Since the birth of the Internet, entrepreneurs have believed that social shopping - what Paul Marsden of Practical E-Commerce calls "helping people connect where they buy, and buy where they connect" - would be revolutionary. But it never fully took off. Perhaps until now.
Every few years, the idea of social shopping rolled in on a wave of fresh ideas based on fresh advances in technology. But all those confident and self-assured entrepreneurs with their business models scratched either on their cocktail napkins or their electronic whiteboards failed to achieve the level of success the industry believed was possible.
Apparently, without the powerful constant-connectivity trifecta of Facebook and Twitter and smart phones, social commerce didn't stand a chance.
But now companies are holding onto their hats because finally, finally, the time has arrived for what some now prefer to call Social Commerce.
It's an exciting time to be involved in social shopping. All sorts of fun and creative business models are popping up. Check out a few of the ways companies today are banking on social shopping:
Old-school shopping meets new-school connectivity:
Real world example: MyShopanion
You're out at the mall and see a pair of boots you love. You scan a barcode and discover a similar pair of boots four doors down for half the price. You hand the overpriced boot to the non-social-shopper next to you and you're out the door. You try on the half-priced boots, snap a picture of yourself, and receive instant feedback from your social shopping crew.
Comparison shopping without leaving the house:
Real world examples: BizRate.com and Pricegrabber.com
From the comfort of your own home, you search for the perfect gifts. You're looking for the latest Kristen Hannah novel for your sister, a blender for your mother, and a wallet for your father. You find a website that scours the Internet looking for the best deal for each of these items. The website factors in sales tax, shipping, and availability. Click a few buttons and your purchases are on their way, and you're confident you got the best deal.
Trendsetters stay on the cutting-edge of style:
Real world example: Girlswalker and the Tokyo Girls Fashion Show
You and your fellow tech-savvy fashionistas use your phones to snag the latest styles straight off the catwalk at the open-to-the-public semi-annual Tokyo Girls fashion show. When a pair of pants you just have to have struts by, you hold up your phone. Your brilliant phone recognizes the pants, you click Buy, and the pants are on their way to your house, the cost added to your phone bill.
The thing about social shopping? Even if the tools are finally sophisiticated enough to match our ambition, a company has to be creative and smart to be successful. A company has to know what shoppers want, and, more importantly, has to figure out how to build and maintain the massive human momentum required to power the cogs of a social shopping site. For example, the downfall of prior generations of social shopping sites was often their huge dependence on user input, something a crowdsourcing site needs both in quality and quantity in order to make it worth visiting.
So the above sites demonstrate that social shopping is smarter this time around. Companies like myShopanion are addressing some of the old social shopping pitfalls by 'outsourcing' reviews and by finding ways to keep their coverage comprehensive - often these sites can function as a review source, a shopping community, and a recommendation engine all at the same time. There are dozens of price comparison sites out there and they all function differently, some better than others. SmartMoney has a nice article ranking the best-of-the-best. And according to TakeMe2Japan 57 million yen worth of merchandise was snatched up during the Tokyo fashion event. And well, combining teen girls and shopping for clothes over cell phones is just pure genius.
What do you think? When looked at through the right brain/left brain combination of creative fashion sense and business acumen, do social shopping sites of this 'new generation' have it right this time? Which of the above ideas excite you?