Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Integrating social media with online retailing
Article Type: Internet currency From: Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 28, Issue 4
Edited by Dennis A. PittaUniversity of Baltimore
Few consumers see what lies behind the scenes when they shop online. They see what is roughly analogous to the outside of a vending machine. There are areas to view available items, select them, and a place to pay for them. Admittedly e-commerce web sites provide complex and sophisticated variety, description detail, and purchase options. They now even supply comments from past purchasers rating their satisfaction with the item. All in all, the front end employs powerful consumer appeals, an attractive shopping environment, great convenience and even a consumer friendly return policy. Since 2000, specialized vendors of e-commerce services have learned how to design robust back offices that perform the business processes accurately and effectively. Their efforts helped numerous companies start their own e-commerce web sites. Dotcoms became increasingly common. Originally, the key for a successful brand on the web was to have a unique, easy to remember and short domain name. The task involved securing a “perfect name” like Southwest.com as well as similar names like Southwestairlines.com. However, consumers” ease with shorter domain names mandated that you had to get, SW.com also. Sometimes the names were there for the taking and could be registered easily. Sometimes, enterprising “squatters” registered potentially profitable names and sold them later for a price to late comers (Kennedy, 2007). No matter what how little or much expense and trouble was involved, once a company landed a domain, it was the URL it used in all of its marketing (Ostrow, 2009). All of the efforts relied on consumers finding them on the web using search engines and the task was so important that companies sought advantages to exploit. As a result, a few years ago, online retailers were concerned with the search terms embedded on their web pages. They were optimized to appear near the top of the results found by search engines (Brown and Spencer, 2009/2010; Leonard-Wilkinson, 2004).
Developments in social media have occurred in parallel. The social web has proliferated with Facebook passing 500 million active users (Facebook, 2011). In fact, trying to access the Facebook.com web site for the corporate information that other domains provide is difficult. As a Facebook user, searches default to my Facebook user page. Moreover, Facebook notes that 50 percent of its active users log on to Facebook in any given day and each user averages 130 friends. Coverage in terms of people is startling. What is even more interesting is the time that people actually use Facebook. The company estimates that individuals spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. With its immense reach and frequency of user visits, it presents an alternate to the standard web site. Beyond Facebook’s size and ease of access, it has another advantage: social interactivity. Ordinary web sites are also interactive but are limited to one user interacting with the web site. Facebook allows users to share their interactions with a company via shared posts to their friends, expanding the reach considerably.
Companies that use Facebook can design games or discussions that stimulate consumer interaction. For example, in 2009, Vitamin Water, a bottler of, as the name states, water with vitamins added, designed an opinion poll focused on the year’s NBA, national basketball title series. It used Facebook instead of its Vitaminwater.com home page. It named the best player on each team and asked users to vote who was the most valuable player in the series. The results were far-reaching and complex. Vitamin Water exploited some of the characteristics of the Facebook page since a user who voted had the option to publish that vote as well as an explanation back to his or her own page. Thus friends would see it, might also vote, and become fans of Vitamin Water. Using Facebook, the brand’s influence grew.
As a measure of how Vitamin Water seems to value Facebook, one can look for the company home page. Notably, when searching for Vitaminwater.com, searchers are directed to the company Facebook page. The corporate web site must be accessed through, www-vitaminwater.com/ which the company treats as a secondary site. It channels people to its Facebook page and invites non-members to join Facebook.
How do e-commerce marketers integrate their operations into the popular social media? Some specialized firms have bridged to social media integration. They can use their expertise to help established e-marketers integrate social media into their operations while avoiding potential pitfalls. One of those companies is SortPrice.com.
SortPrice.com was founded in 2004 and states that is one of the fastest-growing shopping search engines on the web. It employs advanced technology, a simple interface and provides effective customer support (SortPrice.com). It has helped companies capitalize on the new trend in marketing: social commerce. SortPrice was the first to offer an application on Facebook for merchants and has built custom stores on Facebook fan pages for more than 1,500 national retailers. That makes SortPrice the largest e-commerce application developer on Facebook (Felipe, 2011).
