As ClickZ start a new column on social commerce, e-commerce software giant ATG have started their own series of social commerce articles.  The first (archived below), by Bill Zujewski, answers the familiar question – what is social commerce?  ATG’s answer:

“Social Commerce is about customers having the means to interact with one another in order to make better buying decisions.”

A nice functional definition from the customer perspective, although we’d suggest social commerce has emotional as well as functional appeal to online shoppers (enhancing the e-commerce experience as much as improving purchase decisions).

Bill suggests that social commerce has evolved through four eras…

  1. Forward to a Friend/Shared Wishlists
  2. User Ratings & Reviews
  3. Collaboration on Social Platforms (Forums, Blogs, Communities, Social Networks)
  4. Realtime Social Shopping on Facebook

Looking at social commerce from this evolutionary timeline is useful, because it offers businesses exploring social commerce an evolutionary approach to deploying social commerce; start by deploying stimple forward to a friend features and shared wishlists, move onto user ratings and reviews, then facilitate/curate user collaboration on social platforms before offering realtime social shopping.

Defining Social Commerce

Posted by Bill Zujewski on Feb 11, 2010 11:06:16 AM

Archived from

I’m often asked, what is Social commerce?  I’ve come up with my own definition… “Social Commerce is about customers having the means to interact with one another in order to make better buying decisions.”   It is nothing new, but has recently exploded with the ease of communication and collaboration on the internet, the growing use of smart phones and the popularity of social media.  The evolution of social commerce on the internet has gone something like this:

  1. Started with eMail a Friend and Shared Wishslists
  2. Moved on to Ratings & Reviews
  3. Now evolving to collaboration via forums, blogs, communities, social platforms like Twitter/Facebook
  4. In the future, I predict eTailers bringing shopping to Facebook and experimenting with real-time consumer-to-consumer collaboration & co-shopping

Selling online is evolving faster than most eTailers can keep up with and social media is making matters even more complex.  I’ll state the obvious:  The biggest change in online shopping… shoppers are now in control, not the merchants.  In fact, social media gives consumers an easier way for their voice to be heard strongly.  Clearly shoppers are more influenced by what they hear from other consumers, their peers, friends and family than from merchants.   They are less influenced by the information provided by retailers, advertisements and general vendor claims.   Merchants realize this and I predict more eTailers will invest seriously in “social listening platforms” to understand what people are saying about them and their brand across the internet.  The good news for merchants, software/SaaS solutions are emerging to solve this problem.

So what’s the biggest change related to social commerce.  In my opinion, it’s the fact that new social media is making it convenient to tap friends and family.   The purchase process is evolving to something like this:

1) The shopper begins the research phase with a wide net.   (Google search for product information, visits to comparison sites, visits to manufacturers and retailers sites)

2) The shopper looks for what other consumers and experts think (Ratings and reviews on sites, eOpinion sites)

3) The shopper taps friends and family to see what they think (Usually when people get close to pulling the trigger, they tend to lean on friends and family. This step was often skipped in the past because of time lag and inconvenience.  But people can now easily visit facebook, tweet, IM, Text Message, etc.   Access to their network is ubiquitous and instanteous.)

This ability for shoppers to collaborate in almost real-time will change how eTailers sell.  I’m already starting to see the early signs of co-shopping / co-browsing on a site or shoppers chatting over facebook to make a buying decisions.  It’s no surprise the virtual world continues to mimic the physical world.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how merchants are using social media today.  I’ve documented almost 20 tactics!