Ever since social media blew up and took over our lives, brands have sought to bring commerce closer to consumers via their digital worlds.
P&G launched its first f-commerce (that’s Facebook commerce) store in 2010, while the likes of Ben Sherman, Levis, and Gucci experimented with interactive video back in 2011.
Today, social commerce is everywhere, with social networks generating some $30 billion of sales in 2015, according to SEMrush 2016.
And whether it’s the humble “buy” button, a retargeted ad to remind you about an abandoned purchase, or chatbots that bring artificial intelligence and a conversational UI to the social buying experience, it takes many different forms.
For social commerce, it is the post-purchase experience that remains a mostly unexplored territory. Few brands are making meaningful efforts to market specifically in this area, beyond the occasional attempt to cross-sell.
Yet, with the right marketing, your post-purchase customers can become not just advocates, but the active drivers of peer-to-peer conversion. So, for marketers, this is a significant untapped opportunity that is well worth exploring.
How Social Commerce Works
We’re all familiar with the long-established consumer buying cycle. The customer receives a trigger, they consider a purchase, they search for the right product, they choose which one they prefer, they buy it, and then they experience it.
Social commerce has traditionally been focused around the trigger, consider, and then buy phases. A Facebook post could trigger a customer’s interest, which could then be explored further using a Pinterest board (the consider phase). Then, in some cases, the customer could purchase it directly through a social “buy” button.
This traditional approach is not without its flaws—and the implementation is often quite jarring.
Most social commerce campaigns won’t rely on social media to handle the search, choose, and buy phases—instead, they will send audiences off-platform directly into eCommerce environments. Yet, this can be disorientating and a significant source of frustration. A Facebook post promoting an exciting new product is all well and good, until the customer realises they have to trawl through an unfamiliar, maze-like eCommerce website to find it again. In short, the user experience is nothing short of clunky.
As Twitter will, no doubt, testify, slapping “buy now” onto a post also isn’t enough to consistently fuel purchases. Without helping customers navigate the preceding stages in the purchase cycle and respecting the fact that only 21% of purchases are made within a day, getting customers to “buy now” on the basis of a tweet can be too much of a hard sell. Twitter recently phased out its “buy” button, seemingly for this very reason.
And then, there’s the real-world challenge with the consumer buying cycle itself—while customers certainly go through a combination of its phases (trigger, consider, search, choose, buy, experience), they don’t necessarily do so linearly.
In the past, we often thought of customer purchasing behaviour in the context of a funnel. They were fed in at the top, and marketers tried to minimise dropout as they moved downward towards purchase, and that was it.
Today, it’s clearly much more complicated than that, and Google’s research into the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) is a testament to this.
In practice, marketers need to be prepared to handle potential customers entering at any stage, moving in any direction. They need to communicate effectively with them, understanding what their needs are whenever they come into contact with each other.
It’s A Consumer Cycle, Not A Path
We’ve already seen social commerce adapting to this more complicated customer behaviour, by expanding to cover more aspects of the buying cycle. For instance, Instagram’s tap-to-view, using pricing details on products, is bringing content closer to purchase. And Facebook Messenger’s new discover tab is extending chatbots further up the path to purchase by creating in-app trigger moments. Yet, the most untapped opportunity is the post-purchase experience phase.
For all the effort going into improving the UX of finding and buying products through social commerce, we aren’t seeing the same attention paid to when people are actually experiencing products post-purchase. For whatever reason, people aren’t paying enough attention to the fact that this is a consumer cycle—not just a path to purchase.
Now, turning product users into brand advocates is far from a new concept. It has been one of the cornerstones of marketing for decades, but, in and of itself, advocacy can be quite passive from a brand’s perspective. The question we need to ask is how we can use this in social media to guide customers’ peers into actively pursuing the same product or service.
In the world of eCommerce, the big players are already doing this (Amazon et al spring to mind). But, in social media, we see few examples capitalising on positive product or purchase experiences to facilitate additional upselling or cross-selling.
And, yet, social media is the perfect conduit for doing this. You’re not going to get customers campaigning on the streets, but if advocacy can be harnessed through a simple click-based referral that triggers active consideration, there’s not much stopping them, or your brand for that matter.
Social commerce has to be more than just buying eyeballs and press-ganging them to your website—it has to connect with people. Providing direction and encouragement as people move through the buying cycle and become advocates, without propelling them coldly into your eCommerce site, is key to success. Unlocking the cyclic nature of purchase behaviour is going to be the moment social commerce becomes a potent tool in eCRM strategies. And it will be the most savvy marketers today who are best placed to provide this.