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The 7 Species of Social Commerce

Social commerce, sometimes abbreviated as “s-ecommerce,” is a term often used to describe new online retail models or marketing strategies that incorporate established social networks and/or peer-to-peer communication to drive sales. Or, as marketing consultant Heidi Cohen more succinctly defines it, it’s “social media meets shopping.”

But several well-known social commerce sites predate the popular rise of social networks by more than half a decade. eBay, a peer-to-peer selling platform founded in 1995, is one of them. Epilogue, a 13-year-old site that allows users to post, discuss and sell their own fantasy and sci-fi art, is another.

Today, social commerce denotes a wide range of shopping, recommending and selling behaviors. We’ve done our best to group them into seven categories, but would love your feedback to improve them in the comments section below.

Seven Types of Social Commerce

  1. Peer-to-peer sales platforms (eBay, Etsy, Amazon Marketplace): Community-based marketplaces, or bazaars, where individuals communicate and sell directly to other individuals.
  1. Social network-driven sales (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter): Sales driven by referrals from established social networks, or take place on the networks themselves (i.e., through a “shop” tab on Facebook).
  1. Group buying (Groupon, LivingSocial). Products and services offered at a reduced rate if enough buyers agree to make the purchase.
  1. Peer recommendations (Amazon, Yelp, JustBoughtIt): Sites that aggregate product or service reviews, recommend products based on others’ purchasing history (i.e. “Others who bought item x also bought item y,” as seen on Amazon), and/or reward individuals for sharing products and purchases with friends through social networks.
  1. User-curated shopping (The Fancy, Lyst, Svpply): Shopping-focused sites where users create and share lists of products and services for others to shop from.
  1. Participatory commerce (Threadless, Kickstarter, CutOnYourBias): Consumers become involved directly in the production process through voting, funding and collaboratively designing products.
  1. Social shopping (Motilo, Fashism, GoTryItOn). Sites that attempt to replicate shopping offline with friends by including chat and forum features for exchanging advice and opinions.

The Future of Social Commerce

Social commerce is still in its infancy. None of the major social networks — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest — have yet figured out how to bring transactions directly to their platforms, instead directing retailers to use earned and paid media to bring customers to their online storefronts.

Online retailers, too, are continually experimenting with new models and marketing methods to allow for greater peer-to-peer and group-based interactions, aware that recommendations from friends (and to a lesser degree, strangers) can play a powerful role in shopping. According to Gartner, 74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide their purchases.

As these models are tested and proven to increase sales and customer satisfaction, more will be incorporated. Just look at the number of sites, from to, that now include product reviews from purchasers. “Like” and “Pin It” buttons are increasingly popping up sites to encourage shoppers to share their finds with their online networks, as well. And established retailers including Nike and ModCloth are allowing shoppers to take a great role in the production process, inviting them to design their own shoes (Nike) and vote on what designs are stocked in store (ModCloth).

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