E-Commerce is the recent buzz in the Indian Corporate World from quite some time now. The latest news reads that Ratan Tata has invested an undisclosed amount in SnapDeal. Amazon Inc has gone all out in consolidating their presence in India. Recently the Indian E-Commerce giant Flipkart acquired Myntra. The company which registered sales $1 billion an year ahead of scheduled target has also diversified from being just a marketplace to an ecommerce enabler with eKart – Logistics and Payzippy – Payment Gateway. The World’s largest retailer Walmart has launched a B2B E-Commerce Platform in India and the Japanese E-Commerce Giant Rakuten is also planning to expand its presence to India.
The first wave of E-Commerce failed to make a major impact in India primarily because of low internet penetration and lack of trust in online transactions. The proposition laid down by the then online businesses was too good to be true for Indian masses. The last five years mark the golden era of E-Commerce from mere five million users in 2000 to a staggering internet population of 250 Million users as of July 2014.
If projections are to be believed, the number of internet users in India is expected to reach over 500 million by 2018 (Source:- IAMAI) and the E-Commerce Market is estimated to touch Rs 1,07,800 crores by the year 2015. (Source:- India Goes Digital). The incremental growth in the sector is driven by factors like a surge in internet penetration, rising standard of living, ease of availability, affordability, radical shift in consumer behaviour and last but not the least growing Indian population on Social Media which has been the major pull for the people to switch to Internet.
Out of the 250 million internet population of India 106 million are active on Social Media. Since there is a significant overlap in the primary target audience for E-Commerce brands, these brands cannot ignore the potential Social Media has in store. Besides, it is fairly easy to convert digitally savvy audience to purchase online rather than diverting the offline buzz towards online traffic.
Social Commerce – The Marriage between E-Commerce and Social Media
It is the marriage of E-Commerce and Social Media which paved way for a new discipline altogether i.e. Social Commerce. The term Social Commerce was introduced by Yahoo! in November 2005, to define their new range of online shopping tools like user ratings, shared pick lists, sharing of online product information and advice.
Definition of social commerce from Wikipedia: “Social commerce is a subset of electronic commerce that involves using social media and online media to support social interaction and user contributions, to assist in the online buying and selling of products and services“
In layman’s terms, Social Commerce can be defined as the use of social media to fuel E-Commerce transactions. It’s about incorporating social features for customers to collaborate online, seek advice from trusted individuals, and gain incentives from social sharing to ensure that a purchase decision is made. Social Commerce serves multiple objectives for an E-Commerce site like driving traffic, facilitating conversions, amplifying visibility and reach, enhancing customer engagement and experience and last but not the least it is a major step towards customer retention.
Social Commerce in India
Social commerce has evolved and overshadowed traditional ecommerce trends by involving customers and enhancing experience through social integration. There are broadly 6 types of social commerce websites categorized on the basis of parity in their approach to Social media.
- Social Shopping: They are the ecommerce websites which try to imitate offline shopping with friends on online platforms by including various social features like chats, discussion forums, sharing your likes and dislikes etc. One such ecommerce website is thekha.com. Their objective is to provide discounts and deals to the customers. Being consumer oriented portal they offer the social feature of chat. Shoppers can chat with other online shoppers and also share their status on Facebook. Here a shopper is most likely to convert into a consumer after discussing with fellow shoppers and others in their social circle.
- Social Recommendations: These websites allow users to recommend their shopping styles and share their reviews about products with fellow shoppers and peers to read.
Wooplr.com connects people on the basis of their interests, location and social circles. Users can create a board of their choices and recommendations for other shoppers. Customers can follow others with whom their interests match.
Then there are websites focussing on creating and sharing user curated shopping lists of products and services for other customers to shop from. Klip.in and scrapehere.com are two such examples. Both the websites work on somewhat same principle of Pinterest. Here boards are called scrape board and klip respectively. The thrust here is to push the customers towards purchase through shoppers curated shopping lists.
- Direct MarketPlace: These are community based marketplace where a merchant can directly communicate with the customer to sell their products. GoCop.com is one such social marketplace where cooperatives and community based enterprises can directly list their products and services online. Each customer while buying a product gets profile of seller/producer. FlipKart and Craftsvilla are the popular examples for this category.
- Social Network Driven: Sales or ecommerce activity occurring directly on social networks or under the influence of social networks. Chumbak.com is a perfect example of an e-commerce company starting its sales activity on Facebook and growing from there. Social Commerce enablers like Sell Mojo, Shopify allow businesses to create a Facebook store in no time.
- Personalized Commerce: Consumers directly participate in the decision making of the product at different stages like production, design etc. to get customized products. AllThingsCustomized.com takes orders for customizable merchandises and the products they sell are tailored according to customer’s requirement.
E-Commerce Portals step ahead and suggest products based on certain inputs from the customer. Voonik.com is one such example which throws a short 1-minute visual quiz on sign up that reveals body type and style preferences then users get instant recommendations from stylists and existing customers. LimeRoad.com also works on a similar concept.
- Group Buying: Dealers/Sellers offer products and services on reduced rates if there are enough and more buyers present. mydala.com, groupon.in, buzzintown.com, dealsandyou.com etc. falls in this category.
Social Nature of Shopping and Consumer Buying Decision Process
A closer look explains how the marriage between Social Media and E-Commerce leverages the social nature of shopping to pacify the purchasing funnel.
