Friday, January 8, 2010

Social Shopping--Another Trend for 2010?

If I had added one more trend to Monday’s list, it would have been social shopping, so I decided to end the week with a summary. I’ve written a lot during the holiday shopping season about good uses of social media by retailers and results from the season confirm the importance of social media to ecommerce. According to Internet Retailer:

Another trend that emerged from the holiday season is the growing importance of online social networks, blogs and forums. Among consumers researching and buying holiday gifts online, 28% said social media influenced a purchase decision, compared with 11% who said they were guided by a customer-generated product review, 7% by an expert review and 6% by a Facebook message, comScore says. Observed comScore’s (chairman Gian) Fulgoni, “We are getting our first real glimpse at the impact social media will play on commerce as we enter the next decade.”

Earlier in the fall the site SheSpeaks asked about brand-related activities and found a lot of it on both social networks and Twitter. Other 2009 data from SheSpeaks found 55% of women they interviewed logging into social networks multiple times each day; 72% log in at least once a day. That’s huge!

The strategic use of social media by retailers is important, but the precise definition (if there is one!) of social shopping (or social commerce) is more narrow. It is an attempt to allow shoppers to bring onto the web some of the “social event” feeling of shopping in the mall with a friend. That may be an important part of the physical retail shopping experience that Internet retailers can provide on the web going forward.

As I’ve looked at the space, there are two basic ways to do that:

• Join one of the shopping sites that supports social experience. There are a lot of them and more being added. ThisNext is a good example of a site where a merchant can get a free tool that allows visitors to post a product to the site, where it joins the pool for online discussion. They have an application called Shopcast that encourages consumers to add ThisNext content widgets to their own personal pages. The common thread in this type of site is that retailers must encourage shoppers to list products on the site. Another set of sites appear to feature the products of partners; Couture Society is one of those.

Actually, it’s rather hard to find out precisely how retailers get products included; maybe that’s intentional, maybe it’s because the space is still new.

• Add social shopping functionality to your site. Clearly, this would be the more expensive option, but it gives retailers control. I wrote about Decision Step earlier in the year. BazaarVoice is another firm that offers a robust set of social applications. These, obviously, work on your own site and the merchant doesn’t have to rely on a third party site.

Be it social media in general, or social shopping in particular, interaction between shoppers seems to be the direction in which ecommerce is moving. Does it create a new type of business model, or is it just value-added to the existing ecommerce model? For now, I think it’s the latter, but that could change. It certainly is a part of Web 3.0 – the open ecosystem that is gradually replacing the walled-garden sites of the early Internet.

Internet marketers should keep an eye on what is going on in this space. It seems to offer merchants a way to reach out—often to the friends of friends (“birds of a feather”) who might also find the offering attractive. That’s cost-effective customer acquisition!

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