Harnessing Social Commerce: The Wild West of E-Commerce

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E-Commerce and the 30-Year Learning Curve

Since the mid-1990s, we’ve been optimizing e-commerce sites using experimentation, testing, design and continuous adaptation. It might not feel like it, but that’s more than 30 years of optimizations and collective learnings.

In those 30 years, we’ve come a long way. Standard ways of merchandising and selling products online have emerged and become familiar to consumers: The homepage, category page, product detail page, cart and checkout are all very familiar and well accepted, as is the process used to drive consumers down the funnel to a conversion.

The E-Commerce World Is Ever Changing

But the world is changing. The rigid sales funnel of the past, where most shoppers landed on the homepage then progressed down the site, is not relevant when we think about social commerce. Social is where many shoppers now discover products, perhaps via influencers, through posts shared by friends, or promotions by brands. Product discovery has shifted away from search engines and homepages to the edge. Edge touch points are now the start of many shopping journeys, and the sales funnel was not designed for this.

When customers click through from social to the brand site, they are likely to get a poor experience; social shopping journeys haven’t benefited from the 30 years of optimization, and this is evident in what consumers experience. The result: More than eight out of 10 shoppers complain of poor landing experiences when clicking through from social media.

The Pitfalls of the Product Detail Page

While almost three quarters of customers prefer to check out on the brand site rather than on the social network, this also benefits the brand since, unlike customers that checkout on social platforms, the brand owns the customer data. Most brands will refer the shopper straight to the product detail page, which was never designed for landing traffic. But for many visitors, the product detail page is a very bad place to land because it’s effectively a dead end, and customers still considering a purchase and wanting to explore other items will inevitably end up bouncing off the page.

If they’re ready to click the buy button, then all is good, assuming always that the product is available. Product availability though is a persistent problem, which again turns the product detail page into a dead end.

While this has been made more acute by COVID-related shortages, it’s a problem that we have seen before. Wander through any shopping mall and browse the products in the window displays. These products are designed to drive footfall into the store and are carefully merchandised to maximum effect. And it works: Customers go into the store, buy the products displayed in the window, and hopefully, buy other items while in-store as well. The in-store planogram layout will ensure that they have to navigate past many other products carefully positioned to catch their eye. But a common experience is that the products in the window are no longer available. Having been featured prominently, sales for these products then jumped, resulting in faster-than-average sales and limited availability.

Popular Promotions Heighten Out-of-Stock Challenges

Online it’s the same. As soon as you promote a product, it gets more visibility, and as a consequence, it also gets more traffic. But as promotions progress and succeed, a disconnected experience is common, as the promotion schedule is not in tune with the inventory position, and out-of-stock issues increase. In the online world as well, there’s an additional problem compared with in-store merchandising. When the shopper clicks through from social, they probably land on the product detail page. There was no other merchandising on their route to tempt them (as you’d find in-store), so if the product is out of stock, they’re headed for disappointment — and likely a bounce off the site. The alternative is to link to the category page where the customer then can’t easily find the product they were looking for.

Rethinking the Product Detail Page

So how do we solve these issues? Social media represents a big opportunity to acquire new customers, but we have to think through the customer journey after the click on the social post.

The starting point for this is to rethink the product detail page, putting yourself in the shoes of a brand new customer discovering your brand for the first time. You’re going to want to change the product detail page to make it more suitable for landing traffic; this means lengthening it significantly with other products and categories that may tempt the visitor not to bounce. While this seems like a simple solution, there are a couple of challenges with it. You may not want to change a page that works well for your traffic coming down the traditional sales funnel. You may have already tested your product page and optimized it for conversion and be reluctant to add in additional content. Adding potential distractions from the buy button could reduce your conversion rate; therefore, this is something you should test, not just roll out without running a proper A/B test. The second issue to consider is what other products and categories to add in order to tempt the visitor. In an ideal world, they should reflect the context that got the visitor to click on the social post in the first place. This requires dynamic, visitor-specific content rather than a generic “You might also like” recommendation. This increases complexity significantly.

If you don’t want to change your product detail page, the other option is to route your social traffic to a different page. Traditionally, this would be a landing page dedicated for that campaign, but the short-lived nature and the number and frequency of social campaigns make this especially hard.

Building a dedicated landing page for each social post or ad isn’t practical for most brands due to the time and effort required to create one. An alternative is to create a version of your product detail page specifically for landing traffic. This enables you to experiment to find the formula that works well for social traffic, without affecting your regular conversion funnel traffic. It also means that you can tweak this page for each campaign without having to create a page from scratch each time.

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