The Evolution of Social Commerce: The People, Business, Technology, and Information Dimensions

Article (PDF Available)inCommunications of the Association for Information Systems 31(5):105-127 · November 2012with 16,708 Reads 
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DOI: 10.17705/1CAIS.03105
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Social commerce is a form of commerce mediated by social media and is converging both online and offline environments. As a relatively new phenomenon, social commerce has evolved quickly in practice, yet has gained little attention in the IS discipline. With its pervasiveness in businesses and people's lives, social commerce presents ample research opportunities that can have both theoretical and practical significance and implications. This article aims to capture researchers' attention by describing the characteristics of social commerce and its potential future directions. We trace the evolutionary patterns of social commerce chronologically, based on trade articles and academic publications from 2005 to 2011. A framework that combines people, management, technology, and information dimensions is used to provide a systematic analysis of social commerce development. Our examination shows that since 2005, the year the term social commerce was incepted, assumptions and understanding of people in social commerce move from a simple and general description of human social nature to a rich exploration with different angles from social psychology, social heuristics, national culture, and economic situations. On the management dimension, business strategies and models evolve from the short-tail to long-tail thinking, with invented concepts such as branded social networks/communities, niche social networks/communities, niche brands, co-creating, team-buying, and multichannel social networks. Technologically, IT platforms and capabilities for social commerce evolve from blogs, to social networking sites, to media-sharing sites, and to smartphones. While Facebook becomes a profit-generating platform, creating the notion of f-commerce, Google and Twitter become strong competitors with great potentials. Information in social commerce evolves from peer-generated, to community-generated (crowdsourcing), to consumer and marketer co-created, and to global crowdsourced. Our examination identifies various conceptualizations, terminologies, views, and perspectives about social commerce and its relation to other well-known concepts such as e-commerce. In light of the evolution of social commerce, we provide possible future directions for research and practice.
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Volume 31
Article 5
The Evolution of Social Commerce: The People, Management, Technology,
and Information Dimensions
Chingning Wang
School of Management, National Sun Yat-Sen University
Ping Zhang
School of Information Studies, Syracuse University
Social commerce is a form of commerce mediated by social media and is converging both online and offline environments. As a
relatively new phenomenon, social commerce has evolved quickly in practice, yet has gained little attention in the IS discipline. With
its pervasiveness in businesses and people’s lives, social commerce presents ample research opportunities that can have both
theoretical and practical significance and implications. This article aims to capture researchers’ attention by describing the
characteristics of social commerce and its potential future directions. We trace the evolutionary patterns of social commerce
chronologically, based on trade articles and academic publications from 2005 to 2011. A framework that combines people,
management, technology, and information dimensions is used to provide a systematic analysis of social commerce development.
Our examination shows that since 2005, the year the term social commerce was incepted, assumptions and understanding of people
in social commerce move from a simple and general description of human social nature to a rich exploration with different angles
from social psychology, social heuristics, national culture, and economic situations. On the management dimension, business
strategies and models evolve from the short-tail to long-tail thinking, with invented concepts such as branded social
networks/communities, niche social networks/communities, niche brands, co-creating, team-buying, and multichannel social
networks. Technologically, IT platforms and capabilities for social commerce evolve from blogs, to social networking sites, to media-
sharing sites, and to smartphones. While Facebook becomes a profit-generating platform, creating the notion of f-commerce, Google
and Twitter become strong competitors with great potentials. Information in social commerce evolves from peer-generated, to
community-generated (crowdsourcing), to consumer and marketer co-created, and to global crowdsourced. Our examination
identifies various conceptualizations, terminologies, views, and perspectives about social commerce and its relation to other well-
known concepts such as e-commerce. In light of the evolution of social commerce, we provide possible future directions for research
and practice.
Keywords: social commerce, social shopping, evolution, mediation, mediatization, information model, f-commerce, g-commerce, t-
commerce, crowdsourcing, Tuangou, Groupon
Volume 31, Article 5, pp. 105-127, November 2012
The Evolution of Social Commerce: The People, Management, Technology, and
Information Dimensions
The Evolution of Social Commerce: The People, Management, Technology, and
Information Dimensions
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Along with the popularity and commercial success of social networking sites and other forms of social media, the
term social commerce was conceived in 2005, representing an emerging (and evolving) phenomenon [Rubel, 2005;
Beisel, 2006; Stephen and Toubia, 2010]. For discussion purposes, here we briefly define social commerce as a
form of commerce that is mediated by social media and is converging both online and offline environments. Social
commerce involves using social media that support social interactions and user contributions to assist activities in
the buying and selling of products and services online and offline. It represents potential merchandizing
opportunities that combine shopping and social networking activities through social media. Benefiting from the
advantages of interactive information technology infrastructure, social commerce is regarded as a new category of
e-commerce, or the birth of a “referral economy[Harkin, 2007].
Most discussions about social commerce have been in trade articles, blog posts, industry reports or publications by
practitioners. There are only a handful of academic studies that touched on some aspects of social commerce rather
than focused on social commerce as a phenomenon. Collectively, these discussions have provided bits and bytes of
forecasts, speculations, experiences, and status reports. Thus, our understanding of social commerce is scattered
and limited, and at times can be biased by certain views or perspectives. Yet, social commerce, as an emerging
phenomenon, provides ample opportunities for scholars to investigate and revalidate various issues related to the
interplay among people, management, technology and information, all of which fall within the IS disciplinary
boundary. Such investigations not only contribute to our theoretical understanding but also provide guidance and
prescriptions to successful social commerce practice.
This article provides a first step to social commerce research. In particular, we provide a systematic examination of
the evolution of social commerce to illustrate both its rich breadth and its longitudinal characteristics. This
examination is structured by a framework with four dimensions: people, management, technology, and information.
By providing such a systematic examination, we outline the landscape of social commerce practice, identify research
opportunities and implications, and hope to inspire more research efforts and outcomes in this emerging area.
The rest of the article is organized as the following. The next section introduces a multi-facet framework that
combines several important elements. This is followed by the section on A Historical Recount that takes readers
back to each year since 2005 and recounts social commerce along the four dimensions in the framework. The two
sections after that summarize the main characteristics of social commerce and highlight alternative views and
positions regarding social commerce. Finally, we point out possible future directions for research and practice.
In understanding several related disciplines that are concerned with concepts and phenomena of information with a
social purpose, Zhang and Benjamin [2007] construct a conceptual framework, named the information model or I-
model. This model can be used to illustrate the similarities and differences among several related disciplines to
examine and promote curricula and educational programs, to prescribe and evaluate research programs and
studies, and to reexamine historical cases [Liu, Benjamin and Zhang, 2007]. The I-model primarily consists of four
fundamental components that are the main objects of studies in several established reference disciplines:
information, technology, people, and organization/society. According to Zhang and Benjamin, a component of a
scientific field is the object of scientific inquiry. A field can have many components; some are more basic and
fundamental, others are less so. A fundamental component of a scientific field is essential, exists independent of
other components, and is concerned with the core of the field. Information is an object of study in library science and
information science even before information and communication technologies were invented. Technology is the core
of computer science and engineering. People are what psychologies, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists are
interested in. Finally, organization is the interest of many social sciences [Zhang and Benjamin, 2007]. Information-
related phenomena within various contexts and domains can be illustrated by the I-model in two essential senses:
(1) the phenomena can be examined or investigated along each of the four fundamental dimensions, and (2) these
four components can constantly interact and integrate with each other to form a dynamic equilibrium [Zhang and
Benjamin, 2007]. Figure 1 depicts the essentials of the I-model.
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Figure 1. The I-Model (from Zhang and Benjamin, 2007)
Social commerce as an area of research is concerned with information-related phenomena. In fact, social commerce
is concerned with all four fundamental components in the I-model. People are the fundamental drive and reason for
socialization, commerce, technological advancement, and information creation and use. According to Zhang and
Benjamin, people include those who are users of ICT, who are designers and inventors of ICT, and who manage
and influence ICT use behaviors in various contexts [Zhang and Benjamin, 2007]. In social commerce, people may
be individual consumers and sellers, small or large groups of people, or communities who are users and
beneficiaries of the technologies.
The organization and society component of the I-model is concerned with policies, strategies, management,
operation, processes, structures, and cultures [Zhang and Benjamin, 2007]. These issues are under the general
notion of “management” and are very pertinent to the social commerce territory. As with any form of commerce or
business, social commerce is directly or indirectly about eventually making profit or generating benefit. It is thus
important to consider business strategies, business models, policies, processes, and opportunities for retailers and
other entities that are perceived to benefit or profit from social commerce. To make these issues more salient and
avoid potential confusion, we use the term management to represent this component in our article.
