All Articles Marketing Digital Technology Spotlight on social commerce: Taking stock of the social department store

Spotlight on social commerce: Taking stock of the social department store

4 min read

Digital Technology

This Spotlight on Social Commerce series is brought to you by Bazaarvoice, bringing the power of social commerce to the world’s best brands. Once a month, this blog will focus on the tactics, best practices and trends on the intersection of social media and commerce.

There was a time when department stores were at the cutting edge of retail. They integrated services and pioneered mail-order catalogs. Their role in the economy changed during the 20th century — first with the rise of suburban malls and then with the advent of online shopping. But there’s no reason department stores couldn’t lead the way again with the rise of social commerce.

Normally, this series looks a single leading company’s practices in the social commerce space. But in this case, I think there’s value in comparing the different ways department stores have approached the challenge of social commerce. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just be looking at traditional department stores. Discount department stores, outlet stores and warehouse clubs will have to wait for posts of their own.

J.C. Penney made headlines last December by linking its catalog to its Facebook page. The move was unusual in two respects. First, it’s a full retail experience that allows purchases to be made without leaving the social network. Most brands selling products through Facebook offer a limited selection or push you through to another website when the time comes to make a purchase. Secondly, many of the brands using Facebook as a sales platform are primarily online retailers, whereas J.C. Penney has more than 1,100 physical stores. There are plenty of exceptions to one rule or the other, but few brands defy both conventions.

It’s not a perfect social shopping application. J.C. Penney requires users to like the brand before they can view the store. The practice, sometimes called “like-gating,” isn’t inherently a bad idea. But if a brand is going to require users to make that connection, it should use that connection to provide value to the customer. At the moment, there’s no sign of personalization. The only social feature in the store in the ability to share an item with your friends. I might find that useful if I were trying to decide between two ties, for example, but there’s still a lot more the brand could be doing to bring “social” into its social commerce efforts.

Sears is frustrating because it has every element of a great social shopping experience, but it chooses to split that experience among several channels. It has brand engagement on its Facebook page, product reviews and community engagement on its site and online shopping on its main page. The experiences aren’t integrated, so they all feel like one-third of the puzzle. Granted, it only takes one click to get from reviewing that lawnmower to buying it — but in a world, that’s not a click anyone should have to make.

Macy’s has opted to integrate product reviews on Facebook, but not direct online shopping. You’ll still need to click through to the store’s website if you want to buy that china set you’ve been reading reviews about. The comments I made about Sears apply here, though having a barrier between your social presence and your traditional website is more common than having a barrier between two halves of your website.

Dillard’s is much more conventional. You can’t buy anything directly from its page. You can engage with the brand and, if you feel inspired to check out their wears, you can click a “Shop Now” tag that offers you a choice of departments, than redirects to the appropriate page on the brand’s main website. That’s about a bare-bones as social commerce gets — I almost hesitate to use the term. But it’s worth mentioning because I think it sets a reasonable floor for online retailers. Even if your brand doesn’t have a huge Facebook presence or the money to develop a full social shopping app, you can still help fans who find you on Facebook migrate to your e-commerce site with minimal fuss.

How else can department stores innovate in the social commerce space?

Image credit: TommL, via iStockphoto