SortPrice based its efforts on the e-commerce feature, Facebook Platform, which Facebook introduced on May 24, 2007. Platform provides a framework for software developers to create applications that interact with core Facebook features. Facebook also introduced a specialized markup language, Facebook Markup Language, to customize the “look and feel” of applications that developers create. Using the Platform, Facebook launched several new applications to add user functionality and reinvented itself. It went from a web site consumers used to interact with each other to a full-blown marketplace in which consumers could share experiences and impressions, could communicate events, place classified ads and access Facebook based e-commerce retailers. Currently, nearly one out of every four retailers using the Merchant Store application has a “Find us on Facebook” notification on their own web site. That is evidence that more e-commerce entities are integrating into social commerce (Hartzer, 2010).
Facebook statistics note that more than 2.5 million web sites have integrated with Facebook, including over 80 of comScore’s US top 100 web sites and over half of comScore’s Global Top 100 web sites (Facebook, 2011). Even to the uninitiated, the results are impressive.
SortPrice Store Application for Facebook Platform
The SortPrice Store Application for Facebook Platform is the vehicle by which the company became the largest e-commerce application developer. SortPrice introduced the Store Application in 2008 and it is the longest-running tool of its kind on Facebook Platform. The application lets retailers display product listings on their Facebook Pages for shoppers to browse and share. The listings include photos, descriptions, and seamless direct links to their own web sites. The 1500 retailers include merchants of every size offering many types of products. The application is proving to be especially helpful to many smaller and mid-sized ecommerce outlets that are using it to integrate their Facebook fan pages with their online stores. The aim is to raise brand awareness and drive overall traffic (Hartzer, 2010). The company’s communications department cites its success with the 1,500-plus retailers using its application. It represents more merchants than any other social commerce application. In addition, 2010 was its biggest year with more than $3.78 billion worth of merchandise sold on SortPrice-built Facebook storefronts, an impressive amount.
Implications for marketers
Facebook Platform is not well known among consumers. They do not really need to know much more than they can access e-retailers’ products from within Facebook. However, Facebook’s combination of reach, specificity, information sharing potential, convenience and allure make it a platform that far sighted marketers have already used. Others will probably find it important to have a presence on Facebook Platform. Many of them may find that SortPrice’s Store Application for Facebook is the vehicle for gaining that presence. If Facebook becomes passé, things may change, however, it maintains an attraction that seems to be growing and a power for e-commerce that is undeniable.
Please forward all requests to review innovative internet sites to: Dr Dennis Pitta, University of Baltimore, 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-5779, USA. Alternatively, please send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org for prompt attention.
Brown, B.R. and Spencer, S. (2009/2010), “Essential tools for SEO”, Multichannel Merchant, Vol. 5 12, December/January, pp. 16–18
Facebook (2011), “Statistics”, available at: www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics (accessed March 21, 2011)
Felipe, D. (2011), SortPrice.com press release, March 15
Kennedy, N. (2007), “Every good domain is taken. Here’s why”, May, available at: www.niallkennedy.com/blog/2007/05/domain-squatting.html (accessed March 21, 2011)
Hartzer, B. (2010), “SortPrice Store Facebook Application tops 1000 retailers BillHartzer.com”, Search Engine Marketing, March 25, available at: www.billhartzer.com/pages/sortprice-store-facebook-application-tops-1000-retailers/ (accessed March 18, 2011)
Leonard-Wilkinson, T.A. (2004), “The ‘right’ keywords”, Intercom, Vol. 51 2, February, pp. 31–4
Ostrow, A. (2009), “Is social media making corporate web sites irrelevant?”, May 25, available at: http://mashable.com/2009/05/25/vitamin-water-kobe-vs-lebron/