What’s Up With Social Shopping?

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Social Shopping is not a brand-new concept, but the term defines a set of phenomena that have been occurring for several years now. At its essence, social shopping has been focused on ecommerce to a great extent and has flourished in a number of areas, most notably in coupon code sharing, and of course Craigslist. But as the number of smartphones and other Internet and app-capable devices has increased, these phenomena have begun to spread like wildfire into the world of brick-and-mortar retail.

\"RRFirst, let’s look at where we are. There are several defined categories of social shopping;

  • Group Shopping (bargain hunting)
  • Shopping Communities (crowd thinking)
  • Recommendation Engines (advice)
  • Social Marketplaces (buyer to seller connection)
  • Shared Shopping (online collaborative group experiences)

These silos of social interaction work very well in the world of ecommerce, because as I sit at my computer, I can easily access my favorite tech blogs as a shopping community to investigate the idea of my purchase (in this case a three-dimensional printer); head over to CNET to leverage their recommendation engine for reviews (settling on an Airwolf 3D printer); pop onto Craigslist to see if anyone is selling one that I’m interested in (nope); and barring that, leverage eBay and Amazon’s community both of affiliates (which eBay seller or Amazon storefront gives me the best bang for my buck?) as well as major retailers, competing for my purchase.

Depending on where I choose to buy, I may even hit up a coupon site such as TechBargains to save on the shipping!

Once I make my purchase, I’ll probably write a review of the experience I have with the device on the same blogs that pointed me in that direction in the first place, as well as posting some very cool photos of the things I make onto Facebook for my friends to jealously admire.

So that’s how social shopping works today. Now let’s talk about what comes next, because beyond the big-box experience, brick-and-mortar is in trouble. The first step towards revitalization of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience for the Millennial generation is to recognize that their motivations are far more social than what these silos represent, and are geared towards a much more experiential expectation. This means that in order to draw in the shopper, the retailer must offer more than a coupon and an invitation-only event — they must make each shopping experience interesting, compelling and fun, and they must facilitate the sharing of that experience across the shopper’s mobile platform of choice.

Let’s consider the following scenario;

As I’m heading through the mall on my way to Cinnabon to chip a year or two off of my life, my phone vibrates in my pocket. Curious, I pull it out and discover a number of interesting things.

  1. My friend Tom is at Destination XL, and is trying on jackets, soliciting his community of friends for opinions on how they look.
  2. I’m about 150 feet from the store.
  3. Destination XL is currently running a sale on jackets, and they have several styles in stock which are complimentary, both in style as well as fit, to previous purchases that I’ve made.
  4. Destination XL is currently running a ‘best dressed’ contest, the winners receiving free merchandise.

As I’m discovering this, photos of Tom are appearing and I’m providing feedback, giving him a hard time about the Yankees game last night, getting ribbed about the Mets loss the other day, and otherwise bantering with our group of friends. Then Jim pops into the conversation to let us know that he’s at the Land’s End store, also clothes shopping. This spurs both organizations to immediately price compete for Tom and Jim’s business, while I’m still pondering the jackets that piqued my interest during the initial exchange.

Since Jim is at Land’s End, I ask him if they have anything like the jackets suggested by Destination XL, and as he’s answering, I’m getting nearly real-time feedback from my friends on the jackets already proposed by Destination XL, while at the same time being immediately provided with a sampling of the offerings from Land’s End, as well as their location.

The conversation continues as I now try on some jackets at Destination XL with Tom, sharing high-quality photos through their in-store feature which provides me with quality, properly composed results beamed directly to my phone. Jim is so intrigued by this feature that he sets off from Land’s End to come check it out, and as we complete our purchases, content in the knowledge that we’re buying something that looks good on us, he arrives and talks me out of that life-reducing Cinnabon and we all go to the salad place for lunch.

What has happened in this exchange is that I have been enticed, offered options, competitive pricing, shared in a fun experience with my friends (only two of whom happen to be in the area), and lead into a sales process wherein I’m shopping with my friends both locally as well as thousands of miles away.

While all of this is possible today, no such thing currently exists.

The scenario I’ve described involves a level of integrated sophistication, data analysis, product knowledge, customer relationship management detail, and digital community which have yet to be inscribed into the software, systems and devices which enable these concepts.

But some are trying. At the recent Decoded Fashion 2013 event in New York City, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley’s keynote address touched on several parts of this, espousing the concept that by leveraging each person’s past behavior, they will be able to determine future desires. And if you haven’t checked out the latest Apple Store app, which integrates many in-store shopping experience features, I’d highly suggest it. The one point that Crowley made which nobody can ignore is this, “Google talks about Google Glass and Apple might have a watch coming, but this is the thing that everyone has in their pocket.”

I couldn’t agree more, and while I do suspect that major inroads into these other areas of wearable tech will have occurred by 2015, I do believe that the major portal of convenience for digital interaction will continue to be dominated by smart devices such as phones and tablets.

Of course all of this leads me to my prediction that in 2015, the driving force of retail profitability will lead to the collaborative competition and technical innovation necessary, and social demand will provide the framework upon which, the silos of social shopping today will have merged into the immersive Live Shopping experience of tomorrow!



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