Social shopping takes the next step with NetShops

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Not long ago, Internet retailers could differentiate themselves with customer reviews and product ratings. But, now that these strategies are more commonplace, some more progressive retailers are wondering what's next in improving the online shopping experience.

For NetShops, home to more than 200 product-specific Web stores, such as AdirondackChairs.com and Binoculars.com, the answer is trying to bring a truer translation of offline shopping's social aspect to the Internet.

In September, NetShops launched Shop Together from DecisionStep on its Web site. The tool enables two people at different computers to log in simultaneously, at which point three side-by-side boxes appear above the main product page. A shopper is assigned a box that he or she can drag and drop products into while browsing, enabling each shopper to see what the other is interested in. The third box is for items both like. There is also an instant messaging function.

"We wanted to give our customers a unique way to shop for products and help them make better buying decisions," said Jay Gordman, director of e-commerce at NetShops Inc. "We know that customers who look at complex products like to have feedback from friends and relatives."

The Omaha, NE-based online retailer is promoting Shop Together on its home page to increase usage of the feature.

Shop Together is "a real time experience," as opposed to consumer product reviews, said John Jackson, president/CEO of DecisionStep Inc., the Beltsville, MD-based company that has a patent pending on the Shop Together technology.

While it's still early for results, Gordman expects the tool will drive sales and bring more people to the site, since shoppers will hopefully be inviting someone to shop with them. NetShops reports that they are seeing more engagement with products.

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