Understanding the Role of Intermediaries in Online Social E-commerce: An Exploratory Study of Beidian

Zhilong Chen, Hancheng Cao, Fengli Xu, Mengjie Cheng, Tao Wang, Yong Li
The 23rd ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 2020
Social e-commerce, as a new form of social computing based marketing platforms, utilizes existing real-world social relationships for promotions and sales of products. It has been growing rapidly in recent years and attracted tens of millions of users in China. A key group of actors who enable market transactions on these platforms are intermediaries who connect producers with consumers by sharing information with and recommending products to their real-world social contacts. Despite their crucial role, the nature and behavior of these intermediaries on these social e-commerce platforms has not been systematically analyzed. Here we address this knowledge gap through a mixed method study. Leveraging 9 months' all-round behavior of about 40 million users on Beidian -- one of the largest social e-commerce sites in China, alongside with qualitative evidence from online forums and interviews, we examine characteristics of intermediaries, identify their behavioral patterns and uncover strategies and mechanisms that make successful intermediaries. We demonstrate that intermediaries on social e-commerce sites act as local trend detectors and "social grocers''. Furthermore, successful intermediaries are highly dedicated whenever best sellers appear and broaden items for promotion. To the best of our knowledge, this paper presents the first large-scale analysis on the emerging role of intermediaries in social e-commerce platforms, which provides potential insights for the design and management of social computing marketing platforms