This post comes from a recent interview with Veronika Sonsev, CEO of inSparq, a social commerce platform provider. Ms. Sonsev is a digital technology veteran who worked as an executive for AOL and mobile advertising company Jumptap. She is also a co-founder of Women in Wireless and the WIM Accelerator. Her company, inSparq, partners with retailers and brands to create innovative social commerce solutions.
SCT: In your opinion, what is the current state of social commerce?
VS: Overall, the industry is still new and the social aspect is really young for most retailers. New entrants like Fab.com, Modcloth and to some extent Gilt have been very successful implementing social as a strategy to acquire new customers and better engage current shoppers. However, most Internet Retailer 500 companies have done little more than put sharing buttons on their site. This creates a really exciting growth opportunity for our industry.
SCT: Am I correct in understanding that your company focuses on helping retailers make their sites more social?
VS: Yes, that’s correct. inSparq partners with retailers and brands on innovative social products. Inspired by retailers like Fab and Modcloth, we built a social commerce platform that includes Social Sharing, Refer-a-Friend and Live Pinboard. We also offer customized social solutions to grow sales.
SCT: What role does discovery play in the current social commerce landscape?
VS: Let me start by explaining the difference between directed shopping and discovery. Directed shopping is when you know you want a specific pair of jeans by a certain designer and you’re trying to find the best price – ecommerce serves these types of shoppers very well. By contrast, Discovery shopping is when you’re looking for an outfit to wear on Friday and you’re not sure what to buy.
So the challenge for retailers is to recreate an experience that’s similar to consumers going to a mall and talking with retail clerks and friends about what they should wear on Friday. We believe discovery is the biggest opportunity for growth for commerce overall but, up to now, it hasn’t really existed for online commerce.
SCT: How does inSparq help enable product discovery?
VS: inSparq developed a product called the Live Pinboard specifically with discovery in mind. It lives on the retailer’s site and provides a Pinterest-like visual display of products that are trending real-time. It helps customers make purchase decisions by surfacing the most popular products on the site and allowing customers to share and comment on products they love. Customers can also filter by category, price or other criteria. This creates social validation that helps customers discover items they love but didn’t know they want.
You can see an example of this product on C. Wonder. inSparq is in the process of launching three more retailers in the coming month.
SCT: There has been a good deal of discussion among social commerce practitioners about whether a brand should insert itself into the social conversation or get out of the way and let people do the sharing. Is it a both/and or either/or scenario?
VS: Getting your customer to advocate for you will always be more powerful than advocating for yourself. That doesn’t mean that brands shouldn’t engage with customers that like the brand on social networks – that is still very effective marketing.
However, getting their customers to sharing products with friends is much more organic and can have greater impact on results. It’s important for brands to give their customers easy tools that enable this type of social advocacy. It’s also important for brands to create areas where their customers can express their opinions about the products like reviews, Facebook comments or a feed of trending products.
SCT: What value do social networks provide retailers?
VS: It depends on what brands are selling and who their audience is. The approach should be different depending on the social network being used.
Facebook is a social tool that fosters conversation. Brands that learn how to sell things within the context of social engagement can be successful. If you use it as a way to leverage the conversation, it works well.
People are using Pinterest more for inspiration, usually tied to something they are planning or doing, so there is more of a purchase intent. It’s less of conversation for the sake of conversation than it is a conversation around an item. If you’re a fashion brand with good photography, Pinterest performs really well.
Twitter is more about “news” than general discovery. Other channels generally work better than Twitter, unless the retailer is offering highly discounted prices on a product. Those are perceived as news and do very well.
SCT: Today, there is increased emphasis on ROI and the challenge for social commerce is to prove its value in that regard. Is this an area where inSparq places emphasis? If so, what metrics do you believe are important and which do you provide?
VS: Retailers are very ROI focused. They are always evaluating different marketing channels and expect at least a 10X return on dollar spent.
inSparq provides analytics that customers need in order to use social commerce tools more intelligently. We have taken great care to supply metrics around two critical areas where our customers focus – acquiring new customers and converting existing customers into more sales.
Specifically, we highlight what people are sharing and clicks associated with that. We also showcase the products are most viral. This is important because, if a retailer know which products are more popular, he or she feature them better. In addition, we help merchants find their most influential customers so they can engage with them in a more robust way.
SCT: Thank for taking time to speak with me today. Any final thoughts?
As you can imagine, we’re very excited about where the e-commerce industry is heading in terms of social commerce. We think there is a tremendous opportunity for retailers to leverage social as a marketing, engagement and discovery vehicle.