Bringing A New Social Context To eCommerce

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Though the idea of contextual commerce is widely loved, delivering on it is a significant challenge. As it turns out, finding the right context — a moment when a customer is perfectly primed to buy a good or service, if only someone would give them an easy way to do it — is not as easy as simply declaring something a good context for commerce.

For example, the rocky launch of the eCommerce chatbot over the last year has proven this problem. Billed as a next phase of friction-free commerce, the chatbot was going to make it easy for customers to buy in context while on social media. Instead of opening an app, just open a chat window for commerce transacting. However, the consumer experience hasn’t quite lived up to that — frequent complaints are that the text interface for commerce feels far from natural or unconnected to shopper’s buying intentions at the moment.

Peeks Social CEO Mark Itwaru certainly knows about building frictionless payments processes — he founded Navaho Networks in the late 1990s to develop proprietary payment processing solutions, particularly for telcos looking into carrier billing. That firm went on to process billions of dollars and transactions before being sold. He then moved on to his next area of interest — making social commerce legitimately monetizable after intensive research.

“I am from the payment space, and when you are a payments company, the challenges in the market are entirely different, as opposed to the challenges being a social network. I am looking at the growth of social media and it is incredible — it took me 10 years to get to 5 million users in payments, and then 60 million users a year.”

Social media is a great customer-acquisition tool but, as many firms have found out, the ability to attract a lot of users does not make a natural path to profitability. One must find a way to monetize those users consistently, and though some companies are successful (Facebook), many others have not been (Twitter).

Peeks was born about six months ago as a live-streaming platform that gives users — with the app download and quick set up — access to an eCommerce-enabled live-streaming platform. How does it work, why does it work, and will it really live up to the early hype in being the Uber of social commerce?

Making It Better With Money

Though Itwaru isn’t necessarily opposed to the Uber comparison, he noted that it might be a bit early to define themselves as the game breaker for their category. However, he said Peeks has a similar goal to Uber in that it seeks to embed a commerce/payment improvement and friction fighter into a different experience that improves the root experience.

Peeks is not first to the gate with video streaming — Facebook and Twitter both have variations on that service — but, as conceived on other platforms, Itwaru noted, they are features that aren’t quite benefiting anyone.

“The really simple answer is that these kinds of services are interesting for a minute on the other services,” Itwaru said. “You can interact in real time, but, other than that, there is no purpose to it. Past initial novelty, there is no real reason to use it — it is not terribly engaging and a lot of the content isn’t interesting yet.”

Content makers, however, need a reason to use the service — and Peeks offers access to a global eCommerce system that allows those creators a real-time platform to present the product they are selling to an audience. Included “in- the-box,” according to Itwaru, are full-stack payment solutions that manage back-end fulfillment, payment and delivery. That audience gets one-tap access to goods and services in real time, while they are engaging with the content.

He added, “We made it better by adding money to it. Peeks users, they come back because they like the opportunity to shop, to see interesting people and get a [look] at interesting content around the stuff people are pitching.”

There are many mechanisms to take in those funds — tips, crowdfunding campaigns, product sales, auctions — and all transactions are multi-language and multi-currency.

Why It Works

By wedding the social network to the eCommerce platform with the word “go,” and essentially designing the company around that premise, Peeks gets to escape the problem that plagues up-and-coming payments firms.

“It is always a race for the bottom you are just trying to be cheaper and more efficient,” said Itwaru.

Payments, and the myriad of complexities therein, are what Itwaru knows best. However, he noted his firm “snuck it into” an experience that needed better payments so they can monetize at a much higher rate than typical payments processing or social media.

Itwaru said, “Without revealing specific numbers which we haven’t put out publicly yet [and] if you look at our ARC (accounts receivable conversion) rates, they are already on the upper end of what you see in social media. Our users are going to the site for the experience to see their favorite beauty blogger and then they have multiple ways to engage.”

And engaging they are, according to Itwaru. He told PYMNTS they’d been “pleasantly surprised” at the rate users were tipping others. He noted that crowdfunding has been a big hit, particularly for those who do live-video or game-play streaming.

“It is engaging; people find it intriguing. Crowdfunding with live gamers is big. Within five days of launching — and we were not advertising the service yet — our crowdfunding campaigns reached $5 million because of those live gamers.”

Though crowdfunding has been popular, the uses for the patented Peeks “Offer Box” have been a myriad. One woman, who was raising funds for a women’s shelter in L.A., put the various incentives she was offering for donations in the box. Musicians doing live shows in the near future used the box to place tickets for sale.

The uses are various, Itwaru said, but the unifying concept is that a user who has gone to seek the content has a one-tap solution to transact with the creator — in real time and in an actual context that makes sense.

What’s Next

It would not be fair to say that Peeks has small goals.

“We just want to be a global, ubiquitous network that people use in the future, the way they use Facebook today.”

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