You Recommend, I Buy: How and Why People Engage in Instant Messaging Based Social Commerce

Hancheng Cao*, Zhilong Chen*, Mengjie Cheng, Shuling Zhao, Tao Wang, Yong Li
CSCW: ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 2021
As an emerging business phenomenon especially in China, instant messaging (IM) based social commerce is growing increasingly popular, attracting hundreds of millions of users and is becoming one important way where people make everyday purchases. Such platforms embed shopping experiences within IM apps, e.g., WeChat, WhatsApp, where real-world friends post and recommend products from the platforms in IM group chats and quite often form lasting recommending/buying relationships. How and why do users engage in IM based social commerce? Do such platforms create novel experiences that are distinct from prior commerce? And do these platforms bring changes to user social lives and relationships? To shed light on these questions, we launched a qualitative study where we carried out semi-structured interviews on 12 instant messaging based social commerce users in China. We showed that IM based social commerce: 1) enables more reachable, cost-reducing, and immersive user shopping experience, 2) shapes user decision-making process in shopping through pre-existing social relationship, mutual trust, shared identity, and community norm, and 3) creates novel social interactions, which can contribute to new tie formation while maintaining existing social relationships. We demonstrate that all these unique aspects link closely to the characteristics of IM platforms, as well as the coupling of user social and economic lives under such business model. Our study provides important research and design implications for social commerce, and decentralized, trusted socio-technical systems in general.