What Is Social Commerce?

19 Social Commerce Definitions

Social commerce is the evolution and maturation of social media meets shopping. With an ever-increasing number of consumers researching purchases online, especially social media sourced and created content, it’s no surprise that marketers are following their customers to support the purchase process.

While shopping has always been a social activity by its nature, the combination of engaged social media platforms and smartphone owning shoppers has streamlined and facilitated this process.

To help you better understand social commerce and it’s impact on your business, here are nineteen definitions by a variety or social media and ecommerce experts.

  1. Social commerce is a subset of electronic commerce that involves using social media, online media that supports social interaction and user contributions, to assist in the online buying and selling of products and services. More succinctly, social commerce is the use of social network(s) in the context of e-commerce transactions. The term social commerce was introduced by Yahoo! in November, 2005, to describe a set of online collaborative shopping tools such as shared pick lists, user ratings and other user-generated content-sharing of online product information and advice. Wikipedia
  2. Social commerce is the act of consumers with similar interests, passions and needs collectively engaging in conversations related to products and services that satisfy those interests, passions and needs. Those conversations usually segue into several types of actions, such as recommending the products and services to more of their peers, and ultimately the purchase of those products and services. Influencers, those who are perceived to “be in the know”, can have a great impact on the direction of the group’s actions. The initial group of consumers may or may not know each other dependent on the forum (Facebook vs. Yelp vs. a party at someone’s house), however it’s their shared interest that ties them together. Julie Barile – Fairway Market
  3. Social commerce is the marriage between social media and e-commerce, the next evolution of online shopping where consumers fuel the purchasing funnel of your brand. With the explosion of social media in the last few years we are seeing how purchase intent and actual purchase of products and services are being affected by social referrals; whether that be people we know like our friends or even strangers. Think of how many times you have bought something on Amazon based on the reviews of complete strangers.  Both discovery and consumption of the products and services we buy online are being fueled at the core by social media.  The next phase is tracking actual social referral to actual conversion to purchase anytime, anywhere.  In an effort to continue to reach consumers, retailers have turned to social media to enhance the shopping experience. Some retailers have even launched e-commerce Web sites within Facebook to give consumers convenient and relevant shopping experiences. Andrew Beranbom – Extole
  4. Social commerce can be defined very broadly or narrowly. In the broad sense, social commerce is how marketers leverage social media to influence consumers’ shopping behavior, spanning product consideration, purchase intent, the transaction itself, and post-transaction advocacy and retention. In a narrower definition, social commerce involves tapping social media with the goal of increasing transactions, whether through a marketer’s digital presence or other social media properties. Depending on the marketer’s goals and interests, discussions and strategies around social commerce can be broader or narrower, and it’s quite possible that social commerce will be used more to indicate the former and social shopping to indicate the latter. David Berkowitz – 360i
  5. Social commerce is the technologies that facilitate interactions between people who like to buy stuff. In some ways “social commerce” online is no different than “social commerce” offline…the reason that malls have survived e-commerce is because they serve an important social function that extends far beyond simply being a place to buy stuff. Going to the mall isn’t about buying stuff as much as it’s about getting together with other people in a place that facilitates interaction and provides entertainment/escape: group “retail therapy.”

    What makes social commerce different online is the potential scale, reach, and ease of sharing/connecting. Getting together with 100 of your friends at a physical mall is tough…getting together with them online isn’t, especially if you can do it asynchronously and in the comfort of your own home. While “social commerce” is ostensibly about buying stuff, it also fills a need for social interaction and entertainment. Sean Carton – idfive

  6. Social commerce is shopping-oriented social media marketing that touches buyers before, during and after their purchase. It encompasses a broad array of options including group buying, social shopping, mobile apps, retailers adding social features, and shopping integrated into social media.
    1. Changes how products are brought to market.
    2. Builds brand awareness cost effectively
    3. Expands target audience.
    4. Enhances product discovery/awareness.
    5. Creates social media content.
    6. Enables peer recommendations.
    7. Expands relationships with others who share your tastes.
    8. Offers group buying opportunities.
    9. Develops social shopping opportunities on social media platforms.
    10. Links bricks and mortar stores and social connections through use of mobile.

