The rapidly expanding mash-up of social media and e-commerce has been focusing the key aspects of the social Web -- friends, groups, voting, comments, discussion -- on shopping for some time now. But the ways these connections are leveraged continue to mature. So far in 2012, we’ve seen a strong shift away from simply aggregating useful content for online consumers. The focus is now on creative ways to distill and curate this growing surplus of opinions; consumers are craving a more refined and efficient collective wisdom. Here’s a look at several popular social shopping mediums today, and how they are evolving to provide more useful, engaging, trustworthy content.
Ratings and reviews
Ratings and reviews sections of Web sites are rapidly enhancing how they tie in with Facebook or other online community profiles, in order to better qualify the comments that are shared. In addition, more sites like Tripadvisor.com are providing snapshot summaries and content histograms to reduce the amount of time and effort it takes to pore over reviews, and thus benefit from a larger sample size (the larger the sample, the smaller the chance of purchase regret).
Location-based apps like Foursquare allow users to leave behind tips about local business venues. These tips are helpful and concise; they give the shopper a brief glimpse inside the business and sidestep lengthy, in-depth reviews. Retailers are picking up on this more and more; now neighboring stores are creatively utilizing the tips function to offer up incentives for their own products and services that complement the experience of where users just checked in.
Fab.com has added a new dimension to its selection of curated design by offering a live, dynamic feed for visitors to see what people are buying, sharing, and faving at that very moment. Users can sort the feed by categories or Facebook friends to get a better idea of what is cool for them right now. The feed even displays the price of each product and allows consumers to directly place it to their shopping carts. Since its launch, 15 percent of all visits to the feed have resulted in a purchase.
Bing has unveiled a newly redesigned social-search results page that features a 3-column layout. On the left, traditional results are displayed. In the middle is an overview of relevant features such as maps and images. And now on the right, Bing’s social sidebar incorporates data that allow shoppers to see recommendations from their friends across different social spaces like Facebook. Various socially derived results appear on the sidebar, depending on how relevant Bing interprets them to be to the search query. The effect is a surprisingly organized, uncluttered search that conveniently integrates consumers’ trusted social resources.
Creative ways to combine social causes with social shopping are on the rise. Sites like Warby Parker (boutique eyewear) allow shoppers to share their altruistic values, as well as their purchases, easily with their friends. For every pair of glasses bought, Warby Parker gives a pair to someone in need. They also enable shoppers to upload photos of themselves to virtually try the frames on, and share the images through social spaces to get friends to weigh in. It’s a win-win situation -- the shopper is more confident with his or her purchase, has done something good for the community, and has spread the word about both.
Shopping online has become a form of art and self-expression for many, through sites like Pinterest. Some retailers like Whole Foods have taken a more selective approach in establishing their presence here. Instead of posting about weekly sales, they are carefully pinning items that relate to the lifestyle one can adopt by shopping at their store. The selection embodies the ambitions of the brand, and helps inspire consumers to be creative with food, entertain, and be more environmentally friendly.
More and more retailers are bumping up their sponsored posts. For example, floral delivery company 1-800-Flowers leveraged the colossal social power of Justin Bieber, simply by having him post about the flowers he sent to his mom for Mother’s Day. The story went out to all Justin Bieber fans’ Facebook pages recommending the bouquet he had picked. As a result, the company saw a huge rise in transactions for Mother’s Day this year.
What does this all mean for online retailers?
The days of simply making online social “noise” are over. Merely aggregating content and being a repository of repeated or trivial information annoys social shoppers at best. More than ever, retailers need to get involved in distilling or curating quality, trustworthy information, and then sharing it with their customers in fast and interactive ways. This will require a high level of planning, scheduling, content creation, and review, but the impact will be well worth it. This level of service will go a long way in earning the respect and trust of their online shoppers and the social networks they’re connected to.