The holidays are almost upon us, and recent surveys confirm what many business owners have suspected: social commerce, and the use of mobile channels, is increasing and will have a huge impact on 2014 holiday shopping behaviors. The shift toward social shopping highlights trends that impact both business-to-consumer and business-to-business (B2B) purchasing.
As reported by MarketingLand, mobile and social channels will play a significant role in holiday shopping this year. In an online survey of 1,000 smartphone owners, sponsored by MarketLive.com, one in three shoppers stated they plan to make more than 50 percent of purchases via mobile devices. Thirty percent of respondents reported having made a purchase as a direct result of “engagement with a social networking site” within the past year. This is up from 18 percent the previous year.
And, as consumers become increasingly web and mobile-savvy, and vocal in their online reviews of their likes and dislikes, we will begin to see what some are describing as the “consumerization” of business-to-business purchasing behavior. So, while not all consumer shopping activities translate to the B2B purchasing model, many do.
Enough to make social commerce worth paying serious attention to.
“Be prepared for buyers and users to become more aware of what and who comprises the competitive landscape for your industry,” says leading authority in buyer insights and buyer personas for B2B Marketing, Tony Zambia. “Each new introduction of digital technology and services has an impact on buying behavior.”
Consistency is Crucial
Consumers have become increasingly savvy, and conduct research before shopping using both mobile devices and desktop computers. “Shoppers state that they favor brands that present a unified message across touchpoints, making consistency a crucial differentiator this holiday season,” reports MarketLive.
So, what do consumers mean by consistency?
According to survey results, shoppers want to see the same pricing across all retail touchpoints, including websites and social networks, email offers and instore promotions. Ninety percent of survey respondents reported consulting Amazon to check prices—even when they’re purchasing from another online site.
Survey participants stated they’re looking for:
- Consistent product pricing
- Free shipping offers
- Promotional discounts
Close to 80 percent of survey respondents said product assortment was also important; in particular, 45 percent of shoppers said that a comprehensive product assortment would encourage them to purchase more on mobile devices.
When asked what might compel them to complete a purchase on a social networking site (like Facebook) this holiday season, 66 percent cited free shipping offers, 59 percent mentioned exclusive discounts available only to members of that network, and 58 percent indicated rewards or loyalty points would be influential in their decision making.
Online Reviews More Important Than Ever
Business owners understand the importance of positive word of mouth and, by extension, the power of the online review. Today’s consumers are influenced not only by the recommendations of their family, friends and colleagues, but by the recommendations of members of their social networks and the online reviews they read. “Ninety percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews,” according to a survey released in 2013 by Dimensional Research.
Tony Zambito predicts the “consumerization” of business-to-business purchasing will continue to grow if B2B review sites such as G2 Crowd and Trust Radius proliferate and become more widely accepted. Both G2 Crowd and Trust Radius offer comparisons of the best business software and services based on user ratings and social data. Online reviews are provided by business users who log into the sites from their LinkedIn accounts, giving the reviews extra credibility since they are not anonymous. “The advancement of transparent reviews will accelerate new rules of purchasing within this context,” says Tony Zambito.
Marketers Are Responding To Increases In Social Commerce
According to new research from web-based social marketing platform, offerpop.com, the holiday social shopping fever will include an expected $602 billion dollars in holiday spending, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year.
Offerpop states that 92 percent of marketers plan to spend the majority of their social marketing budgets on Facebook this season, although 73 percent believe that Instagram is the “breakout social network” for 2014. And, while marketers are keenly aware of new and emerging social networks and apps, they are not rushing to try untested social networks this season.
Shoppers’ mobile use in research and buying is exploding, according to cloud-based social commerce engine, Bazaarvoice. Currently, 8 in 10 smartphone owners are smartphone shoppers. Bazaarvoice projects that by 2016, 85 percent of all digital shoppers will be mobile shoppers as well.
As the world goes increasingly mobile and digital, maintaining a bridge between online and offline social selling will be vital. Among the strategies in place for the 2014 holiday selling season are:
- Use of omni-channel marketing
- Responsive websites
- Increase in social referral programs
- Mobile-friendly emails, forms, and websites
- Differentiating the in-store experience from the online experience
“Forrester Research estimates that 49.5 percent of total U.S. retail sales today are impacted by the web in some way -- comprised of both direct eCommerce sales and U.S. retail sales influenced by shopping activity of some kind conducted online before consumers buy in stores or elsewhere,” says Rob Garf, of Wired Magazine. “Forrester predicts that eCommerce will reach $371 billion by 2017 in the U.S. alone, when it will account for 10 percent of all retail sales,” he says.
How will these changes impact the B2B marketplace? It remains to be seen, although savvy business owners will be keeping a weather eye on the changing consumer social selling landscape. “B2B companies will be faced with tough choices. One of those is whether to embrace this new digital technology service — or not. Despite the uncomfortable transparency involved, it may be one which not embracing can send the wrong signal to customers,” says Tony Zambito.
The world is changing and with it the purchasing behaviors of shoppers everywhere. Business owners will do well to pay close attention to the successful strategies and tactics employed during the 2014 holiday shopping season. This year may be the turning point for mass adaptation of social commerce with online research, with planning and mobile shopping becoming the norm.