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Social e-commerce: a winning formula

If you've been ignoring the rise of e-commerce and social media, it's not too late.

Nearly four in five internet users visit social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube etc. and of this market a massive 70 percent are buying online. Analysing data not your forte? In short, that means brands should be meeting consumers where they spend most of their time.

Competitive markets

Time for a little retrospective storytelling. Living in the UK for a couple of years opened me up to a significantly larger base from which to do my shopping. And while the financial crisis has been a horrible time for most, it has meant that the bricks and mortar stores have had to fight tooth and nail to be more price competitive. As expected a large number of high street retailers responded to meet the market. And all my (girlfriend’s) heavenly shopping wishes were answered.

Now back living in Auckland the bargain prices that forced me and my friends to engage in ‘showrooming’ (browsing the racks while checking for competitive prices online) are no more. The connected consumer in me demands best prices. The internet has merged borders and online shopping means lower overheads, which in turn means online retailers can afford to undercut bricks and mortar stores while making a tidy margin. Everyone wins, and if you think they don’t, they need to get off their backside and get online.

Last week the inner online shopper in me completed my first ‘major’ online purchase from River Island in the UK. – major being that my purchase was for over $250 and was completed outside of New Zealand.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. That’s not to say I won’t get burnt in future. Who knows, maybe next time they’ll screw up my order and send me the wrong sizes and colours. But I’m pretty confident that they won’t – and ultimately it’s the assurances that the retailer gave me prior to me completing the transaction, that got me to click through to the check-out.

It’s all about social

According to Gartner Research by 2015 companies will generate 50 percent of web sales via their social footprint and mobile applications. The key word here is ‘social’. Social validation is key in delivering the consumer an assurance that they won’t be ripped off or in other words, that the retailer is going to deliver on their promise.

The reason River Island was successful in closing the sale was not because they had a great product and a brilliant website and mobile app (though this does help), but they went a step further and asked how they could close the gap between experiences and expectations.

Talking of brilliant websites, let me show you the anatomy of what I think is a really smart transactional website. A good e-commerce website should make it easy for the customer to complete their sale and repeat the purchase.

Shopping Cart Abandonment and Tips To Avoid It

Social validation

Previously what had stopped me from shopping online was the lack of ‘proof’. Who were these people that wanted to take my money? I didn’t know them, I’d never met them and they were in a totally different country.

But then something happened. I saw their Facebook page had more than a million ‘likes’. They encouraged me to share items that I liked with my friends, they welcomed feedback and responded to it. They had a 24/7 customer service line. It was a cinch to sign up for and receive further information by email and shock horror: they offered me amazing discounts without trying to spam me. Within a few clicks they had allayed my fears and given me assurances above and beyond my expectations.

So if you’re an e-retailer or want to be (and you should be), what do you need to do to engage with the social consumer to alleviate their concerns?

1. Use social channels to take new products to market.

Example: reward your followers by releasing new lines or products exclusively via Twitter or Facebook.

2. Engage in two-way conversations with the consumer.

Example: ‘My Starbucks Idea’ asks consumers what they think is best.

3. Be active in the social channels your consumers are using.

Example: Diesel Jeans lets users share their in-store purchase on Facebook.

4. Respond quickly.

Example: Amazon has a 24/7 online customer service.

5. Add value beyond making the sale.

Example: 1800 Flowers shows customers new flower arrangements pretty much every week.

6. Create a brilliantly thought out website.

Example: provide security and make sure the customer doesn’t have to navigate away from the page.

This is just a taster; getting the strategy right is critical, because every business and every customer set is different.

While you may be afraid to take your business online, the sooner you take the plunge the better off you’ll be. Digital is not going away any time soon.

Kaleb Francis is digital brand strategist at Marque - Brand Partners