As social media expands, developers are finding ways to monetize it, making it useful for ecommerce. This is done with applications (abbreviated "apps") and widgets. Jodi McDermott, Director of Product Management for Analytics for Clearspring, a widget developing service, defines the two terms in her blog at Widgetanalytics.wordpress.com. Even though the terms "applications" and "widgets" are often used interchangeably, a widget is a program that can stand alone on any web page as long as a user has an Internet connection and a browser, while an application must be run off another platform, in this case a social media site. A widget can be an app if it is registered as a social app on a social network.
Some social media sites (Facebook for example) allow developers to program their own apps. They can do this on their own or by using development platforms like Clearspring. These apps can be customized in many different ways, and there are countless ways to use it to promote your business. Some merchants choose to create games and quizzes that relate to their business, attracting customers through entertainment. For example, Microsoft has a just-for-fun application for Facebook called Office Poke that allows users to communicate in entertaining office-related ways. Users can embezzle money from, have liquid lunch with, or throw a stapler at their "friends" who also have the app. Microsoft does not make money directly from this application, but 10,030 daily users view a link to Office2007.com, just from this app.
Recently, however, application developers and shopping carts have been working on apps that monetize these social media sites more directly than with pure entertainment and in-application advertising. These "social commerce" applications transform a profile page on a social network into an online store, complete with payment processing. Shopit, for example, is a new and prominent social commerce application with features that make it potentially viable for ecommerce merchants interested in diving into the social media scene.
Social commerce applications and widgets
Shopit is like a free hosted shopping cart for social networking platforms. Shoppers add items to their cart and go through a checkout process in the same way they would if they were using a cart, only this all takes place on a small corner of a merchant's personal or business profile page on a social networking site. This is advantageous in terms of conversion because it means a shopper can learn about a company and its products in a familiar format and buy them on the spot, without have to follow a link to an online store and search for the products there.
Shopit is by definition an application, meaning that it relies on a social media page to run. Applications like Shopit (Shopit.com) act as a storefront for merchants, selling their products directly off their MySpace or Facebook page. To put it logically, a social media app is to an online ecommerce store what a traveling salesman is to a brick-and-mortar business, bringing the products to a community of potential customers, rather than waiting for them to stop by the storefront.
Shopit also includes a viral marketing aspect. When a merchant adds Shopit as an application, or makes changes to their store, his or her existing network of "friends" is notified. In Facebook, this is done via the news feed and mini-feed functions. In this way, the application grows rapidly, said James Revell, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Shopit.
There is one problem. Shopit does not provide order management capabilities, and merchants therefore have to separately account for sales, inventory and shipping.
"Currently merchants who integrate Shopit have to manage the Shopit Store App and cart on their site independently. We are exploring the possibility of an online inventory management solution that would enable Shopit users that have a merchant shopping cart on a site to sync the two to be able to manage the inventory centrally," Revell said.
Some shopping carts are answering by creating social media software for their users that integrate with their shopping cart software, automatically updating inventory and payment information when a customer purchases an item, just as it would on their online store. These shopping cart features are geared for merchants who use the shopping carts that develop them.
Shopping cart responses
Massimo Arrigoni, Co-founder and CEO of Early Impact, the publisher of ProductCart, uses this widget on his own blog, Productcart.blogspot.com, in the right side of the page under the heading "Ecommerce Solutions." It looks very different from Shopit, even though it serves the same purpose.
Pinnacle Cart, another licensed shopping cart, has a social media app in the works, with no release date as of yet.
"Currently in the system we offer the ability for potential customers to add products to the cart from any website including social networks," Product Development / Marketing Director Craig Fox said. "In addition we are developing widgets that will expand this functionality allowing for a more relevant presentation, the ability to search and initiate the purchase process all from within the widget."
Hosted carts are also tapping into the social media. ProStores, a hosted shopping cart owned by eBay, currently allows its users to develop an API that allows them to pull the content on their storefront to any social media site. Since is an API, a merchant interested in using this feature would have to have some development experience, according to ProStores' Senior Manager for Business Development, Michael Miller.
There are many different ways to react to social media, but social commerce apps provide a way to instantly monetize them. Some shopping cart solutions provide a solution for merchants to manage inventory centrally while still tapping into social commerce. As this trend continues, developers are sure to create solutions that allow for merchants to greater optimize their social media pages.