundance of user-generated content, on-site customer reviews are critical to a successful social commerce strategy. Why? 65% of consumers prefer researching products on a retailer’s website, and a majority use search as a conduit to find product pages.

Retailers reap significant SEO benefits by housing reviews on-site. 25-35% of traffic to large e-commerce sites is organic search, and Google favors fresh content, often user-generated, in its results.  Most retailers assert that traffic directly to product pages produces the highest conversion rates, and blending product descriptions with customer reviews creates optimized content that search engines simply can’t resist.

Social login

Retailers may try to encourage account creation on their site to learn more about their shoppers for targeting or personalization, build relationships and foster retention with special offers and promotions, or to provide a unified view of a customer across multiple channels.

But traditional acquisition methods can be a headache for consumers, who are averse to lengthy registration forms and may provide inaccurate information if asked to complete them.  This is where social login emerges as a viable solution. Leveraging a consumer’s existing social identity from networks like Google, Facebook or PayPal reduces shopping cart abandonment by simplifying the registration process, and helps retailers collect richer demographic and psychographic data on their customers.

A December 2010 study by Blue Research confirmed that social login is preferred over traditional account creation or guest checkout.

The study also revealed that consumers who prefer to use their social identities to interact with sites are more valuable shoppers.  They buy more often online and are more likely to rely on their social networks to influence purchase decisions., These consumers are nearly twice as likely purchase on a site that automatically recognizes them.

We’ve entered a climate in which consumers prefer to use their real identities from a social network to access websites, and those who do so are far more lucrative buyers.  The question becomes which social identities to support for registration.

While Facebook is one option, data across the 350,000 websites using Janrain Engage for social login underscores the value of choice. Facebook is the most popular social login choice, but over half of all consumers prefer to use an identity from Google, Yahoo! or another network.

Mobile

We all know that mobile is fast becoming the platform for social and transactional activity online. Shrewd retailers can harness this channel to uncover new revenue streams.

A mobile “check-in” posted to a social network feed expands retail brand awareness among a consumer’s friends.   This creates a form of social proof – if my tech-savvy friend checks in to rave about a great deal on a laptop at the electronics store downtown, I may be inclined to go on a shopping excursion.

Retailers also facilitate loyalty and repeat business by offering badges, virtual currency or special offers to shoppers who frequently check-in.  When these game mechanics are also applied to other valuable activities such as writing a review or referring a friend online, you can turn your commerce site into a powerful channel for customer engagement.

To maximize customer lifetime value, multi-channel merchants need a unified understanding of a customer across in-store, online and mobile.  This may involve collecting an email address and other profile information during in-store checkout and making it accessible to your CRM, email marketing and personalization systems.  If one of your customers routinely shops for men’s shoes in-store, imagine the benefit if you could leverage such insight to personalize product recommendations for that customer on your site and mobile app, or send special offers via email based on past purchase history.

Social commerce is still an emerging area of focus for retailers, but don’t assume that it only needs to take place on a social network.  Leverage these strategies to optimize your website and achieve maximum return on your social investment.

Michael Olson manages marketing campaigns and demand generation programs at Janrain, a Portland software company specializing in social media and identity management solutions.

Image courtesy of Flickr user woordenaar.