Understanding Social Commerce: What You Need to Know Credit: Social commerce image via Shutterstock

Social commerce — or social shopping, as it's sometimes called — is no longer just an idea. As retailers of all sizes figure out how to harness the power of social media to sell directly to consumers, the e-commerce landscape continues to fracture, which presents both opportunities and obstacles for retailers.

Scott Lachut, director of research and strategy at PSFK Labs, a trends-led business innovation consultancy, answered our questions about social commerce. PSFK's "The Future of Retail 2014" report is available here.

Business News Daily: In what fundamental way will Twitter's upcoming Buy button (and similar e-commerce/social media integrations) change the way consumers and businesses approach shopping/selling?

Scott Lachut: With the growth of channels — online, mobile, social and in-store — consumers have so many ways to discover new products. It's only natural that retailers and brands look for services that enable them to meet these potential customers where they're already spending their time. At the same time, retailers can use these channels to create opportunities for customers to seamlessly browse and buy, turning nearly any interaction into a point of purchase. The key will be to ensure that they're not only targeting the transaction (when a consumer clicks the Buy button) but also creating a great end-to-end experience on these platforms that includes key aspects like customer service, fulfillment and loyalty. When you're looking to get consumers to adopt new behaviors, you only get so many chances — most will only accept a subpar experience once, so it's important to think the full engagement through before unleashing it on your customers.

BND: How will these new tools affect social media marketing strategies? Will it change the way brands utilize/interact with their online communities by making them more sales-driven, rather than marketing-driven?

S.L.: These new tools will become one more set of experiences that brands and retailers can offer their customers. But the reality is that people choose to interact with your company for a variety of reasons, and not all of those reasons have to do with purchasing an end product. Some are aspirational fans, who want content and experiences that they can share with their networks. Others may have issues and are turning to these platforms as a way to connect with a real human being who can answer their questions. At the end of the day, people are typically looking for some combination of relevancy and/or utility, and it's important that retailers and brands respect that and offer a range of experiences that tap into these behaviors and needs. Sure, it might not convert into a sale in the moment, but these interactions open the door for converting people down the road.

BND: Do you believe Buy buttons will become standard across all social channels?

S.L.: Again, I think this will become another experience that retailers and brands can begin to offer a subset of their customers who know what they want and are comfortable with these types of transactions. It certainly won't work for everyone or every product, but it can become a gateway to building a relationship with an existing or new consumer. These "Buy" experiences could end with a personal shopping consultation or product demo as well, which is certainly a way to get more people thinking about your company as an option when they are ready to make a purchase.

BND: How will social media be used to collect customer information?

S.L.: With any of these "personal interactions," it's important to treat your customers with respect, which will mean that all these experiences need to be transparent and opt-in. Someone's social footprint is harder to qualify, unless you're explicitly asking for it, which is a good step. There's certainly ambient listening that can be done on these channels, but that doesn't necessarily result in a comprehensive picture of an individual. More likely, this intimate knowledge will come from known interactions with a retailer or brand that can be added to over time — the true definition of CRM. The other scenario is that people will begin to take ownership of their personal data using services like Datacoup, meaning that it's stored in one place and is theirs to control and share with the companies they trust. In return, they'll expect some level of value, which could manifest as personalized service and experiences.

BND: Anyone can create social media accounts. What mechanisms will be implemented to verify identity when shopping on social media?

S.L.: If a company like Facebook or Google got serious about leveraging their platform as a trusted and secure means of establishing an online and financial identity (they already are, in some ways) that's one solution. Another might see unique biometric identifiers, like fingerprints or heartbeats, being paired with sensors embedded in our laptops and mobile phones to become the arbiter of identifying who's on the other side of the screen ready to complete a verified transaction. We're already starting to see a number of these solutions beginning to hit the marketplace, but we might not have all the pieces in place to connect the dots.

BND: "Shoppable" videos are very cool. What other social shopping innovations do you think the future holds?

S.L.: We're already getting close to the point where our mobile phones will become the conduits to the idea of "retail anywhere." In other words, you'd point your phone at a product you see in an advertisement, magazine or on someone's back, and image-recognition or another sensor-based technology would scan a comprehensive product database to pull up the exact product you're looking for, along with options for where to buy it. Those databases become truly powerful platforms, and you better make sure your product is searchable.

Originally published on Business News Daily.