    Heidi Cohen – Riverside Marketing Strategies

  7. Social commerce is commerce generated via social recommendation. Traditional B2C marketing ads deployed on social networks does not qualify as social commerce. Social is all about connecting with friends. Retailer need to think about how they can convert their existing customers into brand ambassadors, sharing and recommending products they have bought to their friends. That is the key to unlock social commerce. Rob DanielsonShop Socially
  8. Social Commerce strategies, at the highest level, are aimed to digitally connect audiences together to drive direct sales of product. Sam Decker – Mass Relevance
  9. Social commerce is a phenomenon that has changed the way we think of online shopping. Where online shopping is traditionally personal and private, social commerce encourages sharing. Take shopping via daily deals sites. When it comes to daily deals, there is a sense of urgency because of time limitations, but there are also huge discounts with each purchase. Along with these limitations and discounts, consumers are often rewarded when they share deals – with receiving incentives such as referral credits. Consumers are also inclined to share these deals because it allows them to be seen as an expert, a pioneer and a valuable online connection. That being said, social commerce is just that – social. Jere Doyle – Prospectiv
  10. Social commerce, in the direct sense, would be the ability of consumers to purchase products or services directly (or with little effort of more than say 2-5 clicks away) from interaction within a social community. It also can have some mobile attributions as well, so marketers should be well aware of the affects mobile devices are now having on social commerce as well. Now there are also companies doing social commerce straight from their social community profiles, such as being able to book airline tickets or hotel rooms without leaving the community like Facebook. This too is another example of social commerce. Liana Evans, Author of Social Media Marketing: Strategies for Engaging in Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media
  11. Social Commerce is harnessing the vitality of the consumer conversation on the social web in service of driving customer acquisition and sales (traffic, conversion and average order) as opposed to Social Media which is in service of driving brand reputation (e.g. strength and stature) and marketing communication (e.g. awareness). Cathy Halligan – Power Reviews
  12. Social commerce is online shopping made easier and/or more useful by social media integration. F-commerce, enabled by the Facebook platform, is the most widespread example of social commerce. Dave KerpenLikeable Media, Author of Likeable Social Media
  13. Social commerce is creating places where customers can collaborate online, get advice from trusted individuals, find gifts and services and then purchase them.  Its old school grass roots retail marketing but now online and on an exponentially larger scale. Jon Mandell – 1-800 Flowers
  14. Social commerce is anything social in the physical world utlizes the connections and relationships with others, therefore social shopping is to make purchasing decisions in a contextual way.  This could be everything from physically browsing together to reacting to personal recommendations or simply culling information from social media in order to choose.  Social commerce is the ability to exploit those community ties to make a shopping experience more personal and relevant for the individual. Maryssa Miller – Create The Group
  15. Social commerce in simplistic terms and by definition of the word social- would imply that this would be an activity that would be done with people and with the understanding that the transaction should be completed within a social media platform.

    Any social commerce shop should have the capability to; share, like, tweet, comment, review and buy on the platform. Because ultimately Its about getting people talking and sharing and buying.  Anything less is just traditional e-commerce in sheeps’ social clothing. Joelle Musante - Payvment

  16. Social Commerce is the transactional subset of Socialnomics. Socialnomics defined as the value created and shared via social media and its efficient influence on outcomes [economic, political, relational, etc.]. Simply put: Word of Mouth on Digital Steroids! Erik Qualman,  Author of  Socialnomics 
  17. Social commerce has evolved naturally over time as social communities have gained greater influence on our lives and online purchasing has become more convenient, It’s next phase, which has really just gained momentum, is collaborative commerce. Offline group purchasing is a common occurrence and it’s finally gaining traction online. Justin Stanislaw – Giftiki
  18. Social commerce is social behaviour driving purchase that defines the category and the rest is just semantics; in terms of the means by which the purchase takes place. Leila Thabet – We Are Social
  19. Social commerce is when you invite your target audience to play an active role in the “merchandising” of your product or service.  This participation can be in the form of feedback and reviews, enhanced content (uploaded user photos), group buying triggers (e.g.: Groupon, etc.), viral word-of-mouth promotion (e.g.: via Facebook share and/or like buttons) or group discussions (forums, tweetchats, etc.) relating to a particular product or service category.  I believe the benefits of social commerce include greater transparency, community “support” of your purchase decision (if everyone else likes it…then I should too…or vice versa) and generally higher levels of trust for that particular merchant. Larry Wasserman, Senior Ecommerce Executive

Regardless of how you define social commerce, it a sure bet that it will continue to influence your online and offline merchandising related to shopping. While the basic framework of social commerce exists, it will continue to evolve as consumers’ adapt to using it more and social media become more integrated across businesses.

How do you define social commerce? Do you agree or disagree with these nineteen definitions? Please add your insights in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Here are some articles related to social commerce and shopping that you may be interested in.

Here are some other definitions to help you.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mahalie/416984595/

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  • http://www.turntonetworks.com George Eberstadt

    I’m partial to the definition Paul Marsden and Paul Cheney use at http://socialcommercetoday.com/:

    Social commerce is the use of social technology in the context of commerce: Helping people connect where they buy and buy where they connect.