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Comment: Social shopping goes mainstream

Like lots of people at the sharp end of ecommerce, I am obsessed with social media and its impact on online retailing. By Mark Elwig

OMNICHANNEL

Comment: Social shopping goes mainstream

Dubbed ‘social shopping’ as far back as 2006, it was originally a catch-all term for anything to do with user generated content.  But like social media, social shopping is moving mainstream. In taking all of the key aspects of the social web -- friends, groups, voting, comments, discussions, twitter, mobile -- and focusing them on shopping,  it is creating new ways of influencing buying behaviour all the time. And like social networking, it has gathered momentum and substance over the past few years to the point where it is now arguably a basic requirement in any online retailing strategy.

Buying on price alone is becoming less important for a lot of people who prefer a richerand more rewarding product experience when they shop online.  And it’s in helping deliver the overall experience where social media shines.  It can provide reviews, answer questions, guide you to cool new products and in a slightly futuristic example, your facebook friends can even tell you what they think of your choice in a real world changing room thanks to mobile technology.

Another consideration is that for most people, researching  a purchase online is now firmly embedded as part of the buying cycle. There is a wealth of research data that speaks to the fact that people trust peer reviews, will pay more for highly rated products and conversion rates rocket when they are available on a site (171% increase according to one Netshops case study).

Media organisations have felt the squeeze on their traditional ad revenues and entered the price comparison market to boost their income. This is good news for retailers as it means more virtual real estate to attract customers in through the door and more content to keep buyers happy – (as inevitably these offers are powered by one of the major aggregators like Shopping.com and simply rebranded).

Whilst this is all grist to the mill of the major retail and media brands, if you haven’t got the resources and fire power to keep up, you need to be more resourceful. There are ways of adding readymade social shopping elements to a site that are low cost or free. Facebook Connect allows users to ask their facebook friends’ opinions on purchases directly from the retailer’s site; the Twitter API allows users to share content on a web site via tweets whilst at Shopping.com, we have launched free reviews software for our merchants to use on their own web sites.

What’s around the corner? Video reviews are already taking firm hold in the US. We can also expect a slew of imports in the form of cool shopping community sites like Thisnext to challenge homegrown Crowdstorm. Like social media, those late to adopt social shopping will give away ground to faster and more nimble competitors. So don’t be shy when it comes to courting online customers, it’s time to socialise.

Mark Elwig, Head of Merchant Services, Shopping.com

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