Online shopping is as social as a trip to the mall

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Retailers Overstock.com and Ritz Camera, along with many others, are making online shopping a user-generated experience.

One expectation for 2007 was the growth of social online shopping, and vendors are coming up with ways to engage customers.

"The main problem in shopping online is that there is too much choice," said Sam Decker, vice president of marketing at Bazaarvoice, Austin, TX. "We think that the social aspect will filter out those choices and make the shopping experience more like shopping in the store with friends."

Bazaarvoice hosts Overstock.com's user review platform, which according to Jacob Hawkins, senior vice president of online marketing at Overstock.com, adds value for the customer and gives the retailer information about which products customers prefer.

Bazaarvoice recently debuted an online video review platform where consumers can upload videos as part of their review. Users can embed video content from YouTube or Google Video by including the URL in a text review submission on any Bazaarvoice client Web site. The video plays below the text review.

"The trend we're seeing is a drive to use this content in different ways and make marketing around what customers are saying instead of what marketers are saying," Mr. Decker said.

PowerReviews CEO Andy Chen agrees that the future of shopping is based on word-of-mouth reviews.

PowerReviews, Milbrae, CA, aggregates product reviews and then segments them by trait and matches them with reviewer demographics. This lets prospects socialize with past purchasers to get more authentic and relevant product information. Mr. Chen said that it is difficult to measure the sales that reviews generate. However, they are important to creating an improved shopping experience.

The firm powers the e-commerce property of Ritz Interactive, owner of seven online stores including RitzCamera.com, WolfCamera.com and Boaters-World.com. Users can upload images and videos taken by the cameras they purchased.

Reviews are on the Ritz Interactive site. Power Reviews' clients can partner to share data with similar product retailers to increase the traffic to a particular category.

Not only are retailers using customer reviews, but they are also aggregating customer behavior to improve online shopping. Overstock.com uses Aggregate Knowledge's platform, which leverages collective behavior of its customers to anticipate and surface relevant suggestions for future customers.

Similar to Amazon.com's suggestion box, Aggregate Knowledge recommends popular products to make merchandizing more like an in-store shopping experience and pare down the plethora of choices online.

"Search is great when you know what you're looking for, but how do you know what's out there when you don't know what you're looking for," said Paul Martino, CEO of Aggregate Knowledge, San Mateo, CA.
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