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Designing the future of social commerce

Morad Benyoucef

The study of social commerce is enjoying something of a growth spurt of late, and the Telfer School’s Morad Benyoucef thinks the surge in research interest is happening at just the right time.

“Social commerce found its legs in the era of social networks, microblogging applications, and recommendation systems, reconfirming for everyone the power of word-of-mouth,” says Professor Benyoucef.

With more than a decade of progress in e-commerce and exactly ten years of Twitter (since July 2006) and Facebook status updates (March 2006), the field currently recognizes two categories of social commerce platforms. The first add “commerce” features to social media, such as applications that enable e-commerce on Facebook. The second add “social” features to e-commerce platforms (e.g., having a button on Amazon for the customer to share her purchases with her Facebook friends.)

Using a grant from NSERC, Professor Benyoucef seeks to determine which kind of platform makes more sense, from a systems analysis and design perspective, to build. “In other words, is there more efficiency in getting people to socialize where they shop or to shop where they socialize?”

To answer that question, understanding how communities form on social commerce platforms is essential, as is the development of innovative algorithms -- “tools for predicting the creation of social ties over time online.” While there is a decade of experience to learn from, “a missing piece of the puzzle” is the need for empirical studies on the next generation of tools that can further e-commerce by making the most of social ties between users.

The upside is that what researchers learn today about social commerce has greater potential for impact than it had just a few years ago. “There’s recognition and acceptance of a dramatic shift in the interactions between business and consumers. So researchers are working with a more mature environment, where harnessing social ties has truly become a marketing strategy of choice.”