Social networks to become shopping destinations

By Rob Lever, AFP

WASHINGTON — They’re not just for sharing any more: Facebook and Twitter are now looking to play a bigger role in shopping. Both major social networks have unveiled plans to start using “buy” buttons on their sites, which could start having an impact on “social shopping” in the coming holiday season. The idea of using social networks such as Facebook to promote e-commerce has been around for some time, but so far has failed to deliver much. Facebook had some short-lived programs for “digital gifts” and another programs selling virtual goods via Facebook games. “Social commerce,” stemming from reviews or referrals from social networks, is expected to hit US$15 billion by 2015, according to the research firm Invesp. Some analysts see a natural connection between social networks and shopping, since users often discuss products and brands in the messages. “Sharing is a fairly reliable indicator of what people are going to buy,” says Andy Stevens, head of strategy and research for Share This, a company that produces a sharing button for websites and analyzes social media trends. A study by Share This found that among “Millennials” born in the 1980s or 1990s, 55 percent will click on content shared by their peers, and often use these social media recommendations to decide what to buy. “People are waking up to the possibility that regular customers are using social networks as part of the decision-making process,” Stevens told AFP. ‘Untapped potential’ A Harris survey released last month by the marketing firm DigitasLBi found just five percent of Americans have made a purchase on a social media site, but that 20 percent would consider doing so.

“Our study reveals tremendous untapped potential for growth in social commerce, especially among younger consumers,” says DigitasLBi chief executive Tony Weisman.