Social shopping is poised for growth

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As Internet retailers continue to look for ways to enhance the online shopping experience, a small number are adopting tools that enable two or more consumers in different locations to view the same products on an e-commerce site while trading comments back and forth.

Initial feedback indicates these social shopping tools may have broader applications than simply mimicking the in-store shopping experience and wider appeal than among cutting-edge youth looking for a new experience.
What appealed to teen mall retailer Charlotte Russe about DecisionStep's ShopTogether service was the social aspect of the tool, said director of e-commerce Craig Gillan. Recognizing that its customers' peers are their biggest influencers, Charlotte Russe “wanted to make the experience on the site as fun as possible while bringing in those influencers,” he explained.

Since launching ShopTogether earlier this summer, Charlotte Russe has seen increases in its average order value and conversion rates. Customers are also spending more time with the brand, Gillan added.

Some surprising things have happened as well. “Customers are shopping not only with their friends, but also with siblings, parents and other relatives,” said Gillan. Because the tool is bringing in consumers who weren't aware of the brand previously, Charlotte Russe believes “there is a branding aspect to this as well as a return-on-investment perspective,” he continued.

“Social shopping is really still in its infancy,” said Andy Lloyd, CEO at Fluid, an e-commerce technology company. This means retailers and solution providers are still thinking about how people connect with other people around buying decisions in an online environment and how they can facilitate those gatherings. Clients include Vans and JanSport.

“The challenge is people don't know what social shopping is or what it does,” Lloyd continued, which is why the adoption rate isn't very high yet.

Charlotte Russe is using several tactics to expose the social shopping functionality on its site to more consumers. The retailer is still figuring out the details on a fall promotion that will reward customers who bring together a group of a certain size – possibly four or more – to shop together on the site. And it recently added new functionality from DecisionStep that enables shoppers to see the top seven most viewed items on the site, which is updated every 15 seconds.

This holiday season, some of Fluid's retail clients will be pushing out the social shopping application to Facebook in the form of a holiday wish list that can be shared with friends and families.

Retailers outside the youth market start to embrace social shopping next year, Lloyd asserted. “Once retailers start trying to figure what new things they want to do in 2010 and they see the success that the early adopters are having with social shopping,” more retailers will jump on board, he said.

Considered purchases such as appliances is a particular area where social shopping has potential. “These typically involve more than one person to make the decision, and they often can't both get to the physical retail location at the same time,” he explained. Using social shopping, they can make the decision together online.
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