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An Introduction to Social Commerce
Social Commerce is a new phenomenon that has taken the
e-commerce world by storm. Unlike many technologies to emerge over the
years, social commerce has had a rapid adoption. A few years ago, Facebook,
Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn were not common terms in our vocabulary. Few
could have predicted how pervasive the social technologies have become not
only online, but also in our daily lives.
Put simply, social commerce is the concept of
word-of-mouth, applied to e-commerce. Social commerce has taken
word-of-mouth where it never really existed before, the online shopping
world. Customers now are looking for ways to leverage each other’s
expertise, understand what they are purchasing, and make more informed and
accurate purchase decisions. Retailers need to understand their customers
and what they expect out of the shopping experience to develop a successful
social commerce strategy.
This whitepaper will focus on the definition of Social
Commerce, the benefits of social commerce to retailers, the different
components and how IBM has enabled Social Commerce in WebSphere® Commerce
The Basics of Social Commerce
Social Commerce is the marriage of a retailers products
and the interaction of shoppers with the content. It comes in many forms,
although the most common and adopted is online ratings and reviews. As the
use of the internet has evolved, shoppers have increased their expectations
of the retail interaction experience. It is no longer enough to have
standard product descriptions with static text and standard descriptions.
Shoppers want detailed product descriptions that include product
specifications and information on how the product works; instructions and
how-do tips and videos. Essentially, shoppers are looking for more
information to gauge the value they get for their money with specific
products. Shoppers have transferred the social in-store shopping experience
to the online experience and now, expect an interactive and more social
Today’s shoppers are looking for transparency from
retailers. Providing the opportunity to share knowledge, insights, thoughts
and opinions ensures that retailers are offering a more social experience
online and adds significant credibility to a website. As retailers introduce
social commerce to the online experience, it is critical be authentic and
genuine when speaking to shoppers, who are passionate about products and
The social web is here to stay, it’s no longer a young
adult phenomenon. In fact, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is
now woman between the age of 45 and 55, who also happen to hold a big piece
of a family’s purse. By personalizing the experience, retailers can engage
shoppers and transform them into brand advocates.
Social Commerce Impact on Retailers
In many cases, retailers were on the forefront of social
technologies such as enhanced conversion rates after integrating ratings and
reviews into product pages. Conversion rates are one of three primary
benefits retailers can enjoy by pursuing a broader social commerce strategy.
By making their entire retail experience social, and leveraging the unique
components of social commerce from a technical, application and strategic
perspective, retailers can turn their sites into communities, where
conversations flourish around brand, product, and lifestyle-oriented content
– creating a larger, more vibrant, and more effective online experience
leading to return visits and increased sales.
As shoppers have adopted social technologies, merchants
and manufacturers have responded by providing features such as ratings and
reviews and integration to Twitter accounts, where shoppers share promotions
and new products. Companies are innovating the shopping experience with
social technologies such as a Facebook store and integrated social
campaigns. Social Commerce is redefining the way brands and retailers are
interacting with customers.
The Key Components of Social Commerce
Social commerce can deliver several key benefits. Fist,
social commerce drives new online visitors. By deploying a social,
search-optimized content on their sites, retailers organically can increase
their search engine page rank and attract site visitors through the
multitude of new access points created by this content. Custom content with
product relevant topics, categories, and lifestyles – whether created by
users or professional content creators – can drive new traffic to the site.
For example, a home and garden retailer hosting an article about “How to
Build an Outdoor Deck” would attract users searching for related terms on
major search engines – in turn acquiring highly qualified new site visitors.
Retail strategists and marketers should examine content as broadening the
top of the marketing funnel – building traditional “awareness” – not through
print ads or network TV spots, but rather through today’s corollary: search.
Understanding the science of deploying SEO-friendly content is key: even the
top position on the second page of Google search results gets less than 1%
click through rate.
The second benefit of implementing a social commerce
strategy is increased engagement. This engagement is created primarily by
integrating social applications into the core site experience of a retail
website. By giving shoppers the right tools to interact with product and
lifestyle-related content on their social commerce destination, retailers
enable those shoppers to build preference for that content and the products
and brands represented.
