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Social selling: will this ecommerce trend mean retailers can ditch their websites?

27 May, 2015

online retail

Social selling is an approach to internet retail (currently dubbed a “hot new trend”) that allows retailers to capitalise on social media interest in their products and offer more immediate conversion mechanisms. More broadly speaking, social selling is a new approach to online selling that prioritises the building of relationships through the selling process.

But how does social selling work, and how is this new method different to existing ecommerce sales campaigns through social media?

A bit of background on selling through social

Back in 2011, I blogged about the emerging ‘social retail’ or ‘social commerce’ trend – the growing practice of brands (particularly online retailers) using social media platforms to conduct e-commerce transactions – and in 2012 on whether SMEs should invest in social retail.

Back then, social retail was all about generating interest, and directing customers back to ecommerce website shops to fulfil their orders.

The role of social media in building brand awareness and generating consumer interest for retailers is well documented. I wrote last year about the Heck sausages social media campaign, and how the family-run sausage business used social media to double sales and secure £1m growth capital. Well thought-out, integrated social media campaigns can generate huge returns on investment for retailers.

Image courtesy of yorkshiretimes.co.uk

Image courtesy of yorkshiretimes.co.uk

Social retail (or social selling) has now matured into a much more long-term relationship building process, often now accompanied by order fulfillment direct through the social media platform itself.

How does social selling work?

In its broadest sense, the social selling process encompasses any mechanism by which retailers use social media to generate interest in products, then convert that interest to a sale.

A direct social selling process can be as simple as: A seller posts an image or other content about a product on a social site, such as Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest, with instructions for interested buyers. When someone sees the product and wants to buy, they simply post SOLD and their email address in the comments section. The site then sends them an invoice with payment and shipping information. The seller just needs to have the social selling platform enabled to allow the function to work (and the ability to fulfil the order).

instagram logo

This article on Kabbage gives some good tips on how to use social selling, along with examples of businesses already achieving success.

What are the benefits of social selling?

As social media becomes more and more influential in the consumer buying process, retailers who do not begin building a good quality social media presence and active community now will quickly get left behind.

The immediacy of the social selling process means that buyers can act in the moment to make a purchase without having to spend time searching online to find items they have seen elsewhere.

Both big brands and small retailers are already seeing good results from social selling. Small businesses, especially, can utilise the process to make a truly personal connection with their customers. The psychology behind why social selling works is explored in this interesting Forbes article.

What does this mean for the future of online retail?

Social media is now a vital part of a successful ecommerce strategy, and anything that takes products closer to the user and makes a more personal connection with them can only be a good thing.

But will social selling eventually negate the need for an ecommerce website? I don’t think so. While selling through social platforms can be great for generating new business, my belief is that consumers will always feel reassured by the presence of a high quality ecommerce website that they can refer back to for more information.

Many retailers may also feel uncomfortable handing over the control, integrity and security of their main sales channel over to another company (the social platform owners), some of whom have come under fire in the past for their handling of user data and their content copyright rules.

I think we are likely to see social selling grow and become more influential over the next couple of years. And I’m excited to see where the technology goes! But my belief is that retailers should ultimately view social platforms as part of the sales funnel rather than the end in itself.

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