What are the six approaches to social shopping - and which should you do?

15th Aug 2014

Since the social revolution, retailers and ecommerce brands have started looking into ways to leverage from social media to attract more exposure and buyers. After Facebook’s recent ‘Buy Button’ announcement and Twitter’s acquisition of payments infrastructure company Cardspring, there is a clear push for social shopping to become a mainstream distribution channel but brands have already started seizing on this trend even before on-channel sales became a possibility.

Having analysed how a variety of brands are integrating social shopping into their distribution channels, I've identified six different approaches they are currently using:

1. On-channel social shopping

This happens when brands use their social network pages directly for brand promotion. It can be done through varying forms of engaging written and visual content to help brands promote their products and services. If the latest Facebook and Twitter announcements are to be rolled out, soon users will actually be able to complete a purchase without even leaving these social networks. 

2. Etail social shopping

Etail social shopping happens when users share with their social community products that are connected with a specific etailer. Two critical examples come from e-tail giants eBay and Amazon. In 2012 eBay launched HelpMeShop, a browser plug-in allowing users to select items from anywhere on the web, and share them with friends on Facebook to seek advice on the best purchase. Amazon followed on the social shopping wagon earlier this year by extending its shopping basket through Twitter with #Amazonbasket, that allows users add items from Twitter to their basket, incentivising immediate purchase intent decisions.

3. Mobile social shopping

Out of those who made an online purchase through a social network, 35% from Twitter, 19% from Pinterest and 17% from Facebook, did so from a mobile or tablet device. With mobile purchasing being a big part of social shopping, retailers started benefiting from this channel through technology such as UK-founded Shopcade. App holders can save items and get alerts when those go on sale and receive relevant recommendations based on their social and traditional e-commerce data.

4. Social selling sites

Typically social selling sites are used within the fashion industry, where people can discover new products, brands and trends and might be able to share their style by posting photos, ask for and give advice. These types of socially driven sites tend to fall into two categories:

  • Non ecommerce: Websites and blogs that normally develop through affiliate partnerships. Growing examples in the UK and Europe are or
  • Ecommerce: Here, consumers are able to make on-site purchases. Growing examples are Net-a-porter, Asos and Fab that solely trade online and use social media as an essential part of their growth. Asos is one of Facebook’s best success case studies as it showcases its entire fashion catalogue through the site. Another great example comes from Fab that grew 300% year-over-year from January 2012 to January 2013 with 50% of its European members coming through social sharing.  

5. Social gifting and discounts

Social gifting is a well-established mean of social selling in the USA, but in Europe it still remains in its infancy. It enables people to give free and discounted gift cards to friends on social networks for brands of their interest, incentivising engagement and purchase. Back in 2012 platforms such as Wrapp and DropGifts were on the news as the upcoming social gifting platforms in the UK. Two years on, and DropGifts membership appears inactive, and Wrapp no longer operates in the UK. Does this mean that the trend didn’t get traction from UK consumers and the platforms relinquished their investments in this market? Its lack of success might well have been due to a cultural reason, but unlike social gifting, the discount industry with the likes of Groupon and LivingSocial grew rapidly in the UK since its launch in 2007/2008. Nevertheless, Groupon, currently valued at $4.5billion (£2.62billion), suffered a 35% drop in value when it first IPO’d in 2010 and hasn’t fully recovered since then. 

The facts and figures show that social gifting/discounts may have been more of a hype rather than a shopping experience here to stay, so retailers should consider carefully before making related investments.

6. Offline social shopping

Social shopping is not conducted exclusively online and retailers have in fact tried to capitalise on in-store social selling to increase offline purchases. An example of this was conducted by London’s largest shopping centre, Westfield, through the Tweet Mirror. Launched back in 2010 by Dutch technology company Nedap Retail, the mirror is placed in store enabling shoppers to share with their friends how an outfit looks via Twitter whilst still in the changing room.  

How to choose the right social shopping approach

All brands are different, and so are the ways their consumers interact, therefore organisations must first understand their customers’ online social relationships before deciding which social shopping approach will drive most sales conversions.  

Roy Jugessur, head of EMEA for social relationship platform Shoutlet, comments on what they’ve seen in the market: “Some retailers have grown product sales by double digits, simply by adding social shopping elements to their distribution channels, but retailers won’t be able to achieve this if they don’t take an informed approach to social shopping. With so many opportunities available to retailers nowadays, firstly, they must understand where customers feel compelled to comment, share or gather information related with their products.”

Commenting on the challenges brands are faced with, Jugessur said: “Tracking the return on investment from social shopping paths can be considered a challenge to many retailers given the nature of social media. This is where technology can help monitor from the moment a fan engages with specific content through to purchase, so they can clearly track the benefits social shopping can bring to their business and justify to the boardroom for further investment in social.”

As social shopping has become part of the way consumers interact with and make brand purchases, marketers need to access what is the right approach that will appeal to their consumers. In-depth analysis to their online social behaviour driven through social campaigns, surveys and traditional ecommerce data can help organisations identify what this behaviour is. With this knowledge, brands will then be empowered to drive meaningful social shopping experiences for their consumers that will consequently impact on sales.

Ana de Jesus is the EMEA marketing manager for Shoutlet.

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