User profiles, groups, blogs, forums, photos, videos,
comments, ratings, reviews and recommendations are all critical social
applications which can be customized, combined and deployed to power a range
of user experiences, including:
Shopper Show-and-Tell – Blogs, photos, and comments
enable shoppers to share their product experiences ,which helps provide
informative perspectives for prospective shoppers making purchasing
decisions about the product
Product Page Discussion – Ratings, reviews,
recommendations, and comments power Q&A-type experiences around
products, enabling shoppers and staff to interact around product
features, benefits and use cases.
Project Journals – Photos, user profiles and blogs
enable shoppers to establish product journals that chronicle the use of
How-to Guides – User, employee and expert-created
articles and videos provide shoppers with valuable, influential
information on product usage, and provide retailers with a wealth of
informational reference content.
In addition to integrating these social applications into
the core site experience, retailers should create and deploy custom
applications designed to enable entirely new engagement opportunities on the
site. Custom applications deliver a new experience for shoppers and build
long-term preference for the site as a destination and should be tailored to
fit that particular retailer’s business or brand. For example, for a health
and lifestyle retailer, a custom application might be a calorie counter – an
application that would provide shoppers with a rock-solid, benefit-laden
reason to visit and re-visit the web site (or corresponding mobile
application) on a daily basis, further engaging that user with the online
The third and final benefit to social commerce is that it
can drive conversion among new, engaged visitors. By leveraging social
technologies that allow shoppers to discuss product benefits, features and
use cases, retailers enable those shoppers to influence each other in the
purchase process. Nielsen reports that 70 percent of people trust
recommendations from unknown users online, while Forrester has shown that
nearly half of US online adults read ratings and reviews at least once per
Other social commerce strategies are more creative, and
deliver huge potential for increasing conversion rates. For example,
effective deployment of descriptive content – whether user reviews,
comments, blogs, or professionally-written product descriptions – in a
search-optimized fashion can bring in shoppers with high intent to purchase
from long-tail search phrases, searches which typically signify high
purchase intent compared with more generic product search terms. E-marketer
reports that a “Q1 2009 Razorfish survey of social network users found that
some 29% reported sharing their views online at least every few weeks, while
10% said they made such contributions at least every few days”. As shoppers
get more comfortable with sharing their opinions through social networks, we
are set to see an even greater impact.
Social Commerce also brings other advantages to
retailers. When customers share their opinions about product, it is
beneficial for retailers to listen and respond to feedback. When products
are poorly rated by a number of people, there is a good chance that the
product is not performing as expected or potentially a manufacturing
problem. By having visibility to these issues early, retailers can affect
customer satisfaction dramatically and reduce return rates.
Social commerce success requires retailers to adopt their
shoppers’ frame of mind. Ultimately, a retail site is like any other site
from the user perspective: users come there to consume and interact with
content. By giving users more content to consume and more ways to interact
with that content, a retailer succeeds in providing the user what they’re
looking for. In return, the retailer is rewarded with increased brand
loyalty and preference, demonstrable with higher traffic volumes, engagement
metrics and conversion rates.
Integrating Social Commerce into the Retail Software
For many retailers deploying social commerce capabilities
as part of an integrated retail software platform can bring significant
additional value. The IBM Retail Industry Framework is a software platform
that provides integration, process optimization and analytical capabilities.
It enables retailers to integrate products like WebSphere Commerce with
other solutions, and in the context of social commerce, it provides the
capability to be deployed in different channels or integrated with other
One example of using this approach would be to integrate
with a text analytics solution like the IBM OmniFind Analytics Edition. This
would enable a retailer to analyze the customer interactions in order to
gain deeper levels of insight such as understanding sentiment trends, or
identifying unusual or unexpected patterns in the interactions.
With this information available, it would help the
retailer to answer questions such as: ”What do customers love and hate about
my products?” and “What new markets and opportunities should we pursue?”
