Does the Future of Online Shopping Lie in Social?

Leave it to the world’s largest online retailer to ratchet up the relationship between shopping and social media. Earlier this week Amazon launched #AmazonCart, a new way to shop that allows consumers to add products to their Amazon shopping carts within Twitter. If a user tweets about an item and includes an Amazon product link, others need only reply with the #AmazonCart hashtag to save the item in their cart for later.

The idea, of course, is to make online shopping more convenient. Users can squirrel away items while they’re top of mind, and without having to leave Twitter or conduct an additional product search on Amazon. As ClickZ reports, Amazon will inform shoppers of the status of the items in their cart, including whether or not an item is out of stock, by way of a confirmation tweet.

There are a number of things to consider with regard to Amazon’s plan. On the consumer side, there’s the question of whether Twitter users will embrace the service. Since the exchange plays out entirely on Twitter, what they add to their carts is public knowledge, and that may not sit well.

Remember Facebook’s Beacon? If the public’s reaction to that ill-fated feature is any indication of how social media users feel about sharing their purchasing data online, #AmazonCart may take some getting used to. Less than a month after Beacon launched in 2007, Facebook modified the program to give users more control over how (and if) online transactions from such sites as Fandango and eBay were shared. By 2009, however, the service was shut down completely, ultimately doubly shamed by a class action lawsuit and Facebook chief executive (CEO) Mark Zuckerberg’s admission that Beacon was a “high-profile mistake.”

It’s worth noting that #AmazonCart’s service is entirely optional, and that beyond promoting Amazon proper there’s no advertising component to the program as of yet. Still, small and mid-size businesses whose products are available on Amazon will no doubt be looking for ways to include a product link in their tweets with the hope that it will lead to future buys. Media buyers, too, are bound to experiment with the links in their Promoted Tweets as an alternative to their standard call to action.

The groundwork has already been laid. An infographic from social media management dashboard MarketMeSuite shows there’s a direct correlation between what consumers see on social media and what they buy online and in stores. Eighty-one percent of online shoppers say posts made by friends on Facebook and Twitter influence their purchasing decisions. Four out of 10, meanwhile, have made a buy after sharing or favoriting an item on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Social media has become a research tool, and one that’s even more valuable to the decision-making process than search. Like search it allows users to glean information about products and brands, but it also includes the almighty personal referral. For years research firms like Nielsen have been reporting that word-of-mouth trumps all. Ninety-two percent of consumers surveyed around the globe confirmed that they “trust earned media” like recommendations from family and friends more than any other form of advertising.

According to a report from Technorati Media, the majority of consumers follow brands on social sites in order to learn more about a product or service (56 percent for Facebook, and 47 percent for Twitter). That number is much lower (21 percent for Facebook and 15 percent for Twitter) when it comes to making a purchase on a social site, but the degree to which users rely on social media for product information and referrals could help to push them past this barrier in the years to come.

#AmazonCart’s effect on online shopping will depend on a number of variables. Consumers must voluntarily link their Amazon and Twitter accounts before they can take advantage of the service, for example, and that may cut down on the number of potential users. Still, #AmazonCart will undoubtedly change the way consumers view shopping in relation to social media moving forward.

We may not be on the cusp of an e-commerce revolution, but for marketers and media buyers, this is the new service to watch.

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