Is the UK ready for social commerce?

Ebay, one of the world’s biggest ecommerce brands, has said that the UK market isn’t yet mature enough for social commerce, despite commitment from brands such as Dell and Disney.

Phillip Rinn, director of advertising partnerships at Ebay UK, said British consumers aren’t ready for social commerce, and the auction site is instead testing ways in which social media more broadly could fit into a transactional website.

This is in contrast to commitment from big-name brands including Dell, Disney, easyJet and P&G, which have launched social commerce services and tools or plan to over the next year.

Dell has been using Twitter to sell computers since 2007 and earlier this year said it had made $6.5m via the profile since it launched, while Disney was the first brand to sell cinema tickets directly through a Facebook app to US consumers.

But Ebay’s Rinn said, “For us social is probably not where it could be. We’re using Twitter and Facebook but haven’t fully embraced them. We’re in a testing mode to see how social fits into a transactional mindset. Social shopping isn’t yet mature in the UK.”

Likewise, Alex Marks, head of international business marketing at Ebay Advertising, said that although social media is important for retailers, it doesn’t need to be a separate focus.

“I don’t think social shopping needs to take a foothold because it’s by definition a social activity and a retailers’ experience should be worth talking about,” he said.

David Smith, operations director at online retail trade body the IMRG, said there are still some doubts from retailers, whose focus in social media is on reputation management.

“For a lot of retailers there are other channels from which they feel they can get a better return on investment,” he said.

However, Sienne Veit, social and mobile commerce development manager at M&S Direct, said Marks & Spencer is investing in social media because of demand from consumers.

“I don’t think anyone has yet come up with the perfect solution but our customers have a propensity to shop in this way,” she said. “The more people access social media the more this will be the case. The potential lies with the link between social and mobile, which is where we’re already seeing good results.”

Will Dymott, head of ecommerce at men’s fashion retailer Lyle & Scott, said the problem lies in a lack of definition around social commerce. “Ebay was one of the pioneers in social functionality by introducing feedback on sellers,” he said. “The problem is that social isn’t defined yet because it’s so new. It can mean either using Facebook to sell or including customer reviews.”

Facebook, expected to announce its 500 millionth user imminently, is due to roll out its credits service beyond beta trials this September. Brands and agencies said it could become a challenger to big online retailers because it can use social information for targeting and recommendations.

Jim Clark, senior technology analyst at retail analysis firm Mintel, said social networks could pose one of the biggest threats to Ebay.

“It has become paralysed by the fact that it now has a massive audience but has moved away from its roots as an online car boot to become a high street aggregator,” he said. “Social networks also have the added benefit of products being recommended or people buying directly from friends.”

This story first appeared on

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