WebSphere Commerce Version 7 is a core component of the
Retail Industry Framework software platform. The WebSphere Commerce Version
7 Social Commerce capability enables the creation of user-generated content
and tracking the creation of social content for marketing and community
How IBM WebSphere Commerce Version 7 Helps Retailers
Leverage the Power of Social Media
Social Commerce in WebSphere Commerce Version 7 enables
the creation of user generated content and tracking the creation of social
content for marketing and community building purposes. The types of
user-generated content that can be created out-of-the-box include Blogs,
Social Profiles, Ratings and Reviews and photo galleries. Through platform
providers such as Pluck, additional modules such as forums, videos,
comments, and other applications can also be deployed.
Social Software providers
WebSphere Commerce requires the use of social software
providers for hosting, storage, retrieval and management (moderation) of
user generate content. There are two categories of social software that can
be leveraged from WebSphere Commerce.
On-premise licensed social software: With this type
of integration, retailers purchase, install and manage the on-premise
social software that will be used by WebSphere Commerce to store and
retrieve social content. With version 7 of WebSphere Commerce, there is
pre-built integration with IBM Lotus Connections 2.5 for this purpose.
The retailer will be responsible for provisioning the hardware and
software for Lotus Connections. The retailer also is responsible for
managing the infrastructure and configuring the software.
The Social Commerce integration with Lotus Connections
2.5 allows a retailer to enable blogs, photo galleries and social profiles
(Ratings and Reviews are not part of this offering). The key benefit to
leveraging on-premise software is that the user-generated content resides
completely within the merchant’s data center.
Social Software as a Service (SaaS): With this type
of integration, the retailer is expected to sign a Service Level
Agreement (SLA) with a vendor that hosts and manages social content on
behalf of the retailer. There is support in WebSphere Commerce Version
7.0 for two popular vendors - Pluck and Bazaar Voice. The integration
with Pluck enables the use of blogs, photo galleries and social profiles
Pluck also enables discovery, comments, video, groups, forums, ratings
and reviews, and custom web, mobile and desktop applications running on
its social application server. Integration with Bazaar Voice enables the
use of ratings and reviews with store assets. Additional SaaS vendors
may be added by extending the Social Commerce solution to a specific
SaaS vendor’s content API.
There are various reports that analyze the costs verses
the benefits of SaaS and on-premise software. This paper does not addresses
these details as retailers make these decision based on their unique
requirements. The tools for moderation of user-generated content are
provided by the social software vendor. Moderation of user-generated content
for relevance, abusive language and competitor interference is strongly
recommended for internet facing retailers.
Since the content rendered for the social widgets is not
stored in the WebSphere Commerce domain, the typical architecture for
integrating social content with store content is leveraging mash-ups. The
two broad categories of mash-up technology are:
Client-side mashups – Loosely defined this refers to
integration of content from different sources at the client (browser,
integration is used by SaaS vendors to integrate the vendor specific
social widgets in to store pages. This typically requires the use of
cross-domain transports (to side-step browser sandbox constraints) along
with DNS masking to associate the vendor’s IP address with the
retailer’s domain to allow cookies to be sent to the SaaS vendor for
Server-side mashups – With this type of architecture,
the content is integrated on the server side in the WebSphere Commerce
engine through content/data API provided by the social software and is
rendered as part of the Commerce application to the client.
WebSphere Commerce Version 7.0 uses this architecture to
integrate social content into the store pages in a vendor agnostic manner.
This gives the retailer the ability to switch providers or technology with
minimal updates to the store pages.
The social widgets as depicted in the figure above are
delivered as part of the WebSphere Commerce Social Commerce feature are
generic. These widgets can use the same themes and styles as the rest of the
store pages without any coordination with the social software vendors.
The architecture also uses a Representational State
Transfer (REST) style that allows the retailer to leverage a common social
API for extending the solution. It also allows the use of standard caching
technologies. The solution enables rendering stylized Search Engine
Optimized (SEO) representation of dynamic social content to improve the page
ranking of the store pages associated with the social content. As depicted
above, these capabilities are out-of-the box, regardless of the social
software vendor. In addition to the social software vendors supported in
WebSphere Commerce Version 7.0, it is possible to leverage the underlying
IBM WebSphere sMash technology for Social Commerce to integrate with other
third-party vendors or in-house software, without changing any of the store
There are other benefits to this solution. Since social
content always flows through the retailer’s site, they can have more insight
in terms of how social activity correlates to the shopping activity. There
are also no issues with private user cookie information flowing un-impeded
to third-party sites, because this is filtered at the server side prior to
leveraging the vendor’s data API.
