Re-Humanizing the eCommerce Experience

In a recent post on the not-so-newness of Social Commerce, I mentioned that the concepts making online commerce “social” have been around for years. Today I read a complementary post by Craig Donato that talks about the fuzziness of Social Commerce and what we all inherently know is true:  We trust our friends and are more likely to move ahead with a purchase decision when one of them recommends a product.

What is new about Social Commerce is how it is changing the landscape of the traditional eCommerce experience. It is, as Craig points out, re-humanizing eCommerce. I think that pretty much says it all. It accounts for the slow adoption curve of the early eCommerce market. As people became more familiar with the internet and began to trust that they weren’t sending their personal information into some black hole of information thieves with every click, online consumerism took off. In the past few years, eCommerce has seen its largest increase in revenue and it’s largely due to the advent of technologies that allow a shopper to experience a more familiar, and seemingly less technology laden, experience.

We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human race. — John Naisbitt

In his decades-ago published book, Megatrends, John Naisbitt wrote a chapter on the future need for High Tech and High Touch. What he wrote about then couldn’t be more applicable and more valuable to eCommerce today. We’ve come through a decade where technology was forced on the online consumer. The online shopping experience usually isolated the shopper, forcing them into a structure made available by the web site with which they were interacting. Many times if reviews or other third-party content was available, it was moderated or purchased in order to support the action that a company wanted a consumer to take. This wasn’t necessarily a bad route to take in the past, but with the advent of online “society” that is made useful by the sheer number of participants that now includes our friends, relatives, neighbors and opinion leaders, an online consumer suddenly has a familiar environment in which to interact while evaluating products and making purchase decisions.

It may not be necessary to completely embrace a Facebook store (yet), but it is buy-button suicide to ignore the fact that the community of consumers shopping on today’s web expect to be able to interact with people they know and trust. To alleviate the possibility of a self-inflicted flesh wound, or worse, it is important to realize that any modern online shopping experience has to include social functionality. Feedback loops that help the potential customer gather opinions from their social networks are extremely valuable. As Donato points out, people are more than four times as likely to purchase when a friend recommends a product. In terms of the history of traditional commerce, this shouldn’t be so surprising. Another way to phrase this would be, “When faced with a purchase decision that doesn’t include the opinions or recommendations of friends, a person is 25% as likely to purchase a given product.”

Imagine if, upon entering the store of a High Street retailer, you were immediately sequestered from your shopping companions. That would probably make anyone a bit hesitant to buy. Online sales suffered in early eCommerce not only because the technology was new, but also because the user experience was such an isolating one. With the advent of online social technologies that have allowed our somewhat unstructured human interactions to become more common online, there is great hope for the growth of eCommerce in the coming decade. As social technologies continue to progress, companies must understand how they can employ such technologies to affect and motivate a target market to interact with, and buy from , their online shop.

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