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360i Report: Social Shopping

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360i Point of View on Social Shopping

Social shopping is a way for consumers to engage with products they own or want while connecting with like-minded peers. It allows retailers to reach consumers who are in the product or brand consideration mindset but who aren’t necessarily shopping at that moment. A number of popular sites and applications present a range of marketing opportunities.
Defining Social Shopping

Social shopping allows consumers to interact with, browse, and potentially buy products while connecting with friends, peers, or social networks’ communities. The social component can be low-involvement, such as allowing consumers to publicly display their favorite items, or high-involvement, such as matching consumers with people who have similar tastes and allowing members to interact with each other.

Some applications that bill themselves as “social shopping” allow retailers to post storefronts within web widgets, desktop widgets or even instant messaging applications. There is nothing social about such applications — they’re just additional shopping channels and they’re generally no different from affiliate marketing. We prefer to use the term “social shopping” only when there is a communal element that adds value to the experience.
Social Shopping Channels

There are various ways consumers can engage in social shopping:
Destination sites: Sites such as ThisNext , Kaboodle, and StyleFeeder often include advanced social networking functionality.
Widgets and applications: These can include tools to compare your taste with friends on a social network, show off what you love, feature new products, or some other specific function.
On a retailer’s site: Retailers can build social shopping functionality into their own sites, such as letting consumers create a wardrobe they can share with their friends.
New channels: It’s possible to create social shopping experiences around just about any social site online such as YouTube, Twitter, or Flickr.
Marketing Opportunities with Social Shopping

There are already countless social shopping networks, applications, and tools. Here is a sample of some that are either more established or generating buzz. In this evolving field, every site presents its own marketing opportunities, which range from banner buys to tightly integrated, highly engaging product promotion. These opportunities tend to evolve regularly as the sites build their audiences, and some sites may be more fitting than others for certain marketers, brands and campaigns.
StyleFeeder; This personal shopping engine is a rare success in two channels: at its own site (Quantcast reports it ranks in the top 1,000) and on Facebook with its eponymous application (Adonomics shows it ranks in the top 500 applications for daily users and top 250 for total installs). As consumers add products to their StyleFeed, it continually learns preferences and recommends relevant products. The site unabashedly tells consumers, “All you have to do is shop!”
Marketing Opportunities: Retailers can submit product feeds for inclusion, and the products can be featured when new users sign up. Retailers can also sponsor featured blog posts.

Kaboodle: Consumers can build lists of their favorite products, connect with friends, take quizzes, post polls, note favorite brands, and find “shopping soul mates” with the Style Compatibility Test. Kaboodle was acquired by Hearst in 2007.
Marketing Opportunities: Kaboodle accepts advertising and runs an affiliate program, and retailers can post “add to Kaboodle” buttons on their own product pages to allow consumers to add products to their lists.

Pronto: Largely focused on comparison shopping, Pronto lets social shoppers post wish lists, product ratings, and favorite products, stores, and brands.
Marketing Opportunities: Marketers can target shoppers by category, get listed as featured brands, and participate with other sponsorships. There are also Pronto Certified Stores for retailers that meet certain criteria, but this can’t be purchased.

ThisNext: Members can complete personal profiles, including self-interviews and links to their other sites. When posting recommendations and commenting on users’ profiles, members gain experience, and their profiles show how influential and popular they are in certain circles. ThisNext also offers a Facebook application, “I Want,” where people say what they want and others provide recommendations, though it has attracted few active users following an early surge soon after it launched.
Marketing Opportunities: Retailers can send their products to ThisNext for potential review by their editors. Ads run throughout the site. It’s possible to run more involved marketing programs.

Stylehive: Participants can tag, favorite, bookmark, blog, and sometimes buy items they see while participating in message boards and connecting with other members. There’s also the popular hivedaily blog, and the newsletter with a circulation of 200,000 readers.
Marketing Opportunities: Retailers can set up their own branded communities and promote their own experts to further influence members. Integrated campaigns can be run across its media properties, incuding the opportunity to be a featured blogger. Stylehive also sells display ads through Gorilla Nation.

Stardoll: Registered users create virtual dolls, either playing with hundreds of celebrities or their own lifelike model. Users can shop for clothing, dress up the dolls, put them in scenes, and rate others’ creations. Social shopping is just part of the attraction for this community’s members, largely comprised of girls 17 and younger.
Marketing Opportunities: Retailers can set up their own stores in the Stardoll mall, while product placement and promotion opportunities abound throughout the site.
This is just a sampling of social sites and applications. There are countless others that can be considered depending on the campaign’s scope, goals, and audience targets.

Measuring Social Shopping

Social shopping measurement varies greatly depending on the site and method of the program. Generally, it’s possible to measure how often consumers mark certain products as a favorite and their product ratings. There are often other metrics specific to a certain site or campaign.

It’s possible to measure traffic and sales generated from some social shopping campaigns, though those should be seen as ancillary benefits rather than the primary focus.

On sites such as Stardoll, brand interactions and engagement take precedence over traditional direct response metrics.

Challenges of Social Shopping

Retailers should be aware of some of the more persistent challenges when planning a social shopping program:
Objectives: Most social shopping programs will be better suited to branding and engagement than direct sales, so it should be used to complement direct marketing channels rather than replace them.
Share of Voice: Brands on social shopping sites will likely compete with many of their competitors. On some sites all products are included in the same pool that users access. On other sites, brands and retailers can have distinct pages or sections, but a user may choose to become a fan of several different brands. Social shopping is generally not the best choice for retailers that need to have total control over their brand environments.
Maintenance: Just as inventory and messaging constantly change for retail, social shopping initiatives must be kept current.
Reporting: There are no standard metrics for social shopping, so they must be determined for each platform.
Scale: If a goal is to reach the largest possible audience, it may be difficult to do so through a single property, so several shopping sites and applications may need to be considered.

360i’s Recommendation

The most compelling aspect of social shopping is that tens of millions of consumers are visiting these sites and applications where they are actively engaging with products and brands. The concept is similar to search engine marketing, where you want to reach consumers who are looking for you or your competitors.

Of course, there are major differences: consumers use these sites and apps more for the ‘social’ than the ‘shopping,’ and the marketing opportunities and measurement are still evolving. Customized programs are a must, as there’s no uniform model for social shopping. Even with the challenges, retailers would do well to explore potential opportunities and learn how they can connect with social shoppers, an influential segment of consumers who welcome interacting with their favorite brands.
Next Step
Contact your 360i strategic advisor to explore how you can reach your target customers through social shopping.