On the technology component of the I-model, one is concerned with objects such as hardware, software,
infrastructure, platforms, applications, resources, services, and the like. Technology-based or mediated information
processing, communication, and information services are hallmarks of the digital world [Zhang and Benjamin, 2007].
This is true for social commerce as well, which is heavily mediated by technological capabilities and advancements.
Thus, we must necessarily be concerned with the technology-related aspects of social commerce.
Finally, information with a social purpose has a lifecycle that includes the acquisition or creation, processing,
dissemination, and use. The intrinsic nature of information includes information organization, form, structure,
classification, cataloging, and indexing. Applications of information in practice depend on how it interacts with other
fundamental components of the I-model, and within what domains and contexts [Zhang and Benjamin, 2007].
Information is thus a fundamental component in social commerce with an emphasis on user/consumer-generated
In this article, we use this adapted I-model framework to analyze and investigate various aspects of social
commerce and its evolution. Besides examining each component as a dimension, we will also examine the
integration, interaction, and interdependencies among the components.
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This section recounts historical events and critical turning points of social commerce as described largely in trade
articles and Web postings. In order to describe these in a structured fashion, each year follows along the four
dimensions of the I-model as much as possible: people, management, technology, and information. There are
instances, however, where these four dimensions intertwine with each other.
Social Commerce in 2005
The term social commerce is first introduced in 2005 on Yahoo! [Rubel, 2005]. Launched on November 11, 2005,
Yahoo!’s Shoposphere is the earliest attempt to plunge into social commerce [Rothberg, 2005]. Its “Pick Lists”
feature allows users to comment on and review products lists. The user-generated content makes Shoposphere like
a “blogosphere” [Rothberg, 2005].
At that time, there are many forecasts and projections for social commerce. On the people dimension, consumers
are believed to rely on peers (peer-generated content) rather than marketers (marketer-generated content) as their
information sources. On the management dimension, the basic ideas are two-fold: (1) online ads should shift from
attracting potential consumers to giving advice to consumers, allowing shoppers to discover products based on lists
by other shoppers, and (2) social commerce should move the dominant paradigm of e-commerce marketing from
short-tail thinking to long-tail thinking. A short-tail thinking strategy is to attract attention, while a long-tail thinking
strategy is to find niche products. Such strategies provide potential opportunities for small businesses to make
profits online by selling small numbers of hard-to-find items in order to differentiate themselves from their larger
On the technical dimension, social commerce is portrayed as e-commerce sites making use of user-generated
features like blogs (Rothberg 2005), or partnering with blog platforms [Rubel, 2005]. For example, Treonauts blog
provides advice and reviews on products, and its e-commerce partners then handles the orders [Rubel, 2005]. Thus,
the forecasts from 2005 regarding social commerce basically look at the potential benefits of making money by
bloggers and small businesses. On the information side, the content is peer-generated, made possible by the
emergence of Web 2.0 technologies.
Social Commerce in 2006
Several realizations and assumptions are made in 2006 regarding consumers and their needs. On the people
dimension, the first assumption is that shoppers may not always be goal-oriented; that is, they may not always have
clear ideas on what or where to purchase. This assumption maintains that knowing what others purchased would
help shoppers generate concrete shopping ideas [Tedeschi, 2006]. The second assumption is that shoppers would
like shopping with other people and investing time in socializing to generate clearer purchasing ideas [Beisel, 2006].
The assumptions about consumers are associated with the management dimension. Instead of focusing on
transactions, which is believed to be the main focus of e-commerce, businesses are advised to provide collaborative
spaces for shoppers to exchange shopping ideas, thereby enhancing their overall shopping experience. The long-tail
niche products idea for small startup retailers continues in 2006. In addition, suggestions are made for giant e-tailers
such as eBay, Amazon, Gateway and Wal-Mart to form strategic alliances with social networking sites [O'Malley,
2006] or to incorporate social functions in their websites. Suggestions on business strategies move from the stances
of small businesses to incorporate the stances of larger businesses.
On the technology dimension, several social shopping site startups are developing IT platforms during this time,
such as This.Next, Kaboodle, Wists, StyleHive, Crowdstorm, while several other startups struggle, including
myPickList, StyleFeeder, Slister, and ClipClip. The general trend is to incorporate social networking functions into
shopping activities and, at the same time, explore suitable and practical business models. Additionally, at this time it
is considered challenging to develop feasible business models for small startups. Meanwhile, Facebook and
MySpace, given their massive traffic, are both highly regarded as social networks with strong business potentials.
Yet, the challenge to realizing successful social commerce on these sites is how to connect them successfully with
e-business sites [O'Malley, 2006]. On the information side, social shopping sites support consumers by combining
research and purchasing into a one-stop activity.
It is worth noting that some use the terms social shopping and social commerce interchangeably [Tedeschi, 2006].
Others distinguish between the two concepts. Beisel [2006] defines social commerce as creating places where
people can collaborate online, get advice from trusted individuals, and find goods and services and then purchase
them. Meanwhile, Beisel conceptualizes social shopping as the act of sharing the experience of shopping with
others. Thus, the two terms are different in scope: social shopping is a subset of social commerce, and thus it has a
narrower scope than social commerce.
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Social Commerce in 2007
Social shopping sites begin to grow greatly in 2007, leading to further attempts to understand consumers and
develop suitable business models and strategies. On the people dimension, two conflicting generalizations about
social shoppers are discussed at this time. The first is that consumers are rational actors wanting to know what
friends or other like-minded individuals think, purchase, or recommend [McCarthy, 2007]. Thus, peer
recommendations seem desirable because they would trigger a sense of credibility and trust in consumers’ minds,
which in turn would make them more likely to purchase the recommended products, or to recommend the products
they learned about from their peers [Gordon, 2007]. As such, the concept of social network becomes linked to the
concepts of peer recommendations, peer trust, and credibility. Under this rational behavioral assumption, social
shoppers are rational information seekers driven by cognitive thinking. Contrary to this, the second generalization is
that social shoppers are non-rational, driven by positive affect or emotional connections to others involved in
shopping activities, and often making unplanned purchases [Voight, 2007].
On the management dimension, while the business trend in the year before 2006 is for e-commerce sites to tap into
social networking sites, the theme in 2007 is for social networking sites to tap into shopping functions. This is
evidenced by the fact that in 2007, the social networking site Facebook adds shopping services to its menu to let
members track what other members in their network purchased [Creamer, 2007]. People start to question and
explore the business values of social commerce [Creamer, 2007]. In traditional short-tail models, advertising is the
primary source of business value. However, in 2007, a new understanding is that social networking might generate
business value from different sources. Another issue is how to converge online and offline social networks to reflect
the shopping behaviors of users switching between online and offline modes [Creamer, 2007]. Focusing exclusively
on online social networks, while ignoring the offline social networks is viewed as a limitation [Creamer, 2007]. In
China, team-buying (or tuangou) becomes a form of shopping also known as “cwordsumption,” with the purpose of
gathering groups together who could then bargain with merchants [Harkin, 2007].
On the technology dimension, social commerce is considered to be more advanced than search engines. Search
engines seem to have two limitations: first, they cannot tell shoppers what their friends or other shoppers think or
purchase, and, second, they restrict small businesses with limited budgets for being listed at the top of the search
results [McCarthy, 2007]. Social commerce, thus, becomes a powerful tool, as it combines search engine functions
and social networking functions [McCarthy, 2007]. The number of social shopping sites grows heavily in 2007. IT
platforms expand from blogs, to social networking sites (i.e., MySpace, Second Life), and to user-generated content
sites (i.e., YouTube). Likewise, the functions of these sites become more diverse. Business concepts such as
branded social networks and branded communities convey the idea that shoppers can bookmark or blog on the
products of their choice [Corcoran, 2007].
On the information dimension, the content or information shared in social commerce evolved from the traditional
text-based recommendations to audio- and video-based (i.e., YouTube). Classification of social shopping sites
based on different functions appears in 2007. Beyond the surface and descriptive level, a primitive classification is
developed to classify practices in social commerce. For example, Bustos [2007] classifies social shopping into social
shopping bookmarking sites (or social wish lists), social deals and coupons sites, and social comparison engines.
Two new information-related issues emerge in 2007 as well. The first is to track which sites are successful, and
which cause aggravation to their users [Bustos, 2007]. The second is how to develop useful content strategies for
social shopping sites [Corcoran, 2007].
