Interpreting Social Commerce Scorecards

Written by Nick SanchezAugust 9, 2011

For Spring 2011 the Usography Corporation has released a “Retailer Social Commerce Scorecard” which tallies the social features employed by various retail sites across the web. The study used the 15 social commerce features listed below to rank companies like Amazon, Macy’s, and Ikea by how many of the criteria were implemented on that company’s website.

1. Email To A Friend
2. Product Reviews
3. Wishlist or Registry (gifting)
4. Share Via Social Media
5. Facebook Like
6. In-page Product Question & Answer
7. Customer Tags
8. Customer Images of Product
9. In-Page Discussions
10. Shop Together
11. Video Product Reviews
12. I Want It, I Own It
13. What Others Are Viewing Now
14. Facebook Login
15. Facebook See Friends Who Liked

In its presentation of the company list, which ranked Buy.com, Urban Outfitters, and Amazon as having the first, second and third most social-feature enabled interfaces, Usography offered no interpretation of the data. They did declare a “first place” and “runners-up,” implying a contest in which the most feature-heavy site is champion, but smartly and subtly the post did refrain from explicitly prescribing the use of as many features as possible.

I use the word “smart” because common sense dictates that in business like in life, quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

Taking a look at the hyperlinked product pages of the de facto “winners” and “losers” of the ranking, a person familiar with web design, user interface streamlining, as well as the ‘keep it simple’ and ‘don’t make me think’ maxims, will quickly discern the disadvantages of inundation.

Buy.com, the quantitative “winner,” is upon quick glance a cluttered mess of a page compared to its runner-up, Urban Outfitters.

The decade-old lesson illuminated by Benway and Lane’s study on banner blindness—which has been confirmed time and time again through eye tracking studies—has either not been learned or heeded by the overseers at Buy.com. By placing two redundant ads for features already given real estate in the site’s navigation bar, for instance, the page’s user interface becomes that much more frenetic, leaving little space for the user’s eye to land, settle and flow across the page in an intuitive manner.

Thus the first lesson the social feature scorecard teaches actually has more to do with the classic, time-tested principles of web design than it does with social media and the features it offers up for implementation. The lesson: a page that’s lean and quick beats a heavy and encumbered one every time.

This is not, however, to diminish the importance of user features.

In regard to the 15 social features that Usography identifies specifically, comparing Buy.com’s page with Urban Outfitters’ exposes another important lesson: features are not islands—they do and will overlap and encroach on each other’s territory. Thus, it’s not only important to be vigilant of general page overload (which all features can contribute to), but it is also important to understand the social features themselves.

Again, even though Buy.com has the most social features, it does not have the most effective combination thereof. For instance, the company overloads its page with not one, not two, but three different ways to interact via Facebook.

Shoppers can either “Like” the product page, share the product through Facebook, or “sign up” to see what their Facebook friends like. Contrast this with Urban Outfitter’s site, which carefully opts for a small yet effective “Like” button—one that unlike Buy.com’s, actually shows how many people, friends or not, have “Liked” the product.

Something that may not be obvious at first, but that many Facebook users will note, is that it’s often the case that likely zero but perhaps, if they’re lucky, as many as one or two of their friends will have interacted with that same site. Thus, features that let you see what your Facebook friends like (criterion #15) will be, 9 times out of 10, less than useful.

Which features are worth their weight in gold? User generated product reviews are consistently ranked highly by the highest-profiting companies in studies conducted by experts like RSR. In that same research vein it is prudent to take note of what the big companies like Amazon are doing. Large companies have the resources to measure and properly analyze user usage patterns as well as do A/B testing.

To make a long story short, social features are like any other business decision in that tactful implementation is paramount to success.

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