Imagine if every time you walked out of a fitting room, others in the store told you their honest opinion of how you look and whether you should make a purchase. Now, imagine that – still heavy with doubt – you could call your girlfriends as well as fashion experts to come over and help you decide if that color makes your eyes stand out or your butt look big.
Although in real life this fantasy may only come true if you’re a celebrity picking out an outfit for the Oscars, online it’s already in place. Niche community sites like Kaboodle and Stylecaster have forever changed the frigid world of e-commerce into a place where shoppers interact with and help each other make decisions and be informed. Whereas telling a stranger that they should consider a larger size may seem both absurd and potentially offensive, online such transparent feedback is both common and appreciated. “Social Shopping,” a mix between e-commerce, social community and editorial material, may be the most important fashion commerce trend of 2010.
Social shopping is not new. The New York Times wrote about it in 2006, and moreover, relying on the opinion of others and mimicking behavior has been around for ages – in fact, it is known to be an advantageous evolutionary trait! But what does it mean for your brand right now?
Your customers have a lot to gain from the ability to share, post comments, and meet other like-minded shoppers – and your business has a lot to gain from facilitating such practices. Here’s how companies are already capitalizing from letting go of mainstream e-commerce and adopting this growing trend – and how you can make use of these available resources too.
- Utilize Friends
Almost as SOON as Facebook rolled out its new plug-ins, Levi’s launched its unique Friends Store – an online boutique that lets you share your top choices with your friends and make shopping choices based on what others think of different styles. Consumers can not only shop with friends who lives thousands of miles away, but also influence the brand’s inventory and design-related decisions.
- Create Community
Polyvore is a fashion community where users can create styles and express themselves through “sets,”or digital collages. Users themselves bring in clothing items from e-commerce sites and then socialize around their love for fashion and impression of other users’ creations.
- Get Users Active
This whole Web 2.0 thing has turned us all into active listeners – it’s no longer enough to read the news or get updates from brands, we now want to engage with and influence everything. Some brands have wisely incorporated this, letting users themselves be “thought-influencers” and “trend-setters” by determining what styles should be produced and sold. Threadless, a t-shirt and hoodie e-boutique that caters mainly to the artsy/hipster community, allows people to vote on and discuss design submissions from other users. ModCloth encourages users to “be the buyer” by giving them the voice – via voting – to decide what articles of clothing go into production. This not only encourages community building and gives your consumers a strong sense of integration without the brand but saves the brand money and maximizes ROI.
- Go Niche
Speaking of shopping communities, most of us like being the central focus of an initiative as well as being provided with a niche location to hang-out with like-minded people. Ann Taylor Loft took this to heart in creating Loft Loves Teachers, a website created especially for teachers that not only gives them a virtual lounge but also suggests profession-specific outfits.
- Make It Easy To Track
Shopping online doesn’t merely entail clicking through to the check-out page. Instead, it’s often a very curvy path. People may spot an interesting item while looking for something else, or even choose to further investigate prices before making a purchase a few hours or days later. Wists (short for weblists) allows users to create image bookmarks of any page on the web in order to build virtual shopping lists. Fashion (shopping) communities such as Kaboodle offer a similar feature so that users can keep track of gift ideas or items they desire – and drop dollars at a later occasion.
- Involve Fans “On-the-go”
Mobile phones may seem extremely isolating but in fact they too can serve as springboards for social shopping. The Ralph Lauren iPhone app allows users to design their own Rugby and share just about anything with friends. Foursquare, a location-based virtual game, also encourages sharing purchases and store locations with friends or even competing for “mayorship” of a venue. If encouraged, customers will also share their purchases or visits to your store via Twitter from their phones, alerting others nearby as well as their friends to awesome deals, attractive saleswomen or the next hot item in their social group.
- Provide Opinions & Answers
As explained by social psychology, people tend to defer to authorities when faced with the prospect of making decisions. Some brands like NET-A-PORTER.com make sure that their audience socializes with authorities directly from the brand. Every Friday, the brand buyer gives real-time advice and answers questions on how to create head-turning looks.
- People love “Exclusives”
Socializing may be awesome but doing so exclusively is even better. Inviting your customers or fans to VIP events and offering exclusive platform-based incentives is a great way to develop customer affinity. Businesses such as Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and Ideeli function from this very principle but any brand can benefit from making those who love you feel like they’re special.
- Give People A Voice
“Never take candy from a stranger,” the adage goes, yet taking advice and opinions from strangers has never been more popular. Brands like Walmart have created extremely user-friendly product reviews sections of their sites, letting their consumers tell each other their impressions of store items. Kaboodle lets shoppers ask for community advice regarding what to buy.
- Visually Stimulate
People love showing off how great they look wearing something new. Burberry created a beautiful website that showcased users wearing their staple trench coat.
- Allow for Easy Sharing
Last but not least, nothing is easier to implement in the name of social shopping than sharing buttons. Make sure anything you sell or say can be passed on from screen to screen and that your customers can create entire conversations around it.
Social or not, don’t forget to monitor buzz and take these conversations to heart when devising marketing strategies or optimizing in-store performance. And in case you need more inspiration, make sure to check out this extremely comprehensive list of social shopping sites or find out more about this trend at this dedicated blog.
Keep in mind that “social shopping” may also refer to the also growing trend of group purchases. You can read more about that right here.
How do you think social shopping will impact e-commerce? Know of any other social shopping communities or marketing examples? Share your knowledge with us – and don’t forget to follow 10e20 on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS feed.