While brands use both mobile devices and social networks to communicate, sell and build loyalty, mobile devices seem to be more popular when it comes to actual sales. A preference that shouldn't lead them to neglect other customer relationship channels.

Social commerce set aside in favor of mobile commerce?

Brands are increasingly betting on the multi-channel approach for boosting sales, but it seems that one channel is out in front of the others. According to the latest IBM Retail Online Index, mobile shopping is delivering the best results for brands in the United States. Shopping via smartphone is booming while social media sales are falling. Concretely, in the three months prior to the publication of the IBM report, sales on mobile devices notched up a rise of 15% while those traced back to social media tumbled by 20%. "This situation is not surprising, and the trend was predictable, given that the use of mobile and social networks are not completely identical," Bertrand Louveau, Associate Director at BeSpoke Consulting, told L’Atelier, explaining: "although social media are better enablers for developing loyalty and customer relationships, dedicated apps make ‘mobile’ more suitable for shopping."

Social shopping still at the experimental stage

According to the IBM report, there are two major reasons for the decline of ‘social’ shopping. The reasons are not new and are often cited. On the one hand, there’s a lack of synergy in companies, especially between the marketing and IT teams, who are not used to working together. A second factor is the inability of marketing departments to set a clear direction for using social media. "At the moment companies still don’t seem able to decide on a strategy for using social networks. This shows that social commerce is still in its infancy and has not yet got beyond the experimental phase," Bertrand Louveau points out. Companies therefore need to work out an overall strategy and set up joint departments in line with the chosen strategy. These days retailers are struggling to deliver successful campaigns on social media, and their popularity ratings fell by 6.5 points from the first to the second quarter 2012. In contrast, consumers continued to embrace mobile devices as a shopping tool, with the iPhone ahead in terms of traffic with 8.2%, followed by Android-based devices and the iPad, on 6.8% and 6.7% respectively.

Making the different channels complementary

“Some companies are really forging ahead on social networks and mobile. These companies have made real progress in everything to do with mobile payments,” says Louveau, pointing to Voyagessncf.com, a major French travel company, as one that is doing extremely well on this front. But should the findings of the IBM report push companies to stake everything on mobile for their e-commerce activities? No, says Bertrand Louveau, who thinks it is still important to pursue a multi-channel approach, as consumer shopping habits are changing. "Sure, mobile and social media are quite different platforms, but they are entirely complementary," he underlines.