According to Webopedia[i]:

    “social shopping is a slang phrase used to describe networked shopping. In electronic commerce it refers to consumers who use social networking services and sites to share their latest purchases, deals, coupons, product reviews, want lists, and other shopping finds. Some people may use affiliate links when they write about shopping and products on social spaces including Facebook, Twitter and other social networking services.”

    Companies can use services like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo and WeChat to talk directly to their customers; Twitter is a specifically useful tool because it can help a business quickly move perishable inventory. Twittering last minute airfares to its Twitter followers helps airlines such as United and JetBlue sell their perishable inventory of seats.[ii] The same could be done with tickets for concerts, theater seats, sporting events, or even hotel rooms. By understanding up-to-the-minute supply, as well as predicting upcoming demand for its rooms, an IR can reach out to its social media followers to move rooms quicker than it currently would be able to.

    In his article Top Tips for Creating an Online Retail Community[iii], Phil Woodward argues that today's online shoppers are more socially active than ever before and they like to participate in conversations that allow them to share their knowledge as well as learn things from others. Today, brands are more willing to communicate with customers in an informal and open way as well.217 “These off-site communities are powerful in that they give customers a platform to express their opinions, but the next step for retailers is having an online community built directly into their site,” states Woodward.217

    Apple has created a community within its online store that allows shoppers and potential customers to ask questions about the brand and its products and it has thousands of active conversations going on at any one time. 217 This service enhances loyalty by giving customers a place to candidly talk about Apple’s products with fellow enthusiasts.217

    The first goal of building an online community should be to engage the audience and encourage repeat visits to the site. “To achieve this, retailers should ensure users can express themselves, that they can easily see what others are up to and that they feel contributions are valued.”217

    Users should be able to create profiles as this lets them feel as if they are a part of a network of like-minded people.217 “Retailers should let users follow things they find interesting—this is a powerful way for them to create their own network of interests. Regular email updates about their interests will also bring them back to the site.”217

    “Online communities can be miniature societies where shoppers and staff members sit alongside one another to share their wisdom,” Woodward notes.217 These social environments should be friendly, offering impartial and expert answers to questions from customers and potential customers, while also making the brand seem responsive and approachable.217 Woodward advises that, “Retailers should ensure staff are available to answer any questions. Swift responses add to the customer's sense that they are participating in a conversation, and support their perception of a retailer's product expertise.”217

    The community can then be used to bridge the gap between online and bricks-and-mortar stores as well as being an entre into the omni-channel.217 When a customer purchases something in-store, the retailer's staff are on-hand to assist with questions and/or problems and an online community should replicate this experience.217 However, it also offers something that can't be replicated: the mix of expert staff and genuine customer opinion, which is “a strong combination that gives shoppers more reason to visit the retailer and makes communities easier to develop,” advises Woodward.217

    “Although the retailer's website is the hub of community activity, it shouldn't end there—spreading the community further allows a wider audience to become involved in the conversation, while also exposing potential new customers to the brand.”217 Social media sites should be exploited to build and support the community.217 “Letting users log in to the community with social profiles facilitates the sharing of information, and share buttons ensure users can spread content across their social networks”217 with ease, contends Woodward. “Retailers should also actively feed content into their own social media sites so that their off-site communities support their on-site one.”217 This creates a broad base of experience by drawing in insights and opinions from a wider group of people, thereby creating a strong and knowledgeable network of experts.217

    Other social platforms besides Facebook showed some success in generating orders, as well.[iv] “The antiques and collectibles industry was the best example, with Pinterest generating 74% of social orders. YouTube saw success with digital products, services and merchandise, grabbing 47%, 36% and 29% of orders, respectively.”218

    In conclusion, while Facebook was the clear leader, retailers would benefit from using other platforms like Wanelo.com, Fancy.com, Pinterest, Fab.com, Polyvore, Luvocracy, Opensky.com, Faveable, Ownza and Etsy, amongst many others.

    In China, Weibo and the ecommerce site Taobao have formed a synergistic partnership in which storeowners on Taobao create accounts on Weibo and utilize it as a channel to market their products and communicate with customers. It is reported that Taobao and Sina Weibo share 75% overlapping users among the 500 million users that they have.[v] “A linking of each of their accounts will allow Weibo users to log onto Taobao to make purchase[sic] and payment[sic] and Taobao users to log onto Weibo to view news and release products. Hundreds of millions of user will be able to perform the functions of social media, online shopping and making payment[sic] on two platforms without switching account[sic]”219 A comparable situation in the US would be for users to be able to access and purchase products on eBay from their Twitter account with a PayPal account that was integrated into their Twitter account; all-in-all some pretty powerful stuff.

    “A deep integration of Sina Weibo and Taobao is about taking advantage of the four elements: account, marketing, data and mobile,” according to Advangent.219 Since the partnership in April 2013, user-centric product recommendations have started to appear on Weibo, these allow users to see Taobao products that might interest them.219 Weibo and Taobao have also considered other measures to keep their social shopping experience robust and engaging. On the one hand, they have launched discount promotions targeting the seller’s Weibo fans through a series of “Fan festivals” that happen to coincide with important events; while on the other hand, Taobao and Weibo are tracking the user’s comments very closely—too many negative reviews and complaints will get sellers blacklisted and punished.219

    This is almost a perfect scenario for sellers as it gives them a far-ranging platform to not only sell their wares on but also to gain instant social media feedback—it’s almost word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. Casinos can take advantage of this market and sell hotel rooms and IR experiences through these channels, thereby connecting with Chinese consumers directly. A whole host of touristy items could also be purchased through these channels.

    The B2C marketing cloud company Emarsys believes that social commerce will soon become a mainstay channel for consumers. Although many retailers don’t know exactly what to do with social commerce yet the social channels are boldly leading the way. In 2015, Pinterest launched the ‘Buy it’ button and Instagram created an expanded ad program called ‘Instagram Ads.’

    At the same time, other social media channels such as Twitter and YouTube are exploring ‘Buy It Now’ features and a multitude of mobile apps are popping up that allow easy e-commerce purchases. And why not? It makes complete sense to simplify the purchasing process and Facebook is already jumping into the fray as a new service inside Facebook Messenger allows users to readily swap money with others. Casinos should embrace this bold new frontier and The Predictive Casino would simplify the purchasing process, as well as allowing the casino companies to create datasets that would allow them to understand purchasing behavior, as well as potentially shape it.

     

    [i] http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/social_shopping.html

    [ii] http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2009-08-02-jetblue-united-twitter-airfares_N.htm (Retrieved: July 21, 2016).

    [iii] Woodward, P. (2013, June 25). Top Tips for Creating an Online Retail Community. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2013/jun/25/top-tips-online-retail-community

    [iv] eMarketer. (2014, March 31). Facebook Is No. 1 for Social Commerce. Retrieved from emarketer.com: http://www.emarketer.com/Article.aspx?R=1010721&RewroteTitle=1

    [v] Advangent. (2013, August 13). ina Weibo and Alibaba announced a strategic alliance to cooperate in social shopping. Retrieved from advangent: http://www.advangent.com/zh/2013/08/13/sina-weibo-taobao-social-commerce-2-0/

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