The Social Commerce user interface widgets with WebSphere
Commerce Version 7.0 extend the functionality of selected available Dojo 1.3
widgets to create a versatile, customer-friendly store. These widgets are
interactive Web 2.0 widgets that render content without page transitions.
They add new functionality, changing the appearance and interaction
experience in the store.
Social Commerce contains the following user interface
ibm.social.Profile - The Profile widget is used by
shoppers to create an online community profile that contains their
personal information. The information is displayed when the social
networking content created by the shopper is displayed in the
ibm.social.Blog - The Blog widget is used by shoppers
to view the content of blog entries, create new blog entries, and add
comments to or recommend existing blog entries. Shoppers can view the
content of blog entries and mark content as inappropriate. When content
is flagged as inappropriate, it is sent to the Site Administrator, who
can view the blog entry and determine whether to delete it from the
ibm.social.PhotoGallery - The PhotoGallery widget is
used by shoppers to post photos and view photos within a gallery.
Shoppers can add comments to photos, recommend photos, and mark content
as inappropriate. When content is flagged as inappropriate, it is sent
to the Site Administrator who can view the photo and determine whether
to delete it from the storefront.
ibm.social.BookMarks - The BookMarks widget adds
social bookmarking capabilities to a store page. It is used by shoppers
to create bookmarks for store pages that contain social content and
share the social content on social bookmarking sites, such as Digg,
Delicious, Google, and Facebook.
ibm.social.Reviews - The Reviews widget is used by
shoppers to create a numeric rating with review text for a product. It
also displays the average rating for a product.
These widgets can be easily integrated in to the store
pages by including very concise XHTML snippets, such as the following
example that declares a blog widget.
title=”Item Mode Blog”
resourceId=”Sample Store Item Id”>
The widgets are loosely coupled with the store pages to
allow the store developer to associate the resource with one or more store
artifacts such as a product, category, store, gift registry or any other
uniquely identifiable entity using the value of the “resourceId” attribute.
The widgets are easily customizable and extensible using simple style
Social Commerce is about quality user-generated content.
Shoppers are looking for reviews and experiences that match their own prior
to making a purchase decision. WebSphere Commerce Version 7.0 enables the
retailers to track social activity and promote contribution of content to
foster a loyal community.
Precision marketing allows marketing managers to use the
IBM Management Center to define rules and policies focusing on frequent
contributors with various promotions using a number of criteria. Business
users can easily segment users by their level of participation in ratings
and reviews and blogs and provide them with targeted promotions. As a
shopper’s participation changes over time, they can be moved from segments
to continue to foster the retailer-shopper relationship.
Social Commerce is changing the way retailers and
shoppers interact. IBM is committed to innovate and provide customers with
new technologies and features that help retailers leverage the power of the
online word-of-mouth. IBM provides out-of-the-box integrations with
Bazaarvoice Ratings and Reviews, Lotus Connections and Pluck Sitelife to
accelerate the time to value of social commerce deployments for our
customers and powerful business user tools to enhance shopper’s active
About the Authors
Since joining Pluck in 2007, Gabe has worked in roles
across marketing and business development to move Pluck into new markets
within the social media industry. Gabe currently oversees product
marketing for Pluck, managing the company’s understanding of the social
media marketplace. Gabe holds an MBA from Oxford University and a BA in
English and History from the University of Texas at Austin.
Stephanie Bourdage-Braun is the WebSphere Commerce
Social Commerce product manager, as an avid user of social technology,
Stephanie enjoys speaking with customers about their social commerce
efforts and in turn enhancing WebSphere Commerce. Stephanie holds an MBA
from Bentley University and a BA in MIS from the Universite de
Sherbrooke. She can be reached at:
Madhu is a Senior Technical Staff Member with IBM
Corporation. His interests include REST, Web 2.0 technologies, web
caching, security and performance. Madhu is currently a member of the
WebSphere Commerce Development team and has worked on a number of
product development teams including WebSphere Application Server,
WebSphere sMash, WebSphere Edge Server and Distributed File Systems
development. He can be reached at
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