Social Commerce in 2008
The year 2008 can be considered the year in which earlier forecasts and expectations about social commerce
manifest themselves into actual business practices. Such practices influence a wide range of industries that
spanned from fashion (e.g., Stylehive) to furniture (e.g., ShopStyle). Social bookmarking, or “wishlisting,” and
coupon sharing gain momentum. As social commerce business practices begin to emerge, so do concrete strategies
and practical challenges.
On the people dimension, while social commerce is expected to result in robust business value, it is realized,
however, that users are not always receptive to marketers’ messages nor do they behave in ways that marketers
would like [Clawson, 2008]. Despite the seemingly massive number of users on social networks, the number of
active users engaging in direct commerce is considered to be too small to create massive business value or to
revolutionize business [Clawson, 2008]. It is thus speculated that social networks are beneficial primarily in regard to
marketing and branding, but not beneficial in terms of making money or business transactions. This leads to the
belief that setting up shopping applications in places like Facebook is simply a minor add-on that provides a
marginal factor for generating profits.
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On the management dimension, while shopping recommendations is the highlighted business strategy in previous
years, bargain finding emerges in 2008 [Kooser, 2008]. This business strategy emphasizes connecting shoppers
with products, especially niche products. It is worth noting that none of these business strategies seem to be
significantly different from those of e-commerce; social commerce reuses some of the traditional e-commerce
strategies to bring social network to the forefront to connect shoppers with one another or with products. The
implication is that social commerce, by this time, is not a new application or revolution, but rather an evolution of e-
commerce. Yet, the difference between social commerce and e-commerce is clear in that e-commerce focuses on
maximizing efficiency with strategies for sophisticated searches, one-click purchasing, and recommendations by the
systems, based on users’ past shopping activities [Carroll, 2008]. Social commerce, on the other hand, places
shopping goals and efficiencies secondary to social goals such as sharing information and networking [Carroll,
The difference between e-commerce and social commerce is further demonstrated from the perspective of gender
orientation. Shopping for fun or for social purpose (i.e., social commerce) is considered more female-oriented, while
efficiency-maximizing e-commerce is considered more male-oriented [Carroll, 2008]. This gender perspective is
congruent with a later report on social networking which showed that “social networks reach a higher percentage of
women than men globally, with 75.8 percent of all women online visiting a social network in May 2010 versus 69.7
percent of men. Women spend 30 percent more time on SNS than men” [comScore, 2010].
On the technical dimension, social shopping websites and a combination of social network sites with commerce
functionalities continue to be the trend. Startups continue to leverage user-generated content of social shopping
sites. On the information dimension, social shopping site content is “crowdsourced” to the communities of users
[Gaulin, 2008]. The concept of “crowdsourcing” is based on user-generated content, although this concept of “user”
referred not only to individuals, but also groups and communities.
Social Commerce in 2009
In 2009, social commerce expands to include new technical platforms and business practices (e.g., Twitter, mobile
phones, combining online with offline shopping activities, etc.). More attention is also given to trying to better
understanding consumers.
On the people dimension, it is recognized that customers are empowered to be able to pursue their own interests or
guard their online activities, thus reducing the importance of marketers’ roles in shaping customers’ interests
[Hoffman, 2009]. For example, users can rely on their own social networks to gather product information rather than
relying on information provided by the marketers. New challenges in social commerce at this time are identified,
including how to engage and collaborate with consumers and how to identify influential customers in online
communities [Gray, 2009; Hoffman, 2009]. Social psychology is drawn on to help explain why social commerce
made sense to shoppers. Six heuristics that social shoppers used to make intuitive decisions are identified: social
proof (i.e., follow the crowd), authority (i.e., follow the authority), scarcity (i.e., scarce stuff is good stuff), liking (i.e.,
follow those you like), consistency (i.e., be consistent to past beliefs and behavior), and reciprocity (i.e., repay
favors) [Marsden, 2009b]. These six heuristics provide a framework for six social commerce strategies: the social
proof strategy, the authority strategy, the scarcity strategy, the liking strategy, the consistency strategy, and the
reciprocity strategy [Marsden, 2009b]. Since then, the understanding of behavioral aspects of social commerce is
moved from a descriptive level to conceptual and explanatory levels.
Debates continue on what social commerce is and whether it should work. A set of chronological definitions appear,
identifying six aspects of social commerce: social shopping, ratings and reviews, recommendations, forums and
communities, social media optimization, and social ads and applications [Marsden, 2009a]. These chronological
definitions consider the scopes of social commerce and social shopping as different; social shopping is viewed as
one of multiple aspects of social commerce. Furthermore, the chronological definitions reveal that social commerce
and e-commerce overlap on several dimensions (i.e., rating and reviews, recommendations, and forums and
communities). The overlaps imply that social commerce is not a revolution different in essence from e-commerce,
but rather an evolution building on the practices of e-commerce.
On the management dimension, suggestions from 2006 for e-businesses to establish social presences in social
networking sites, as well as their own e-commerce sites, are realized as business practices. In August 2009, the first
e-commerce store on Facebook is launched. Because Facebook implements e-commerce in its newsfeed
application, social commerce is given new meaning with the phrase newsfeed purchasing [Klaassen, 2009]. In
addition to having social presence in social networking sites, businesses also create their own “company-controlled
communities” to provide social spaces for their customers to exchange product information [Hoffman, 2009]. “Co-
creation” specifies the information source in social commerce. It is a strategic business concept describing
collaboration between businesses and customers in creating advertising messages or customer-generated ads
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through “company-controlled communities,” but “there really aren’t any best practices or established business
models yet” [Hoffman, 2009, p.3].
On the technical dimension, IT platforms extend beyond Facebook to include Twitter and mobile phones [Gray,
2009; Hwang, 2009]. Mobile phones in particular are considered a fertile arena for future growth in social commerce
[Smith, 2009]. Social commerce in 2009 further embraces a multi-channel concept with two meanings on both the
management and technical aspects. First, it means a combination of online channels (i.e., online marketing) and
offline channels (i.e., in-store activities) through social media [Smith, 2009]. Rooted in this idea, social shopping has
a different meaning: sharing shopping ideas with friends through social media (e.g., mobile phone) while doing “High
Street” (online) shopping. Second, multi-channel means using different social media or social networks to complete
shopping activities. For example, Oasis, a fashion brand, uses Facebook and Twitter as two different social media to
promote an event in different stages. Smith [2009] states that, “so while Facebook works as a great driver before an
event, Twitter is an effective real-time tool to engage people as the event is happening” (p. 19). In 2009 we see a
convergence in social commerce in regard to integrating online and offline social networks, as well as integrating
different social media.
On the information dimension, we see the convergent content strategy converging content across different social
networks in various social media.
Social Commerce in 2010
It becomes obvious in 2010 that social commerce becomes a global phenomenon, although not all countries or
regions have the same level of development in conceptualization and practice. For example, in the UK, discussions
are ongoing as to what social commerce is (Is it social activities on commerce sites and/or commerce on social
sites?) and whether or not the UK is ready for it. Yet, the advancement in a number of countries pushes the social
commerce practice to a new level.
On the people dimension, social commerce taps into the economic concerns of the users beyond their need for
having fun. It merges the needs of social fun with social savings. In Japan, for example, there is a trend toward what
is called Mainichi Tokubai (which means “everyday deal”) where content is crowdsourced by price-sensitive
consumers [Marsden, 2010b]. Mainichi Tokubai taps into the economic concerns of Japanese users, especially
housewives, to fight deflation and make ends meet. In China, Tuangou becomes a pervasive trend that originates in
online chat rooms with the aim to “fuse online collaboration with high street retail” [Marsden, 2010c]. This particular
Chinese style team bargaining lets shoppers self-organize themselves and get discounts out of their own negotiation
on the brands they like from high-street retailers. The core of this team bargaining is the unknown discounts that is
up to the groups to chop down with negotiation, which is different from those predefined deals or group coupons
practices (i.e., discounts is pre-decided by the retailers/sellers to lure the mass) that is pervasive in e-commerce and
social commerce in Western countries such as the U.S. and Canada. Some consider this particular Chinese-style
team bargaining to be more interesting [Marsden, 2010c] and suggest it for integration into Western style team
buying as a way to enhance social enjoyment and adventure in social savings. However, the business model of
Groupon on deals for consumer groups has become more and more popular worldwide. For example, Groupon
Janpan and Groupon Taiwan, featuring coupons on local businesses and services, debut in August and in
December in 2010 respectively.
It is interesting to note that social commerce in Asia, such as Japan and China, is driven so far mostly by economic
concerns, especially deal-oriented social savings, rather than social fun. However, social commerce in Western
countries addresses both social fun and social savings for shoppers with different motivations. Here the assumption
of consumers in social commerce moves from a social fun perspective back to a utilitarian, price-sensitive
perspective, similar to the focus of traditional e-commerce, or a combination of both social fun and social savings.
