Why the “Want” Button Doesn’t Work for Social Commerce

When you’re in the market for a new camera, or a backpack for your 2nd grader, chances are you’ll search Google or Amazon for the product you want, and then scan for the cheapest deal or the best-reviewed product. You might also go directly to a favorite retailer’s Web site and search for the product you want.

Where you probably won’t look for this product is in your social stream.

Social product discovery and social commerce have very little in common with the considered purchase process described above. Social commerce is better at delivering discovery-driven impulse purchases. Products or services you weren’t necessarily looking for come to your attention in your social stream, you check them out and if you’re interested, you click “Buy.”

This impulse purchase behavior is a huge part of retail spending offline — retail marketing association POPAI reports that impulse purchases accounted for 55 percent of retail sales in 2011.

So the question is: how can we optimize for social discovery-driven impulse purchases?

Most social discovery is driven through a combination of an initial post in the social stream and a follow-on conversation around that post from users of that social network who react to the post. To create more discovery, you have to move both levers: Encourage as much posting as possible and create mechanisms that cause additional interaction downstream. While there are a number of user engagement mechanisms that generate social posts, some work better than others at generating discovery-driven impulse purchases.

At Payvment, we’ve mapped the different types of social engagement mechanisms onto a social engagement curve to show the level of user effort, or “friction,” as well as the viral reach of each mechanism.

At the top of the curve are automatic, frictionless mechanisms such as “Listen”: these require little or no action by the user and thus generate a high volume of posts and social stream interactions. As you move down the curve, a bit more is asked of the user — for example, clicking on “Like” publicly shares a personal preference about a post, a brand or a product with the user’s friends and network.

By introducing more user friction into the mix, the volume of posts decreases. For someone to click “Want” or “Own” on a product, for example, they have to be willing to share both a preference and intent with the rest of the world — introducing quite a bit of user friction. Finally, at the very bottom of the curve are mechanisms that require you to not only share a preference and intent, but also invest your personal friend “equity” into the sharing action, such as “Invite friends,” which only a small percentage of people will be willing to do.

Let’s look at how these different engagement mechanisms work in a social commerce context.

Frictionless Mechanisms
At the very top of the curve are frictionless sharing mechanisms, such as apps automatically posting to your feed when you listen to a song. While these are the most lightweight mechanisms, frictionless sharing doesn’t work for every type of action. People may be fine sharing what music they’re listening to, but are typically less interested in having everyone know what they’re reading: The majority of Facebook users opt out of frictionless sharing news reader apps when presented with the Facebook permissions dialogue box. Even popular sites such as Huffington Post only have a 28 percent acceptance rate.

When it comes to commerce, frictionless sharing also doesn’t really work — most people don’t want their friends to see every product they’re browsing. Imagine shopping for gifts and having it shared to all your friends automatically.

Lightweight Mechanisms
Further down the curve but still near the high end are lightweight engagement mechanisms, with the most pervasive lightweight mechanism being the “Like” button. While a “Like” may perform well when it comes to initial engagement, it is less effective in provoking response in the stream, because “Like” has become a generic and somewhat meaningless action. In the commerce context, it’s also not a clear signal of user intent around a product or service.

New mechanisms are being introduced that allow people to offer a quick opinion about a product in a way that is more purposeful than a “Like” but lighter-weight than a “Want.” For example, on Lish.com, shoppers can react to products with a smiley-face, a meh-face or a frowny-face. These are more lightweight (and fun) stand-ins for the star ratings systems we’re all familiar with on other product sites — and are very effective at driving engagement in the social stream.

Intent-Based Mechanisms
Near the bottom of the curve are intent-based engagement mechanisms, such as “Want,” “Buy,” and “Own.” While some social commerce technology companies like Payvment and recently eBay have added “Want” buttons to product listings, with several months of data in hand, we’ve actually found that the “Want” button is less compelling for users in a social commerce setting, for several reasons:

  • “Wanting” something is typically tied to a considered purchase process, not the serendipitous discovery process that brought the person to the product in the first place.
  • As with the frictionless sharing buttons, people are not enthusiastic about broadcasting their product purchase intentions/preferences to their social network.
  • People are also concerned that clicking a “want” comes off as an indirect ask to be gifted the product — and don’t want to be perceived by their friends as greedy.

So, which engagement mechanisms work best for social commerce? Payvment data shows that lightweight, emotive ratings systems such as the Lish emoticons work better to drive engagement than “Likes” or “Wants.” Tracking engagement across our base of nearly 200,000 sellers, we found that smiley-faces, meh-faces and frowny-faces generated 5x more shopper clicks per session than our previous “Want” and “Like” buttons.

We also found that a “Want” post performs poorly at driving the kind of downstream interaction in the news feed that causes virality and boosts social discovery. Our data showed an average of 3x more follow-on “Likes” and Comments for the Lish emoticon posts compared to a “Want” or “Own” post. This level of downstream engagement is critical to driving broader discovery in the social stream.

If we’re going to be successful using social discovery to drive meaningful commerce revenues, we have to drive broad social discovery by giving people easy ways to work up the engagement curve and engage in conversation — smiley-faces lead to comments, which lead to dialogue, which leads to purchase. Conversations and purchases create a relationship between the seller and the shopper, which leads to more sales. Clearly, starting the initial interaction with “Want” is not the way to ease people into this progression up the curve.

Refining these lightweight interaction mechanisms is critical to achieve the full potential of social discovery for online shopping. We’ve been at this for three years and continue to see substantial gains by investing to create a powerful intersection of people, products and conversation.

Jim Stoneham is CEO of Payvment. He joined Payvment from Yahoo, where he led the Communities business (Flickr, Answers, Groups, Delicious) as well as key parts of Yahoo’s overall social offering, including the integration of Facebook and Twitter into Yahoo products. Before Yahoo, Jim was a founder of Tangibility, a consulting firm focused on start-ups and new business ventures in the consumer products, Web services and social media spaces. He also spent several years starting and leading businesses at both Apple and Kodak.


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