Basic consumer insights suggest that shopping has always been a social activity. In an offline scenario if someone wants to buy apparels, electronic gadgets or say home furnishings, the general tendency is to tag along with someone you are comfortable with or someone who knows a bit about the stuff you are planning to buy and that someone could be a relative/friend/acquaintance you can trust. The opinion from these influencers has a major role to play in the various stages of buying decision process right from the realization of need to the actual purchase decision.
Imagine the shopping scenario online; say an enticing offer catches your eye, you can’t resist a click which marks your visit to the E-Commerce Store while browsing through products there is a lack of human element, touch and feel which is supplemented by high definition pictures of the products. What about the inherent need of conformity, a sense of consonance that your choice is the best or it is worth the money you are willing to pay. This is where Social Commerce comes into the picture. From like gated offers, to share this purchase for additional off, ask your friends, see what people in your social network are buying, hot seller all these are various ways and means to traverse the online consumer through the buying decision process.
How Social Commerce has changed the GAME
Social Commerce thrives on the concept of building a flawless shopping experience while the UI/UX of the E-Commerce website takes care of the ambiance the inclusion of social avenues builds a congenial environment for the online consumers to engage with the brand’s offerings and their social circles. It is this remarkable experience which converts existing customers into brand ambassadors, a defiant community of advocates who share/recommend products they bought to their friends.
Another important aspect of Social Commerce is the ability to utilize the attention span of users on Social Networks towards tangible conversions. Almost all the popular Social Networks today enable E-Commerce brands to do this, be it Facebook’s F Commerce Store or Promoted pins from Pinterest and now Twitter has also announced the beta testing of buy button on tweets. Thus making online shopping all the more social.
Over the years the utility of social media platforms has diversified from interpersonal communications to news, conversations about people’s experiences with brands, their expectations from a specific product or service. E-Commerce Brands also listen to these conversations and improvise on their strategies based on consumer insights. Listening to prospective consumers on social media assists a brand in laying down the way forward but the real test is to implement a multipronged strategy which addresses each and every facet of their business i.e. brand awareness, engagement, conversion, acquisition and retention.
Social Commerce empowers E-Commerce Brands to tackle all the above challenges effectively by capturing rich data about the online consumer from their social profiles, browsing history and social action. Thus, demystifying the gamut of myths about the Online Consumer Behaviour.
Paradigm Shift from the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) to The Social Moment of Truth (TSMOT)
In 2011, Google propounded the existence of the Zero Moment of Truth, or ZMOT, which describes a revolution in the way consumers search for information online and make decisions about brands. The Zero Moment of Truth refers to all the research consumers do before making a purchase.
According to Google, the examples ZMOT could be a student in a café scanning user ratings and reviews while looking for a cheap hotel in Barcelona or an office manager at her desk, comparing laser printing prices and ink cartridge cost before heading to the office supply store.
I believe what ZMOT ignores is the importance of Social Media Networks. The innate potential of Social Media surpasses all the prevalent medium in its reach and impact. With the growth of Social Media comes the plethora of information which online consumers are looking for. Brands get first hand insights about consumer behaviour by tracking and monitoring conversations across social platforms.
The Social Moment of Truth refers to the stage where consumers look for consonance from their social circle before making a purchase.
ZMOT talks about the perception which is built in the minds of a consumer while searching information about the product/services, reading reviews, watching videos and seeking views from their network. It is this perception which lands a person to an offline store or an E-Commerce Portal to eventually buy the product/service in question.
TSMOT in my opinion is the subset of ZMOT which drives the consumer from the state of evaluation of alternatives to the purchase decision in the consumer buying process. The conformity and acceptance from Social Circles is the most definitive push to purchase.
The concept threads from the theory of Social Proof which entails that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behaviour. The mentality that if other people are doing it, and I trust those people, that is the validation that I should also be doing it.
Product Reviews & Ratings, Testimonials, Case Studies, XYZ and 10 other friends like this, People who bought A also bought B, C, D are all the different examples of leveraging the Social Moment of Truth. This Social influence is a very strong driver when it comes to purchase decisions. The Social proof can come from the people you trust, your friends, someone you follow, celebrities or the users of the product/service you are looking to buy.
Social Commerce and The Social Moment of Truth
At the cusp of this digital revolution where E-Commerce in India has scaled enormous heights, internet penetration is growing at a fast rate and Social Media is at its peak. The need of the hour for E-Commerce Businesses is to master the art of winning The Social Moment of Truth.
The popular Social Networks have already opened up avenues for E-Commerce with F-Commerce, Buy button on Twitter, Promoted Pins and so on but that forms a very small part of the overall strategy to drive conversions through Social Media. What’s more important is to:
- Capture rich data about online consumers, map their behaviour online and then target products/services as per their needs.
- Enhance the shopping experience for the customer by devising interactive means of engagement.
- Facilitate conversions by incorporating features like incentivised social sharing, options to seek opinions from friends/peers, personalized recommendations and so on.
- Extend the practice of customer retention by tracing the consumer behaviour online and modify the messaging accordingly.
E-Commerce brands have to be resilient enough to adapt to the realm of Social Commerce. They need to build stronger social proofs which help in fuelling the purchase funnel for online consumers, the catch is to establish conformity quotient and provide the much needed consonance which ultimately leads to the final purchase decision. Another area of focus is nurturing a community of brand advocates who drop in often for repeat purchases and at the same time propel the positive word of mouth for brands within their social circles. The Social Moment of Truth holds the key to accomplish all these objectives.