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Social has helped e-commerce to establish a personal connection with customers

In one of the panel sessions at ad:tech New Delhi 2012, e-commerce experts, social media experts and marketers discussed the potential of the social medium for brands and how they can exploit the same.

It was another gathering of experts and yet another discussion on how social media is changing the landscape of e-commerce. On the final day of ad:tech New Delhi 2012/02, a panel comprising Narasimha Jayakumar, chief operating officer, e-commerce, Homeshop18; Kirthiga Reddy, director, online operations, Facebook India; Ramesh Chembath, assistant vice-president and head, marketing and modern trade, Godrej; and Ishita Swarup, chief executive officer, 99labels discussed how e-commerce initiatives must use the social medium to forward their brands. The discussion was moderated by Rajan Srinivasan, senior vice-president, Web18 Software Services.

Social has helped e-commerce to establish a personal connection with customers
Social has helped e-commerce to establish a personal connection with customers
Social has helped e-commerce to establish a personal connection with customers
Social has helped e-commerce to establish a personal connection with customers
Social has helped e-commerce to establish a personal connection with customers
Srinivasan began the discussion by saying that shopping has intrinsically been a social habit and it has always been about conversations - offline and now, online.

Swarup, in her opening note, spoke about the initial challenge faced by 99labels to reach out to its target audience, women.

"Two years back, statistics showed that women were not online. E-commerce for women did not exist. The only place where we found women was on Facebook. Hence, we had to use social to reach our target audience," she said.

Swarup said that for sites like 99label, social is the preferred platform to reach and engage since the social ID usually tends to remain the same, even while people may change e-mail IDs frequently.

Reddy questioned how well e-commerce sites are using the social medium and suggested that the businesses really need to rethink the social strategy, put people in the centre of things and innovate and rebuild the experience.

Chembath spoke extensively about, a Godrej portal for online gaming, virtual reality and social networking. The initiative, he said, was started after the observation that the company's consumers were only getting younger and this was the best way to connect and engage with them.

He said through social media, the company addresses the different needs of customers and once people with some sort of commonality are reached, the company can explore and exploit the available opportunities.

Chembath insisted that for Godrej, at this point, is not a site for commerce.

Jayakumar, on the other hand, explained how Homeshop18 arrived on the social front only after it had its infrastructure and basics in place.

He said that for a business that is two-fold - on television and online - the strategy had to be different for both. "We think of social as the engagement platform. We have tried to build our basics, our infrastructure, made sure our consumers are happy and only then have we done social and engaged," said Jayakumar.

When asked how many users are really willing to move from 'Click and share' to 'Click and buy', Reddy explained how Facebook is helping brands bridge that very gap.

"Online behaviour is nothing but a reflection of your offline behaviour. When you see an ad (on Facebook), the fact that one of your friends likes it brings a whole new element of trust," she said.

The moderator asked Chembath if there was any difference between the traditional social and the digital social shopping.

Chembath replied that there is a huge shift that is taking place in consumer behaviour. According to him, consumers are no longer followers and they will not buy a brand because another has it. They are willing to experiment and would rather go online and research, he said. And, because of this shift, social is a platform that helps businesses to sell better, he noted.

Explaining the difference in the level of interaction on Twitter and Facebook, Swarup said that 99labels adopted the latter before to acquire customers, interact, engage and ensure a satisfactory customer service. At the same time, she also added that one cannot have too many Facebook posts, which is where Twitter helps with quick conversations.

"We are doing a lot of listening on Twitter," said Swarup.

Jayakumar agreed that Homeshop18 is also using social media to primarily listen to its customers. He added that Twitter is a better platform to have quick conversations with loyal customers.

Swarup also said that according to her, it is best that social strategies are handled in-house because brands interact better when they understand the customer better. She further explained that 99labels is a dynamic business, there are cost implications to hire an agency that would best serve the business' social media needs and the fact that the company likes to engage personally.

Ending the discussion, Reddy said that social media has helped e-commerce businesses to establish a personal connect like never before. Seeing the fundamental benefits of the medium, she said that it would only serve the best purposes of e-commerce to have a sound social strategy.

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