Interpreting from a culture lens, the culture difference implies that social commerce has different foci on the utilitarian,
economic side or the recreational side in different stages and different levels of development worldwide. Therefore,
social commerce is still an emerging, evolving phenomenon in need of further understanding.
On the management side, the concept of Tuangou becomes pervasive and further evolves from that of single-
channel single-setting online group buying in 2007 (i.e., from online retailer) to multi-channel multi-setting group
buying in 2010 (e.g., combine online and offline retailers, media, or social networks). Groupon in the U.S. becomes
extremely popular, serving more than forty markets as of December 2010, even though it is first launched in
November 2008. In late 2010, Google attempts to buy Groupon with an offer of USD 5.3 billion [PTI, 2010]. Along
the way, a new business practice in social commerce is emerged in the form of social currency, similar to a social
version of PayPal [Marsden, 2010f]. This practice further extends the expectations of social commerce from a
branding orientation to a transaction orientation.
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The understanding of consumers and corresponding business strategies are synchronized with the IT platforms.
Facebook launches its first group-buying application (i.e., Wildfire) [Marsden, 2010a]. The battle on group-buying
between Facebook (the largest social networking site) and Groupon (the largest collective buying website) is
expected to start. Facebook is also expected to become the de facto social commerce platform [Marsden, 2010e].
Despite the skeptical view in 2008 that social commerce is good for branding but not for making money, Facebook
begins to make money. As such, the term f-commerce (Facebook commerce) is coined [Crum, 2010]. The IT
platforms supporting social commerce further expand from Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to include applications
for smart phones (such as iPhone and Android). The iGroup application is released for iPhone users to share
information with their online contacts (i.e., online social network) who happen to be in a specific location (i.e.,
retailing stores) [PatentlyApple, 2010].
Merging the online/virtual and the physical world through seamless technical means is the other theme in 2010. For
example, FastMall, an iPhone application, is created to answer the need for a convergence, “a way to meld the
physical and virtual shopping experiences without obstacles” [Feuer, 2010, p.95). The goal is to draw customers
back to the store and turn casual shoppers into loyal brand champions [Feuer, 2010].
On the information aspect, as social commerce becomes a global trend, content now can be crowdsourced to global
customers while still being localized within various cultures in different nations, communities, or groups.
Social Commerce in 2011
In 2011, social commerce continues to develop and evolve. On the people dimension, shoppers are mapped by their
interests in addition to their social networks. The rationale is that people have some interests that may not be
influenced by their peers; therefore social commerce can be further advanced to map interest graphs of people
[Malik, 2011]. We elaborate on this rationale and argue that socializing and peer recommendations may not always
be influential in social commerce.
On the management dimension, online auction site eBay integrates Facebook into its homepage to pave a road to
social commerce [Ghesh, 2011]. Social commerce practice is further moving into the e-business of online auctions
through the facilitation of social networking sites. Team-buying business strategy continues to develop in 2011.
Despite Groupons promising development, its business model is harassed by the copycat deal-of-the-day websites
in China and the onslaught of the Facebook [Wang, Q., 2011]. The concept social businessis used to forecast B2B
through social media [Brito, 2011], although some people still view social business as B2C or people 2 people
[Neisser, 2011].
On the technology dimension, Facebook continues to be the IT platform under the spotlight of the social commerce
scene, as being exemplified in eBay’s practice of including Facebook into its storefront. In 2011, Google launches its
social network service, Google+, which is expected to lead to g-commerce in the near future. Furthermore,
SellSimply is launched to make purchase available on Twitter, which further brings t-commerce. We expect to see
social commerce to continue from f-commerce, to g-commerce and t-commerce.
On the information dimension, the demand for niche and localized content continues and increases in order to suit
shoppers from different cultures and with different interests. The infograph of social network mapping moves from
social graphs to interest graphs.
Table 1 summarizes the social commerce evolution along the four dimensions of people, management, technology,
and information. The findings can be examined along the four dimensions individually and collectively. In the next
section, we provide an integrative view of social commerce.
According to the I-model, information related phenomena can be examined along the four dimensions, as well as the
interdependences and equilibrium among the dimensions.
On Each of the Four Dimensions
On the people dimension, understanding humans as consumers in social commerce is not a straightforward task.
We see the major themes of this understanding evolving from a more general emotion-based description on human
beings’ social-gathering nature (i.e., people like to shop with others) to a deeper rationale-based reasoning on the
impetus of shoppers to seek recommendations and share ideas from/with others, which are largely influenced by
technological capabilities. The assumptions about people are further enriched by different perspectives at a higher
level, such as the view of empowered social consumers, social psychology and social heuristics, gender orientation
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Table 1: Social Commerce Evolution Along the People, Management, Technology, and Information Dimensions
People like to give
and take advice from
other shoppers.
Long-tail niche product
strategy caters to small
Blog + e-commerce sites
User-generated content
(information source: users)
Shoppers generate
shopping ideas
through socializing.
Social experience
strategy (e.g., providing
collaborative spaces);
alliance strategy (aligns
e-tailers and social
networking sites).
Startup social shopping
sites; social networking
functions + e-commerce
Content sites combining
research and purchase in
a platform
Social shoppers are
both cognitive (utility
driven) and emotional
(fun driven).
Converging online and
offline social networks;
crowdsumption (team
buying) strategy.
Search engine function +
social networking
function; blogs, social
networking sites, video
do-it-yourself media (i.e.,
Information type
(text + audio + video)
Social network users
are not receptive to
Social networks are good
for branding, not for
transactions; concrete
content strategy.
EC sites+ social
networking functions;
social shopping sites
Crowdsourced content
(information sources: user
Users are
empowered by social
networks of their own
choices; traditional
EC is male-oriented,
social shopping is
(gender perspective).
Co-creating and multi-
channel strategies.
Twitter (event
marketing); mobile
Co-creating content
(information sources:
Social commerce is
good for fighting with
deflation (economic
perspective); social
saving is more
pervasive in Asia and
social fun is more
pervasive in western
countries (cultural
Cultural perspectives on
social commerce
emerged; Chinese-style
Tuangou converges
online and offline
iPhone; f-commerce;
Group-buying application
in Facebook
Global crowdsourcing
Shoppers have
interests beyond peer
Online auction site +
social networking site
(eBay+Facebook); Social
business; Groupon
copycats pervade in
Facebook; Google +;
Twitter (shopping)
Niche and local content;
interest graph
(i.e., e-commerce is more male-oriented and social commerce is more female-oriented), national culture orientation,
and social economic considerations toward shopping goals as being both utilitarian and hedonic (i.e., social
savings). It is interesting to note the differences between e-commerce and social commerce over time. The original
assumption regarding social commerce involves having fun, which represents the softer side of social relationships.
Yet, with the pervasion of team buying, the assumptions about social commerce further swing toward the utility side
of traditional e-commerce that focuses on maximizing efficiency and cost-saving through social saving. The critical
turning points of social commerce practices on the people aspect are the global team buying and connections based
on shoppers’ interest graphs.
On the management dimension, especially for business strategies and models, the major themes of social
commerce evolve from long-tail thinking and finding niche products and branded social networks (branded
communities), to a skeptical view on social branding vs. social commerce (i.e., is social commerce good for branding
or transactions?). Regarding strategic alliance, the triggering directions move from e-tailers tapping into social
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networking sites, to social networking sites launching shopping functions and e-commerce functions. Business
strategies evolve from focusing on a single online social network to converging social networks online and offline,
and to converging online social networks with offline retailers, and co-creating messages with customers. Group
buying (drawing on the assumptions of social saving) becomes an important trend in global social commerce. It is
expected to be pervasive and the dominant theme in social commerce practice over the next few years. On the
management dimension, co-creating and multi-channel strategies are critical to harness the collective intelligence in
various social shopping channels.
On the technology dimension, IT platforms evolve from the link between blogs and e-commerce sites to the startup
of social shopping sites, with e-commerce sites providing social-networking functions, or search engine providing
social networking function, to the link between online and offline social network channels. The focus further evolves
from a single social media type to different social media types in various stages of shopping activities. Among
various social media types, Facebook has become a major IT platform for social commerce. Facebook is the de
facto money making platform of social commerce and is turning social commerce into a new phenomenon that is
called f-commerce. In addition, mobile phones have pushed social commerce even further into merging online social
networks and physical retail stores. The IT platforms further diverge from the Facebook primacy to Google + and
Twitter and is expected to turn a new leaf to g-commerce and t-commerce.
