Everyone's Getting Into Social Commerce… But What's The Plan?

Social Commerce seems to be on everyone's lips these days. But no one seems to be able to pin down exactly HOW to dominate!

Industry experts and venture capitalists agree: the time for social commerce has arrived. Payvment, which allows online retailers to host Facebook presences as “storefronts”, picked up a $6 million B round from Sierra Ventures. New kid on the block Yardsellr.com, a Palo Alto startup comprised of eBay alums, recently secured $5 million in Series A funding from Accel Partners to continue sharing items for sale through Facebook feeds. And Google (ever heard of it?) just offered $6 billion to acquire localized social shopping powerhouse Groupon. And these are just the stories from the past 10 days.

Yet, with Groupon as the exception, the question persists: why don’t social commerce engines have consumers anxiously bringing out the welcome wagon, or their money, in droves? The answer is layered, but it’s probably best to begin by considering how little ground-level consumers seem to know about the world of social commerce. After all, if people aren’t (forgive the pun) atwitter en masse about a given product that claims “social” as its driving ideal, then it’s certainly anything but, at least for the time being.

Developing user excitement around social commerce will be an important concept for consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs to be mindful of as the market unfolds. Some social shopping companies acquire users by way of their Facebook actions (the “Like” button, Commenting, Profile Pages, etc.) and micro-market. Others attempt to access and motivate multiple consumers at once with group-based discounts and deals. And others still are attempting a more traditional, yet decidedly social, destination-site/classifieds model. Clearly, this new e-commerce market’s development increasingly rests with the tastes and preferences of consumers. In other words, it is going to be harder for retailers and outlets to tell the consumer what he wants when he has a huge community of trusted friends influencing his purchasing power.

Thus, rather than focusing on an individual and his wallet, effective social commerce focuses on optimizing the communities and rallying online discussion and engagement around items and interests, such that purchasing becomes part of a given community’s social culture. Think going to the mall with your friends (and their friends, and their friends) and helping each other make buying decisions at your favorite stores, all while simply “hanging out”.

Sustained building of engaged communities, then, will be a key to success in the industry. Of course, serious engineering will need to be undertaken to build out all of the necessary functionality for these platforms, but the problem of mastering the social shopping market remains fundamentally attached to the users and their actions within the realm of social media.