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Convergence. The buzzword that’s used to describe things that are merging and creating synergies holding untold potential for meteoric rises in profits. At least that’s the fun side of the story. The story where the rubber meets the road is more fraught with process challenges and pitfalls than any P.T. Barnum-esque, buzzword wielding pundit cares to reveal. That’s not to say that convergence is a sideshow display that’s always oversold, but it’s usually as misunderstood, in my opinion.

Social Commerce, the intersection of Social Media and eCommerce, is being discussed everywhere these days. It’s the new bright, shiny object — and it’s worthy of a lot of the
praise and promise it receives. However, it’s not as simple as creating a Facebook page and posting status updates that link to different products. It’s not as simple as creating a Facebook “Like” button on your eCommerce site’s product pages or Tweeting about new products and events. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things, but the key to delivering the masses to your door is not leveraging your relationship with people you know, but leveraging the relationships that others have with people you don’t know.

I’m a huge Beatles fan and was actually living when they were still together, which is why, when I think about convergence, I am reminded of their Abbey Road album and the song, “Come Together”. Side note: I raised my son on the Beatles, too, and during his first visit with us to London, the first thing he wanted to do on day one was take the tube to St. John’s Wood and get his picture taken with me while walking the famous Abbey Road crosswalk. Right on. Anyway, I borrowed lyrics from the Beatles classic to illustrate my opinion on Social Commerce…

“Here come old flattop he come grooving up slowly…”

Some web shops have been slow to adapt to the changing social commerce landscape and some are only now testing the waters. Most of these slow groovers are coupled with an ongoing brick-and-mortar concern and may have some trepidation about the whole social thing. Some of those that led the charge are positioned to profit wildly, but many leading edge companies that end up in hot areas enjoy such an outcome. So, you’re not an early adopter? How can you position your company to build upon what you have in order to grow your sales and your client base? It comes down to understanding what your customers talk about, why they talk about your company or products and how their interactions could benefit sales efforts. One of the most common fears I hear from the slow groovers is their concern over what people might “say” about them online. Some companies concerns about controlling the user-generated content that might appear on social networks, blogs, twitter and how bad it might look if that content is used on a brand’s site.  On one hand, it’s a valid concern because people may say some not so flattering things. On the other hand, people with negative things to say will be saying them somewhere. Why not embrace the social interaction around your company, the good and the bad, and participate in the dialogue?

“He say, ‘I know you, you know me’
One thing I can tell you is you got to be free”

What you put into an experience will be reflected in what you gain from that experience. When it comes to Social Commerce and local shopping, the trends are pointing toward such a convergence that the goal is to blend the two so that the experience is unique and consistent regardless of the point of contact. Google’s new VP of Payments said at a recent conference, “I walked into a store and the owner greeted me by name. It made me feel good. He tells me my dad’s favorite bread is on sale. I asked for Spanish olives and he doesn’t have them but he says the store down the street has them or he’ll get a shipment Friday and he’ll deliver them to me.” That’s a positive old school customer experience — but one that can be nearly replicated using mobile technology and social media. Imagine going into a store with your mobile phone or tablet computer, seeing that they’re out of Spanish Olives, scanning the code on the shelf and instantly knowing they can be purchased down the road (complete with directions and commentary on that particular store), or you can opt right there to have them delivered to your home or a nearby store for pickup. More adventurous retailers make take this one step further and recommend competitors, along with directions, commentary and reviews on that particular store. Don’t guffaw too loudly — it approximates what Progressive has been doing for years in the insurance market. Delivering such an experience is a pretty close approximation to the more traditional interaction above, but it’s one that any connected user can experience with or without a physical store visit.

There is a catch for the online users, however. If they don’t share their location, name, or other personal information, it will be impossible for any social shopping experience to equal the experience above. If you shopped at a store on a regular basis, but never told the employees your name, you only browsed and occasionally made a random purchase, it would be impossible for the store personnel to cater to your needs, and therein lies the rub. If your online customers are craving a customized experience, they have to know you, and you them. You can offer a somewhat personalized experience by gathering social network commentary on products that are carried in a physical or online store, and that’s great, but it’s only part of what consumers are craving.  In order to get your customers and prospects to share personal data with you, you have to offer assurances that you will treat this information with the respect it deserves.  Having privacy policies and procedures in place to safeguard the data that is the foundation of your customer relationship is something that cannot be ignored.

“He got feet down below his knees…”

Social commerce is a way for people to interact with others in a way that affects their purchasing behavior, whether it be a remote interaction via a social platform such as Facebook or a unique iPhone app that combines the mobile and in-store experience. Most successful brands that are embarking on the social commerce journey still have a brick-and-mortar presence that they need to consider. People like to go places. They want to engage with a store and their social community and they’re not going to beg for it, they’ll just go where these things are happening. Utilizing social media effectively in combination with physical stores can be a very powerful experience. I recently wrote about Debenhams, a London-based retailer, that does a great job with their cross-channel efforts.

“He say, ‘One and one and one is three’,
Got to be good looking cause he’s so hard to see.”

Add this all up and it comes down to the experience, and it has to be good. Social Commerce is just another facet of an online strategy that has to deliver an exceptional and engaging user experience. From the physical store, to the web shop, to the social interaction, everything has to meld like the flavors in a long simmered Bolognese. Separate and distinct isn’t a good thing here. Endeavor to make the user experience at different touch-points feel so unique to your brand that recognizing the difference between them is a challenge. This requires that someone is actually paying attention to things on the social side of things and is monitoring customer comments and sentiment in general and responding to things as necessary.

All things considered, Social Commerce is here, and online consumers have embraced the possibilities. Knowing how to implement social commerce functionality as part of an overall commerce strategy is critical as this isn’t just a “me too” implementation.  Having experience in this area and a foundation of implemented best practices should be a requirement for any solution in consideration.  It isn’t something that can be ignored, unless you want your customers to ignore you.  Give your online community of customers the ability to leverage their online and real-world relationships while perusing your store, whether online or brick-and-mortar, and things will Come Together.