On the information dimension, we see that social commerce started with the concept of user-generated content,
made possible by the Web 2.0 technologies. It is further advanced to crowdsourced content to the communities of
users, co-created content between consumers and marketers and the globalized or localized crowdsourced content.
Information type is further enriched from text-based to audio-, video-, and multimedia-based. Crowdsourcing, co-
creating, and global crowdsourcing are the critical content strategies to leverage user generated content.
Divergence and Convergence
In summary, we see the two trends of convergence and divergence intertwining in the evolution of social commerce.
On technology, we see a trend of technical divergence where successful social media drive unsuccessful ones out
of the turf battle of social commerce. At the same time, we see a trend of convergence where different media types
or different social networks converge with each other in different settings. This is similar to people and management.
We see the trend of globalization (i.e., convergence) by engaging in social commerce worldwide both from the
people and management aspects. At the same time, we see the trend of localization (i.e., divergence) to reflect the
differences of interests and culture in different communities or nations. On the information dimension, we see a trend
of localized crowdsourced content and the globalized crowdsourced content, showing both divergence and
convergence respectively.
Interdependencies and Equilibrium Among the Four Dimensions
We also see interdependences and equilibrium among the four dimensions. The early distinction that social
commerce is about shopping for fun and socializing while e-commerce is about shopping for savings fades as of
2011. With the pervasion of team buying for price-reduction, the landscape of social commerce swings back, being
viewed as a form of shopping that is both utilitarian and hedonic, and that is good for fighting inflation. The pendulum
like notion of social commerce may continue as each and all of the four aspects may continue to evolve and
influence each other.
Collectively, the four dimensions of the I-model (people, management, technology, and information) show the
dynamics, interdependencies, and equilibrium [Zhang and Benjamin, 2007] as social commerce evolves. For
example, business strategies and models largely depend on, and influence, technological development and
information sources/types, while technological capabilities and information sources further enhance new
development of business strategies and models. Our understanding of human mental processes and behaviors are
shaped by technological capabilities, information sources/types, and business strategies as potential incentives or
enablers. To return to the concept of Tuangou, in China, shoppers are motivated by the advantages of social
savings. Thus, group buying becomes a business trend that further drives the development of global crowdsourcing
content and group-buying applications in Facebook (such as the iGroup application). In this example, the business
trend leads to the refinement of technological capabilities intending to facilitate collaboration among consumers.
Another example comes from multi-channel social commerce strategies intended to connect online and offline
shopping activities/social networks/information sources through social media. Initially, business strategies intend to
harness shoppers’ online behaviors. Yet, business strategies further evolve to reflect shoppers’ experiences that
merge online and offline activities, and use information from both marketers and consumers. A need for merging
online and offline experiences further drives the development of the iPhone and iGroup in social commerce. In sum,
an impetus of social commerce business strategies and technologies is to reflect shoppers’ social experience in
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reality. As summarized above in Table 1, all four components have been evolving and influencing each other
As an emerging phenomenon, it is no surprise that social commerce is characterized with various notions from
different views and perspectives, while some of these can be in conflict with each other. In this section, we
summarize some of these views and positions, intentionally not siding with any particular one in order to provide an
objective picture of the social commerce landscape. Table 2 provides a summary of these diverse positions. On the
positive side, these positions on various issues of social commerce can fertilize our understanding of social
commerce and enhance its future developments. Noting the year a view appears helps us understand the
challenges or unsolved issues in the evolutionary course of social commerce. For example, the debate on whether
social commerce is good for transactions or for branding reflects the bottleneck of social commerce practices in
terms of making profit. At the outset, social commerce is forecasted to become a lucrative marketplace for
businesses given the networking potential of MySpace and Facebook [O'Malley, 2006]. However, since many social
network sites fall out of the spotlight (e.g., MySpace, Second Life), the transactional function of social commerce is
in doubt. Indeed, it is questionable whether social commerce without a successful transaction function should be
regarded as any kind of commerce. Yet, Facebook’s making profit and filing for IPO legitimizes the expectations in
the forecast and the investment into this new area of social commerce with transaction functions. We briefly discuss
each of these diverse positions below.
“Social Commerce” and “E-Commerce”
E-commerce is considered to be oriented toward efficiency, transaction, and “masculinity,” while social commerce is
oriented toward social networking, branding, and “femininity” [Beisel, 2006; Clawson, 2008; Carroll, 2008]. While
social commerce is portrayed by some as a new category of e-commerce combining shopping and social networking
activities online [Harkin, 2007; Wang, 2009], others view social commerce as a subcategory of e-commerce [Kooser,
2008; Marsden, 2009a]. Some claim that social commerce is not a revolution but an evolution built on the concepts
and applications of e-commerce [Kooser, 2008; Marsden, 2009a]. Some claim that the design of traditional e-
commerce is catalog-based, while social commerce’s design combines virtual market with social places for
cooperation [Khoury, Shen and Shirmohammadi, 2008]. Finally, some argue that traditional EC sites sell primarily
real items, while social shopping sites sell both virtual and real items. However, shopping is not the main function but
the category extension of social networking sites (Cha, 2009).
“Social Commerce” and “Social Shopping”
While “social commerce” and “social shopping” are used interchangeably by some [Tedeschi, 2006; Leitner and
Grechenig, 2007b; Leitner and Grechenig, 2008a], the more commonly adopted perspective now is that social
shopping is a subset of social commerce. Some marketing research (e.g., Stephen and Toubia 2010) treats these
two as separate concepts with the main difference being that social commerce connects sellers and social shopping
connects customers.
It is worth noting that the term social shopping sometimes is used to refer to offline social behavior prior to 2005
[Wang, 2009]. For example, social shopping can refer to hedonic shopping behavior, motives [Tauber, 1995], or
orientations [Marshall and Heslop, 1988] in the offline setting (e.g., in a physical shopping mall), and this concept is
still widely seen in the marketing literature after 2005 [Jamala, Daviesa, Chudryb and Al-Marri, 2006; Patel and
Sharma, 2009]. Similarly, the term social commerce is used prior to 2005 in a few studies to refer to social-based
offline activities [Snyder, Cheavens and Sympson, 1997]. These meanings are different from the ones we discover
and discuss in this article.
i2i, C2C, and B2C
The emphasis in Stephen and Toubia’s [2010] definitions on connecting individual sellers or customers implies that
social commerce and social shopping are i2i (individual-to-individual) or C2C (customer-to-customer). However,
some consider social shopping as both C2C and B2C (business-to-customer). For example, Leitner and Grechenig
[2007a] define social shopping as “a specific approach of B2C and C2C e-commerce, where consumers collaborate
and shop in an environment similar to social networking platforms (e.g., MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Orkut, or Hi5)”
(p. 353). Wang [C., 2009; C., 2011] also considers social shopping as both C2C and B2C.
Rational or Nonrational Social Shoppers
Some describe social shoppers as being rationally and cognitively driven because they attempt to seek shopping
recommendations from their peers in order to craft shopping ideas or making shopping decisions [Gordon, 2007;
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Table 2: Different Positions on Social Commerce
Social commerce and e-commerce
Position 1: Functional
Efficiency vs. social networking
[Beisel, 2006]
Position 2: Business
value perspective
Transaction vs. branding
[Clawson, 2008]
Position 3: Gender
Masculine vs. feminine
[Carroll, 2008]
Position 4: Innovation
Social commerce is a new category of e-commerce.
[Harkin, 2007; Wang, 2009]
Position 5: Evolution
Social commerce is not a revolution but an evolution
of e-commerce.
[Kooser, 2008; Marsden, 2009a]
Position 6: Design
Traditional EC is catalog-based design; social
commerce’s design combines virtual market with
social places for cooperation.
[Khoury, Shen et al., 2008]
Position 7: Product
category perspective
Traditional EC sites sell primarily real items; social
shopping sites sell both virtual and real items;
shopping is not the main function but the category
extension of social networking sites.
[Cha, 2009]
Social commerce and social shopping
Position 1
Social shopping and social commerce are
[Tedeschi, 2006; Leitner and
Grechenig, 2008a]
Position 2
Social shopping is a subset of social commerce.
[Beisel, 2006; Marsden, 2009a]
Position 3
Social commerce connects sellers; social shopping
connects customers.
[Stephen and Toubia, 2010]
i2i, C2C or B2C
Position 1: C2C or i2i
Social commerce connects sellers (i.e., i2i); social
shopping connects customers (i.e., c2c).
[Stephen and Toubia, 2010]
Position 2: B2C
Social shopping or social commerce is both B2C
and C2C e-commerce.
