Social media/network are considered by many companies as the next generation B2C platform to promote and customise products offerings.Discuss the ways how social media/networks can be used for effective B2C trading.

Riding on the Waves of Online Retail Business

The internet continues to draw endless possibilities in a wide range of information, social and economic aspects.  It used to be just an ideal resource for information, because anything can be researched online with just a few clicks on the keyboard and it opens up to a whole new universe of information sources.  In terms of social networking, several sites have thrived in connecting people and enriching their social lives, albeit in cyberspace.

Sites like the now defunct Friendster, the very popular Facebook, the controversy-eliciting Twitter are just a few examples of social networking sites that attract people to log in and meet people whether from their past, or new ones for their present and future.  Now, the internet has been proven to be an effective vehicle as well to boost a growing business’ economy.  Private accounts in public sites such as Multiply and other blog sites can now be considered shopping spots for some specialized products or services, and young entrepreneurs resort to these sites to begin selling their wares first to their friends, and hope that the word spreads so more traffic is geared to their online business sites.

Noninska (2003) identified three basic models that represent main electronic commerce systems. One is “Business-to-Business (B2B), another is “Business-to-Consumer” (B2C) and the last is “Consumer-to-Consumer” (C2C).  This paper will focus on B2C. Cyprus (2011) explains that B2C refers to the online selling of products, known as e-tailing. B2C makes it possible that any product can be virtually e-tailed.  However, the challenge for online retailers and manufacturers is to attract consumers to their website marketplace.  Originally, this needed assistance with search engines, as consumers often search for products or services they need by keying in the related words on a search engine search bar.  Usually, consumers choose websites on the first few pages of the results that flash up the screen. Knowing this tendency of consumers, businesses fight for a slot in the first few pages of the results of a search. One way to do it is to purchase paid listings as well as employ search engine optimization techniques such as using popular consumer keywords in their web text. The purpose of attracting traffic towards their website is to receive views from consumers and potential clients (Cyprus, 2011).

Two variations of the B2C model were identified by Robert (2007).  Direct sale to the customer is the first variation.  An example is SmugMug.com charging their consumers for photo sharing/hosting services.  The customers’ photography skills range from inexperienced shutterbugs to professional photographers.  This site does not offer any feature for free unlike other sites like Flickr because they are confident that their consumers are aware that they offer a great product at the right price so there is much value in availing of their service over a competitor offering services for free.  Actual products and goods are mostly sold by online retailers.  The second approach is the advertising model where popular sites that generate huge amounts of traffic like YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, etc. come in. Free services are offered to consumers so visitors flock in who then become targets of advertising when they are logged in.  Advertising can come in various forms such as “pay-per-click like Google ads to cost-per-impression to direct sale of a spot” (Robert, 2007).

Just how do B2C outfits operate? Noninska (2003) compares B2C systems to real-world shopping experience. Transactions are done over an open network, so customers have unrestricted access. When a deal is closed, payment is made using credit cards. The B2C system verifies the validity of the card and the identity of the customer (Steinfield, n.d.).  B2C sites should be user-friendly as well as offer benefits to customers such as low costs and data security. It should be able to deliver the required information within the shortest time possible so customers do not have to wait long (Daniel & Klimis, 1997; E-commerce agents, n.d.).

The public is warned against giving out confidential information such as credit card details online.  So many people have been targeted by cyber-predators who take their money and run.  That is why provision of online security is essential to B2C.  Consumers should be able to trust the retailers in entering their credit card and bank information when they order and pay for items (Cyprus, 2011).  With social networking sites, consumers may feel more secure when they transact business with their contacts who are usually close friends and acquaintances with links to their network.  Pictures of items on sale or ads are posted on the walls of some retailers which show up on the walls of all their contacts.  Sometimes, specific people are targeted, so these potential clients are given more information to arouse their interest in what is being e-tailed.

With established online businesses, the B2C model offers great benefits both to them and to their consumers.  Consumers enjoy the convenience of shopping online without leaving the comfort of their home. On the other hand, businesses enjoy low costs in their overhead expenses because a store and a full array of inventoried items are not necessary.  Thus, they can offer free or low cost shipping as an added feature in their business to gain more customers (Cyprus, 2011).  This encourages even small businesses to hop on the bandwagon of B2C since business websites are now affordable to create so they can directly sell their products to their consumers through their websites or their social media sites. Having one’s own blog is the way some businesses are going now and those who are popular get to attract more people and potential buyers. It really depends on how creative they are in feeling the pulse of the consumers and in putting in what appeals to them most.

