Social media, according to Wikipedia (itself a social media site), can be defined as consumer-generated content allowing people to connect in the online world to form relationships and share information. Social shopping sites constitute a premier example of this environment, and Sam Pocker's retail anarchy site and book were among the first to study the phenomena.
Shoppers are looking to the recommendations of peers over traditional media or experts. People everywhere are looking to their social connections to help them make purchases. These "social connections" are among their most trusted sources of unbiased information.
Shoppers using social shopping sites typically share information about products, deals, and prices. Essentially, social shopping sites provide useful tools and the sharing of information. In truth, many of the social shopping sites have moved from the realm of "hearsay journalism" to a sophisticated sharing of knowledge and resources among shoppers.
There are a host of rebate/refund sites (e.g., Refund Express, Refund Cents, Refund World, Refundle Bundle). There are also a number of general economizing sites (The Consumerist, The Home Economizer and Bottom Line Secrets). Sites that specialize in saving on retail gift cards (e.g., DealPass). A huge number of sites focused on coupons/discounts (e.g., RetailMeNot or FatWallet.com).
There are also sites that represent more "pure tools" for consolidation of loyalty cards (JustOneClubCard, mycardstar.com or Android's Keyring app) and grocery lists and replenishment shopping (Grocist or Alice.com). All of these can vary in terms of whether they require a subscription, business model, etc.
And there is a whole slew of sites that might be classified as more purely "social shopping" sites (see table below for SocialMediaTrader*'s Top 17 Social Shopping Sites (ranked by monthly traffic), with more coming on board every week.
Given the fact that retailers have become more relentless in their drive for efficiency and effectiveness, they are expecting no less from their partners/venders. Historical approaches to shopper and promotional marketing are in the midst of evolutionary change.
Two key take-aways from this for retailers, marketers and agencies are:
1) The shoppers are the smart ones. If marketers are to succeed they must understand shoppers and should be making it easier and more enjoyable for them to find the right products.
2) By studying the social shopping sites, marketers can learn a great deal about how to better serve customers. How do shoppers think about a category? How do they judge value? What types of information are shoppers looking for? What things make it more difficult for shoppers to shop? How can marketers make the process easier and more enjoyable?
If marketers focus on the shoppers' needs and try to accommodate those needs into the shopping process, making it easier and more enjoyable, they may be able to keep the marketing concept alive and well!