[Leitner and Grechenig, 2007a;
Wang, 2009; Wang, 2011]
Rational or non-rational social shoppers
Position 1: Rational
Social Shoppers are rational, cognitive driven.
[Gordon, 2007; McCarthy, 2007]
Position 2: Emotional
Social shoppers are emotional and fun driven.
[Voight, 2007]
Position 3: Intuitive
Social shoppers are intuitive.
[Marsden, 2009b]
Position 4: Economic
Social shoppers are economic driven.
[Marsden, 2010d; Marsden,
Position 5: Own
Interest driven
Social shoppers have some interests not influenced
by their peers.
[Malik, 2011]
Transaction and branding
Position1: Social
branding perspective
Social commerce is to provide places to exchange
shopping ideas; social commerce is good for
branding or pre-purchase activities.
[Beisel, 2006; Clawson, 2008]
Position 2: Skeptical
Social commerce is not good for branding. Active,
empowered users are not receptive to branding
marketing strategies.
[Gray, 2009; Hoffman, 2009]
Position 3: Transaction
Social commerce is good for making profit;
Facebook begins to make money (f-commerce).
[Crum, 2010]
Types of connections
Position 1
Connecting business sites with social networking
[O'Malley, 2006]
Position 2
Connecting shoppers with shoppers
[Beisel, 2006]
Position 3
Connecting shoppers with products
[Kooser, 2008]
Position 4
Connecting online and offline social networks
[Smith, 2009]
Position 5
Connecting sellers/online shops with sellers/online
[Stephena and Toubiab, 2009;
Stephen and Toubia, 2010]
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Table 2: Different Positions on Social CommerceContinued
Business values
Position 1
Active users
Social commerce generates more active users,
which leads to business values.
[Leitner and Grechenig, 2008b]
Position 2
Inactive users
The number of active users is too small to bring
business value; it is a challenge to motivate users to
participate in social commerce; some users don’t
register but use social shopping sites as content
sites for shopping research.
[Clawson, 2008; Goldie, 2008;
Hoffman, 2009]
McCarthy, 2007]. Others describe social shoppers as emotional, impulsive, and hedonically driven because they like
to have fun by shopping online with others [Voight, 2007]. Social shoppers are also recognized as being intuitively or
economically-driven because they tend to make intuitive decisions or aim to save money through group shopping
[Marsden, 2009b]. The term social saving implies the economically-driven motivation of social shoppers [Marsden,
2009b]. Lately, social shoppers are considered of having own interests that are not influenced by their peers and this
people-assumption moves attention from peoples social graphs to interest graphs [Malik, 2011].
Transactions and Branding
A widely held viewpoint is that social commerce is good for exchanging shopping ideas [Beisel, 2006] and, therefore,
is good for branding or pre-purchase activities, but not for making profits [Clawson, 2008]. A more radical viewpoint
on this side is that social commerce is not good for transactions and not good for branding either. One of the
arguments behind this posits that the numbers of active social shoppers is too small to generate profits, while
another argument is that empowered social shoppers are not receptive to marketer’s information [Goldie, 2008;
Gray, 2009; Hoffman, 2009]. However, the viewpoint and practice shift to social commerce being good for making
profit, as evidenced by the success of Facebook and f-commerce [Crum, 2010].
Types of Connections
Social networks are central to social commerce as they focus on connection. Five types of connections are found
within the realm of social commerce: connecting business sites with social networking sites (i.e., alliance) [O'Malley,
2006], connecting shoppers with shoppers (i.e., exchange ideas, peer recommendations) [Beisel, 2006], connecting
shoppers with products (bargain finding, niche products) [Kooser, 2008], connecting online and offline social
networks (multi-channel) [Smith, 2009], and connecting sellers/online shops with sellers/online shops [Stephena and
Toubiab, 2009; Stephen and Toubia, 2010].
Business Values
Regarding whether social commerce is a worthy investment or simply a marginal add-on practice, a common view is
that social commerce generates business value indirectly through active users. While the opinion exists that social
commerce is generating enough active users to lead to business value [Leitner and Grechenig, 2008b], others
believe the number of active users is too small to make a significant difference in bringing about any business value
[Clawson, 2008; Hoffman, 2009].
In the next section, we speculate some possible research directions for scholars to conduct research on the social
commerce phenomenon, and some implications for practitioners to continue or start social commerce.
Before discussing any implications of this study and making suggestions for future research and practice, we need
to point out that a major challenge for the recent social commerce development lies in making itself saliently different
from the old business assumptions or practices. Otherwise, the importance and justification of academic research
and business investments would remain elusive.
This challenge also reflects in the diverse views and positions of social commerce conceptualization, as shown in
Table 2. As mentioned earlier, the term social commerce has appeared in the academic literature prior to 2005 with
different meanings and connotations than what this article reports. These early studies do not fall into the scope of
the emerging and evolving trend in the practice of social commerce that is enabled by Web 2.0 (or social media) that
this article reports. Curty and Zhang [2011] also question what accounts for social commerce websites, given that
the already known IT applications in social commerce such as recommendation systems and consumer
communities have already taken into practice in late 90s (e.g., Amazon and Epinions).
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Indeed, there are conceptual ambiguities on the definitions, scopes, and boundaries of social commerce and several
related concepts. All of these indicate the emerging nature of social commerce that is different from all other
phenomena we are familiar with and thus leaves a large room for investigation. In this section, we start with the
academic definitions and conceptualizations of social commerce as a future direction for research.
Definitions and Conceptualizations of Social Commerce
The scholarly community has ample opportunities for investigating this unique and distinct phenomenon. So far, the
academic publications on social commerce are scarce, with only limited coverage and narrow views. Table 3
summarizes the notions of social commerce (including social shopping) from the few academic articles that touch on
some aspects of social commerce enabled by Web 2.0, with several studies using the term without providing an
explicit definition (e.g., Zhu, Benbasat and Jiang, 2006; Ganesan, Sundaresan and Deo, 2008). Compared to the
notions and developments in trade articles and practice (as shown in Tables 1 and 2), the academic effort has been
minimal and less substantial.
Table 3: Definitions of Social Commerce from the Academic Literature
Zhu et al. [2006]
Social shopping
(no definition or description)
Jascanu et al. [2007]
Social shopping
A combination of social networking and e-commerce
Leitner and Grechenig
Social shopping (also
called social commerce)
An emerging phenomenon “characterized by offering
platforms where consumers collaborate online, get advice
from trusted individuals, find the right products of a
repository and finally purchase them” (p. 353)
Ganesan et al. [2008]
Social commerce
(no definition or description)
Massetti [2008]
Social commerce (via
social enterprise/social
“Social businesses differ from traditional not-for-profit
institutions in that the social businesses must have profits
to successfully function. And, they differ from traditional
profit-based businesses in that their profits are used to
support social causes rather than to increase the wealth
of investors, managers, and owners” (p. 7).
Wang [2009]
Social shopping (also
called social commerce)
A new types of e-commerce linking shopping and social
networking through social media
Shen and Eder [2009]
Social shopping
“An extension of Business-to-Consumer E-commerce
where consumers interact with each other as a main
mechanism in conducting online shopping activities, such
as discovering products, aggregating and sharing product
information, and collaboratively making shopping
decisions” (p. 1)
Kang and Park [2009]
Social shopping
A kind of e-commerce where people can comment and
review items in blogs or online communities
Cha [2009]
Social shopping
Social shopping is shopping services provided by social
networking sites. It can also be EC sites provide social
networking function.
Stephen and Toubia
Social commerce
“An emerging trend in which sellers are connected in
online social networks, and where sellers are individuals
instead of firms” (p. 1)
Afrasiabi Rad and
Benyoucef [2010]
Social commerce
“Refer to both networks of sellers and networks of buyers;
it is the evolution of ‘e-commerce 1.0which is based on
one-to-one interactions, into a more social and interactive
form of e-commerce” (p. 2).
Liang, Ho, Li and
Turban [2011]
Social commerce
“Social commerce is emerging as an important platform in
e-commerce, primarily due to the increased popularity of
social networking sites such as Facebook, Linkedln, and
Twitter” (p. 1).
Wang, C. [2011]
Social shopping and
social commerce
“Social shopping and e-commerce are not dichotomous
concepts. Social shopping can be an evolutionary
concept, meaning a singular EC site
advancing with social networking functions, or a
synergistic concept, meaning EC sites connecting with the
other social networking sites to form strategic alliance.”
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At the beginning of the article, we stated that social commerce is a form of commerce mediated by social media and
is converging both online and offline environments. Based on what we learned from the evolution of social
commerce, we assert that this definition is inclusive of practice, activities, and various perspectives, and is still
suitable for social commerce practice so far. We do want to note that the notions of commerce and mediation can be
much broader than what may immediately come to one’s mind.