New businesses and young entrepreneurs venturing retailing have reason to be confident in the B2C model because individuals they may target may not be overly concerned about company recognition like corporations may be, so these people are likely to check out new products and services.  Another reason is its relatively low cost to market.  Setting up a website may be done inexpensively and quicker nowadays, and features may be added as time goes by (Robert, 2007).

Like with everything else, B2C comes with risks. If one chooses the advertising path, it may result in gaining enormous revenue but not large profits.  Operating a site such as YouTube or Digg can be high and most of the expenses are dedicated to hardware and bandwidth.  However, it does not mean that such approach does not make money. This is evidenced by the fact that there are many sites that earn much money using advertising even just by taking small spots in huge social media sites.  For those who choose the pay-for-services route, they need to find a niche that their potential consumers are using and at the same time, have to be willing to provide a better product than what their competitors offer (Robert, 2007).

Qian (2010) gives several examples of B2C opportunities that have proven to be successful.  One reason for such success is that transacting business in this manner is considered much safer due to the fact that the companies will put their best foot forward to gain consumers’ trust and respect in order to build and protect their reputation. One example is Taobao, which adhered to a B2C model  and has began expanding its Taobao Mall, a typical B2C website launched in 2008.  Currently, it features more than 30,000 international and local brands which include Adidas, L’Oreal, Lenovo and Revlon (Qian, 2010).  Before, visitors of the site only accessed Taobao Mall through taobao.com, but as the business grew, the company launched an additional web domain at www.tmall.com to boost their reach to customers. Taobao has adopted brands who are interested in B2C business but are hesitant to launch their own websites due to their fear of high overhead costs (Qian, 2010).

At the end of 2009, B2C sales volume throughout China alone amounted to $3.29 billion which was up by 171.5 percent from the previous year and it is expected to rise steadily, according to the market research firm, Analysys International (Qian, 2010). Such peaks in sales may be attributed to customer-to-customer (C2C) websites such as Taobao.com which attracted and retained millions of online shoppers. Qian (2010) reports that iResearch, another internet research consulting firm, the number of online consumers who frequented both B2C and C2C sites reached 76.44 million and accounted for more than half the total number of online shoppers. They developed trust in the credibility of online shopping and so decided to continue this habit.

The face of business is constantly evolving. Now that it has invaded electronic media, it has gained more power to reach consumers.  It is now very possible that any aspiring entrepreneur can make loads of money sitting comfortably in his couch in his own living room while his attention is captured by his growing business outside the comfort of his home…because even thousands of miles away, he is closing a deal.

References

Cyprus, S. (2011) What is B2C? Retrieved on 09 June, 2011 from

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-b2c.htm

Daniel, E. & Klimis, G. (1997) The Impact of the Electronic Commerce on the

Market Structure. European Management Journal, v. 15, pp. 318-325

E-Commerce Agents: Marketplace Solutions, Security Issues, Supply and

            Demand (n.d.) IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Hawthorne, USA

Noninska, I. (2003) Access Control and Management in B2C Model of

Electronic Commerce, International Conference on Computer Systems

and Technologies – CompSysTech’2003. Retrieved on 09 June, 2011

from http://ecet.ecs.ru.acad.bg/cst/docs/proceedings/S3/III-24.pdf

Qian, Z. (2010)  Building a better B2C model. Retrieved on 09 June 2011 from

http://business.globaltimes.cn/comment/2011-04/591114.html

Robert (2007) Should you have a B2B model or a B2C model? Retrieved on

09 June, 2011 from http://mogul.webmogulenterprises.com/should-you-  have-a-b2b-model-or-a-b2c-model

Steinfield, C., A. (n.d.) Plummer The Impact of Electronic Commerce on Buyer

– Seller Relationships. Retrieved on 09 June, 2011 from

http://www.usc.edu/dept/annenberg/v1/issue3/steinfld.html.

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