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All Commerce is Social: The 3 Phases of Purchase

Way back in 1999 -- a thousand years ago in internet years -- writer and designer named Darcy DiNucci coined the phrase Web 2.0. This marked the beginning of the web as a social experience, eventually altering commerce so that today customers can be brand advocates who play a crucial role in building your business.

You already know that your customers are talking about your brand on social media platforms, posting images from your product pages to Pinterest, and checking reviews. The brick-and-mortar and virtual commerce experiences have become so intertwined that customers sometimes even make an online purchase while standing in your store.

Today, these social behaviors are integrated into every aspect of the way we do business and even have become part of the business model. We can break down the purchase interaction in three distinct phases: pre-purchase, mid-purchase and post-purchase.

Throughout each step of the purchase cycle, customers are socializing. In our increasingly digital world, it becomes increasingly important that we offer ways for our customers to stay connected socially, as well as digitally.


The rise of discovery platforms like Pinterest, The Fancy, StumbleUpon, Chill (for videos), Trippy (for travelers), and many more, have cemented the consumer behavior of engaging in social interaction before (sometimes way before) the actual point of a purchase. This behavior has also been called reverse-showrooming; it has the capacity to actually drive users from discovery sites to stores.

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(Above: Discovery platform The Fancy)

Beauty and makeup tutorial videos on YouTube account for a combined 14.9 billion views. Brands have a long way to go here: a paltry 3% of these videos are produced by the brands themselves; meaning that 97% of this content comes from customers and fans. YouTube currently has 45,000 beauty channels not run by brands. (Source: Pixability)

“Shopping is social, so brands need to be social,” Jess Iandiorio, Acquia’s VP of product marketing, stated in her blog post about the three keys to brand success.

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(Above: C. Wonder’s trending products feed)


When searching for rooms on Hotels.com, customers are alerted to how many other people are searching that city or looking at that same hotel’s page. It creates a sense of urgency and community.

Trending products feeds can show your customers what’s being pinned, posted, shared and purchased–as it happens. This real-time user engagement can help morph a website from a static page into an engaging platform for socializing as well as shopping.


In many ways, the social aspects of shopping begin in earnest after the point of conversion. Many brands now offer shoppers the ability to share their purchases in real time; seconds after the purchase is made, entire social graphs have been alerted.

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(Above: A still from a user-produced haul video.)

Once the packages arrive, the fun can really get started. “Haul videos” are a phenomenon that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years; in them, users upload simple videos of themselves sharing their latest shopping “haul,” including stores and prices. The customers making these videos are not celebrities or even experts; this 10-minute haul video has 1.7 million views. It features a young woman sharing what she bought on a shopping trip and includes her telling the camera that she doesn’t consider herself a stylish person.

There are over 800,000 haul videos on YouTube; they have more combined views than the insanely viral “Gangnam Style” video and its imitators, which have received 1.8 billion views. It’s difficult to even begin to imagine what the cost to brands would be to produce this amount of content themselves.

Offering a different perspective are companies like Olapic, which offers a visual commerce platform that aggregates and curates social content for brands. You know that your customers are out there creating content about your brand; these tools give you the power to feature and brand that content. Their installment for COACH, called “#COACHFROMABOVE”, is a great example; see it live here.

Along every step of the purchasing cycle, from discovery and inspiration to uncrating and styling, cross-channel social interaction is the name of the game.

In my next blog, I’ll be looking at digital commerce through the lenses of social production and social consumption.

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