The concept of commerce is broad in that (1) it can include interchange of ideas, opinions, sentiments, commodities
or services, (2) it can involve activities that span the entire spectrum of getting ideas, doing research, conducting
transactions, and post transaction activities (i.e., pre-, during, and post-transactions), and (3) it can incorporate
online and offline commerce activities by integrating brick-and-mortar commerce, e-commerce, and mobile
commerce. The mediation concept is also broad, in that it can include (1) direct mediation and indirect mediation
where online and offline channels merge and interact, and (2) mediation where media-communicative change,
institutional change and social-culture change are interrelated with commerce physically and virtually (i.e.,
The second notion of mediation brings up the idea of “mediatization, a concept that has been widely used in
communications, political studies, cultural studies, etc., to describe a fundamental transformation of the relationships
among the media, culture, and society. Mediatization relates to changes associated with communication media and
their development with a basic assumption that the technological, semiotic, and economic characteristics of mass
media result in problematic dependencies, constraints, and exaggerations [Schulz, 2004]. Mediatization is used to
theorize the influence media exert on society and culture, in that mediatization is to be considered a double-sided
process of high modernity in which the media on the one hand emerge as an independent institution with a logic of
its own that other social institutions have to accommodate to; on the other hand, media simultaneously become an
integrated part of other institutions like politics, work, family, and religion, as more and more of these institutional
activities are performed through both interactive and mass media [Hjarvard, 2008]. It is the process of mediatization
that transcends social commerce from the earlier ways of doing commerce either in traditional commerce or in e-
Units and Levels of Analysis
In addition to diverse definitions and conceptualizations, social commerce research and practice are shown to have
different units of analysis. On the technical dimension, the units of analysis are social shopping websites [McCarthy,
2007; Parise and Guinan, 2008], social shopping platforms [Leitner and Grechenig, 2008a], social shopping channel
[Ghose and Ipeirotis, 2009], or social shopping tools and functions [Business Wire, 2010]. On the management
dimension, the units are social commerce strategies [Stewart, 2010] and social shopping services . On the people
dimension, foci are social shopping behaviors [Permuto, 2009], social commerce networks [Stephen and Toubia,
2010] and social shopping communities [Shen and Eder, 2009]. In addition, academic research uses different levels
in the analysis. For example, the level ranges from organizational level, such as organizations involving with Web
2.0 deployment [Parise and Guinan, 2008], to system level such as websites containing Web2.0 communities (e.g.,
facebook, google map, YouTube) [Hoegg, Martignoni, Meckel and Stanoevska-Slabeva, 2006] or online reputation
system and product review systems [Ghose and Ipeirotis, 2009]. Such multiplicities in the units or levels of analysis
show the multifaceted nature of social commerce and the complexity and dynamics of the phenomenon. All of these
can lead to interesting research in identifying specific units of analysis or level issues in order to make research
findings comparable and accumulative.
Diversity of People in Social Commerce
Current academic studies utilize behavioral theories or models such as the technology acceptance model (TAM)
[Davis, 1989], other social psychology theories [Kang and Park, 2009; Shen and Eder, 2009], and a sense-making
approach [Janson and Cecez-Kecmanoic, 2005]. Based on what we learn from social commerce evolution, there are
diverse views and positions in social commerce (see Table 2) that may call for additional theoretical perspectives.
For example, the multiplicity of social shoppersmotivations (e.g., rational, emotional, intuitive, economic, or interest
driven) would call for a different theoretical base than the typical TAM study or any models rooted in the theory of
reasoned action and theory of planned behavior [Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975; Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980; Ajzen and
Fishbein, 2005]. While marketing studies use different perspectives and/or approaches to investigating social
commerce [Stephena and Toubiab, 2009; Stephen and Toubia, 2010], IS researchers are similarly encouraged to
use diverse perspectives, assumptions, and approaches to enrich our theoretical understanding. We also encourage
future research to adopt a cultural perspective, a gender perspective or social heuristics to study people in social
commerce to provide a more holistic understanding and to shed light on social commerce business strategies and
technological designs.
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Furthermore, some views or positions can be sometimes competing with each other. For example, while some argue
that social shoppers are rational and like to seek peer recommendations, some argue that social shoppers are
interest driven and, therefore, may not be influenced by their peers. Different assumptions implicate different
technological designs, business strategies, and content strategies. We encourage future research to identify the
conditions or contexts under which people behave in order to make better use of these competing views and
Various and Multiple IT Platforms
Among the few current IS studies on social commerce, single IT platforms, especially social shopping websites (e.g.,
Shen and Eder, 2009) are the main focus. The evolution of social commerce practice, as depicted in this article,
indicates that multi-channels, multimedia, multi-platforms, and multi-social networks become commonplace. This
indicates that scholars’ attention should go beyond singularity in platforms in order to address the convergence trend
in social commerce development. Also, as Facebook, Google, and Twitter are three giant social media competing
with each other in the social commerce terrain, future research are suggested to identify the critical (or distinctive)
technological features (as well as business strategies or information content) among these promising platforms that
can provide more values in the turf battle.
Business and Information/Content Strategies
There can be many issues along the management and information dimensions in regard to business
strategies/models and content strategies. The diverged social commerce practice in f-commerce, g-commerce, and
t-commerce calls for future research into identifying and developing business models and strategies. Also, with
broad participation of global consumers who generate a large amount of content from diverse channels and
platforms, how firms can manage co-creating and crowdsourcing strategies, and manage and make available the
huge amount of content and information becomes a timely, interesting, and challenging issue for both practitioners
and scholars to address. We also encourage future research to explore the conditions under which interest graph or
social graph works better since these two types of infograph show two different value systems (i.e., peer-driven or
interest-driven) in social commerce. And interest graph may further drive social commerce from the socializingor
peer recommendationside to the interestside. Table 4 summarizes the possible directions for future research.
Table 4: Possible Directions for Future Research
Challenges and Opportunities
Future Research
Conceptual Ambiguity
Conceptualizing and theorizing
Multiplicities of Units and Levels
Unit of analysis and level of analysis
Competing Assumptions and Positions
Triangulating with multiple methods, preexisting and new
theoretical perspectives, assumptions, and approaches;
contextualizing the conditions best suited for the
assumptions and positions
Competing social media giants (e.g.,
Facebook, Google, and Twitter)
Identifying competitive technological features, business
strategies and content strategies
Convergence of multiple social media,
social networks
Extending from single platform to multiple platforms;
convergent content strategies
Interest graph vs. social graph
Contextualizing the conditions best suited for each infograph
Implications for Practice
Since social commerce starts in, and is driven by practice, here we provide some implications for practices. Such
implications can be depicted from both the convergence and divergence of themes in social commerce. It is
recognized that the right content at the right time in the right location can be an unobtrusive way of enhancing
consumers’ shopping experiences. Streamlining shopping activities is a desirable strategy. Therefore, practitioners
and businesses may want to have a convergent media strategy to converge multiple shopping channels (e.g.,
multiple websites, online and offline shopping places), multiple social networks, multiple social media (e.g.,
Facebook, Twitter), and multiple electronics such as smart phones and tablets.
Along these same lines, practitioners and businesses may also develop a convergent content strategy that deploys
coherent messages and themes across diverse channels, social networks, media, or electronics. Since co-creating
messages with the customers is important for creating and maintaining business-controlled communities, it is
important for practitioners and businesses to collaborate with diverse customer segregations in various communities
with a convergent theme to create a coherent image.
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Moreover, to further draw on principal market segregation that builds on the theme of divergence, smaller
businesses may want to target niche social networks (or niche communities) to develop and/or enhance their niche
brands. While more and more businesses from different industries pour into the terrain of social commerce,
businesses might make their social networks and social communities distinctive from others.
In a short period of seven to eight years since the term’s inception, social commerce has come a long way as an
emerging global phenomenon. Our analysis shows that social commerce continues to develop and evolve. With the
development of Facebook in making profit, social commerce is no longer just media hype or a business fad. It
becomes an established practice, although the specifics of this practice continue to emerge and evolve. There are
vast opportunities in social commerce for scholars and practitioners to apply seemingly successful business
strategies and models and to analyze less successful ones. By providing a chronological and detailed examination
of social commerce practice evolution with a framework that contains four important dimensions (people,
management, technology and information), this article calls for more attention and effort from IS scholars to
investigate interesting issues that can have both theoretical significance and practical implications.
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Chingning Wang is an assistant professor in the School of Management in the National Sun Yat-Sen University.
