The Seven Types Of Mobile Social Commerce

Until recently, I used to put mobile social commerce in the same category as Woody Allen's blockbusters and Rick Perry's bad hair days; it's something that couldn't possibly exist. When defining it properly and exploring the possibilities, though, it turns out that mobile social commerce is flourishing.

The concept of social commerce can be taken literally, as in making a purchase directly through a social media property. This can be done, such as renting "The Big Lebowski" and watching it on Facebook. That's happening now, but as a revenue stream, it's insignificant. Far more important is the degree to which content shared through social media is influencing purchasing decisions, which is happening on a massive scale, as illustrated by a stat roundup on Social Commerce Today.

Mobile social commerce operates in the same way. The limitations are even more pronounced, though. For instance, when Burberry offered a sampling program through Facebook, it had to post a disclaimer that the sample couldn't be requested through mobile devices. Similarly, few people are going to read someone's tweet or Google+ post or Tumblr update and follow a link to make an impulse buy right from their iPhone or Droid. Still, social media is profoundly influencing commercial activities through mobile channels.

As I discovered when researching a report on the subject just released by my agency, 360i, most forms of mobile social commerce fit into the seven categories below:

1) Reviews

Consumer testimonials are hardly new, and it's hard to imagine making a remotely significant purchase online or offline without consulting them. Marketers that incorporate reviews into their websites already also tend to do so with their mobile sites and applications. Popular review sites such as Yelp  and TripAdvisor have seen much of their growth come from mobile applications, and startups like SpotOn and Bizzy are adding their own twists.

2) Check-ins

Foursquare is most effective when local businesses can attract nearby shoppers to their stores. As is typical for mobile programs, most of the real impact on sales will happen offline. Foursquare's partnerships with daily deal sites indicate that check-ins alone probably aren't enough of a draw for consumers. We'll see in the coming year how strongly Facebook pushes Places; the degree to which Facebook tries to compete here will indicate how vibrant the check-in field is.

3) Daily Deals

At this point, most daily deal sites aren't particularly social. Even LivingSocial, which has continued to rely on social media to spread the word of its deals, is far more anti-social through its mobile application. It's possible, and even likely, that social dynamics will return as a major driver, but for now it's only worth including here because of the perceived role of social media.

4) Q&A

The promise for local question and answer services is that questions are directed to people who are physically at specific locations, or to people who have visited enough to offer some expertise. Localmind currently offers the best way to ask locals questions, but there's not yet enough scale to guarantee relevant and timely answers in return.

5) Style Feedback

One of my favorite applications, more as an observer than a consumer, is Go Try It On. You take photos of yourself and get feedback on your clothing and accessories. I did a test over the weekend with two different dress shirts, and most of the dozens of votes came in fast enough that I could have used it to determine my outfit that day. Its mobile app is extremely easy to use, as is rival app Fashism. This genre is largely a haven for teen girls and younger female adults, and in time this is the kind of technology that's likely to change how some people shop. Of course, some girls are using it more to flaunt themselves than their apparel.

6) Shopping Feedback

It's possible to use apps like Go Try It On in a store's dressing room, but they're more typically used at home. Other apps are focused solely on soliciting feedback on purchases, such as MyShopanion, which allows users to seek friends' opinions about products whose barcodes they scan.

7) Collecting

Another favorite app, Pinterest, was the subject of a recent column, while Pose is a sort of hybrid of Pinterest and Go Try It On. Find something you love, snap a photo, and add it to your collection. Even though the Pinterest craze started online, it's easy to see how the mobile version should prove to be especially popular over time.

Consider these seven collectively as a starting point. Mobile social commerce is bound to evolve. In time, it will be possible to make purchases directly through social networks' mobile sites and applications. It will be possible to receive better deals if you share them with friends who are in close proximity to certain retail locations. It will be possible to use near field communication (NFC) to share purchasing activity as soon as transactions are completed. All of this will lead to more literal and tangible versions of mobile social commerce, if it turns out that's how consumers want to shop. There's no need to wait, though, given all of the opportunities marketers have to use mobile social media to impact purchasing behavior today.

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