Her research interests include information professional management, organizational communication, IT governance,
social network marketing, and electronic commerce. She received her Ph.D. from the School of Information Studies
at Syracuse University. She has received a Best Paper Award from the Americas Conference on Information
Systems and a Junior Faculty Award from the School of Management in the National Sun Yat-Sen University. She
publishes in information systems and information science journals and conference proceedings. She has served as
reviewer for several prestigious journals including European Journal of Information Systems, Communication Theory,
Behaviours in Information Technology, and International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.
Ping Zhang is a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Her research interests
include the intellectual development of information related fields; human-centeredness in ICT development,
evaluation and use; affective, cognitive, motivational, and behavioral aspects of individual reactions toward ICT; and
the impact of ICT design and use on individuals, organizations, societies, and cultures. She publishes in information
systems, human-computer interaction, and information science journals, and conference proceedings. She is co-
editor (with Dennis Galletta) of two edited books on HCI and MIS of the Advances in MIS series (by M.E. Sharpe,
2006), and is co-author (with Dov Te’eni and Jane Carey) of the first HCI textbook for non-CS students (by John
Wiley, 2007). Dr. Zhang has received four Best Paper awards, three nominations for best paper awards, an
excellence in teaching award, and two service awards. She and Dennis Galletta are founding Editors-in-Chief for
Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction since 2008. In addition, she is a former Senior Editor for the Journal
of the Association for Information Systems (JAIS, 20082011), guest Senior Editor for MIS Quarterly (MISQ), former
Associate Editor for the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (IJHCS, 20042008), and
Communications of the Association for Information Systems (20052008), on the editorial board of Journal of
Management Information Systems (JMIS), and a guest Senior Editor of eight special issues for International Journal
of Human-Computer Studies (2003 and 2006), Journal of the Association for Information Systems (2004 and 2008),
Behavior & Information Technology (2004), Journal of Management Information Systems (2005), International
Journal of Human Computer Interaction (2005), and Electronic Commerce Research and Application. Dr. Zhang is
co-founder and the first chair of Association for Information Systems, Special Interest Group on HumanComputer
Interaction (SIGHCI, 20012004). Dr. Zhang holds multi-year guest professor positions with the Inner Mongolia
University, Renmin University, and Xi’An Jiao Tong University in China. Dr. Zhang received her Ph.D. in Information
Systems from the University of Texas at Austin, and M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Computer Science from Peking University,
Beijing, China.
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  • ... The concept of social commerce emerged through Web 2.0 in 2005 amid the growing commercial use of social networking sites and many other social media websites (Curty & Zhang, 2011;Liang et al., 2011). It ushers a new form of e-commerce (Wang & Zhang, 2012). ...
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  • ... Therefore, social commerce is considered as a main tool for electronic shoppers (e-shoppers) to share their experience via peer interactions . Social commerce facilitates customers' information sharing, extending their recommendations (Chen and Shen 2015;Mirkovski et al. 2019;Wang and Zhang 2012;Zheng et al. 2017) and getting the best prices. Thus, social commerce is a combination of e-commerce and SNSs that intends to enhance shoppers' experience online (Marsden 2010). ...
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    Abstrak Tujuan penelitian ini adalah untuk menganalisis faktor yang mendorong niat individu untuk social commerce di Indonesia. Penelitian ini menggunakan Hajli's Social Commerce Construct. Populasi dalam penelitian ini adalah pengguna internet. Sedangkan, sampel dalam penelitian ini adalah pengguna sosial media. Teknik pengambilan sampel menggunakan purposive sampling, dengan kriteria pengguna media sosial yang minimal dua kali telah melakukan pembelian melalui media sosial yang dimilikinya. Teknik pengumpulan data dalam penelitian ini menggunakan kuesioner dengan bantuan google form. Responden penelitian ini berjumlah 162 responden. Responden dalam penelitian ini didominasi oleh responden berjenis kelamin perempuan, sedangkan usia responden didominasi oleh usia 21-25 tahun. Pengujian hipotesis dalam penelitian menggunakan PLS dengan bantuan alat WarpPLS. Penelitian ini menemukan hasil bahwa niat untuk social commece dipengaruhi oleh social commerce construct dan dukungan sosial. Selain itu, penelitian ini juga memperoleh hasil bahwa dukungan sosial dipengaruhi oleh social commerce construct. Oleh karena itu, penelitian ini mendukung Hajli's Social Commerce Construct.
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    The fast evolution of the internet has tremendously increased the variety of modern communication possibilities for people, offering new sources for social contacts via communities and networks. Likewise, there exists a steadily increasing demand for social e-commerce, an emerging phenomenon also called social shopping. Especially applicable for B2C and C2C e-commerce, social shopping is currently characterized by offering platforms where consumers collaborate online, get advice from trusted individuals, find the right products of a repository and finally purchase them. This paper illustrates an integrated framework for social shopping as basis for a new prototype system. For the design of the framework, conventional community and shopping systems as well as existing best practice social commerce models were analyzed in detail. The presented results highlight core entities, functions and interactions of the social shopping concept, summarized in a concise diagram.
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    One of the most exciting evolutions in the internet over the last years is the spread of social networks. No other genre of web services has such high expansion rates like the social networking sphere. MySpace, LinkedIn, Orkut or Facebook have gained enormous popularity over the past years because of a steadily increasing demand for communication and collaboration among users. Forced by the fast evolution of the internet, innovative web technologies and networking functionalities, the user changed from a passive information consumer to an active content producer and distributor. As a key success factor, social networking services offer modern communication possibilities for people by supporting user interaction and data interchange. This paper presents a snapshot of the social networking sphere attained by an extensive site analysis. As a main focus, current trends, key functionalities and revenue models of successful social networks were identified and analyzed in detail. To contribute to the development of successful next generation social networks and web services, the presented trend-setting movements are crucial for meeting the demands of modern users.
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    Driven by the fast evolution of the internet, innovative technologies and web services, the user changed from a passive information consumer to an active content distributor within the whole web sphere. The buzzword web 2.0 became a synonym for this evolution which has enormously increased communication possibilities among people by enabling them to stay in touch via communities, blogs and social networks. In the same way B2C and C2C e-commerce rapidly changed within the last years. Users were integrated into existing online shops and mutated from a simple buyer to a fully integrated customer. Thus, a modern shop visitor can recommend products, leave comments, rate vendors or publish wish lists. This recent phenomenon, called social commerce or social shopping, leads to more customer satisfaction, loyalty and consequently to more revenue for the vendor. Accordingly, there is a strong demand for innovative e-commerce models and new shopping functionalities. Currently, only few vendors succeeded to launch new platforms and services, but market researchers confirm the economically expanding value of innovative user driven e-commerce solutions. In the near future, social shopping features might become a must-have for every modern shop owner. This paper presents the results of an extended case study research on future B2C and C2C e-commerce models. As a main focus, the key features as well as current trends of social commerce are identified and analyzed in detail. For successful next generation shopping, the presented trend-setting movements have to be integrated in new e-shops and platforms to meet the demands of modern customers.
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    Many scientific fields share common interests for research and education. Yet, very often, these fields do not communicate to each other and are unaware of the work in other fields. Understanding the commonalities and differences among related fields can broaden our understanding of the interested phenomena from various perspectives, better utilize resources, enhance collaboration, and eventually move the related fields forward together. In this article, we present a conceptual framework, namely the Information-Model or I-model, to describe various aspects of information related fields. We consider this a timely effort in light of the evolutions of several information related fields and a set of questions related to the identities of these fields. It is especially timely in defining the newly formed Information Field from a community of twenty some information schools. We posit that the information related fields are built on a number of other fields but with their own unique foci and concerns. That is, core components from other fundamental fields interact and integrate with each other to form dynamic and interesting information related fields that all have to do with information, technology, people, and organization/society. The conceptual framework can have a number of uses. Besides providing a unified view of these related fields, it can be used to examine old case studies, recent research projects, educational programs and curricula concerns, as well as to illustrate the commonalities and differences with the information related fields. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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    Social commerce is emerging as an important platform in e-commerce, primarily due to the increased popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Linkedln, and Twitter. To understand the user's social sharing and social shopping intention in social networking Web sites, we conducted an empirical study on a popular microblog to investigate how social factors such as social support and relationship quality affect the user's intention of future participation in social commerce. The results indicate that both factors play a critical role. Social support and Web site quality positively influence the user's intention to use social commerce and to continue using a social networking site. These effects are found to be mediated by the quality of the relationship between the user and the social networking Web site. Our findings not only help researchers interpret why social commerce has become popular, but also assist practitioners in developing better social commerce strategy.