For many people, shopping has always been a social activity. Whether the situation involves friends going shopping to offer opinions on potential new outfits, or children taking their parents with them to get a more experienced perspective on bigger ticket items such as a car; shopping involves chat, discussion, and listening to the opinions of people you trust and respect.
So, it's perhaps no surprise that the rise of social media over the past decade has heralded a new era of social shopping, transposed from physical stores to online. This new form of social shopping combines social media and e-commerce, taking aspects of the social web and applying those to the already interpersonal nature of shopping. It's proving to be a potentially powerful offering, too, for both retailers and specialist online communities that can allow their audiences to buy the products that they have been recommending.
Social + shopping
This combination of the social web and e-commerce is one of the most budding yet exciting retail trends in recent years. It's also one that the social networks themselves are keen to capitalize on. Facebook recently acquired TheFind, an app that crawls the Internet to offer a personalized shopping experience based on consumers' social profiles and the ways in which they shop online.
It has also been testing a 'buy' button that allows an advertiser to sell products through their Facebook adverts. Twitter launched a similar button in 2014 with pop singer Rihanna and fashion brand Burberry taking part in the initial trial. However, it is not yet convincing that the social networks themselves are particularly suited to social shopping, especially Twitter, which has grown its reputation based on an almost counter-culture spirit of righting wrongs and passionate debate. Social networks are well suited as a marketing tool more so than a transactional one, great for driving conversation and engagement with a brand but less useful for direct sales.
An engaged community
That's not to say that it doesn't make sense for social networks to bring commerce into their proposition. It adds another dimension to the environment, keeping users interested and on the site, a crucial and challenging goal for e-commerce players. Perhaps, then, social shopping is better suited to sites where there is already an engaged and committed community.
The Beautyst, an online beauty community and store launched in 2011, currently has a community of 250,000 'beautystas,' 650 beauty bloggers, and offers more than 20,000 products as the ultimate online destination for essential makeup tips, beauty news, and online shopping. The site provides extensive product choice to the 'beautystas' and offers brands a new e-commerce channel that harnesses the power of The Beautyst's social following and community-a potent combination of content and commerce.
Consumers register their beauty profiles, and then receive a completely personalized experience on the site. Social content (video tutorials, pictures, user feedback) is recommended to them, and they discover new products to purchase in just a few clicks. The Beautyst gives both major cosmetics brands and smaller firms a new route to market and can maximize sells from social shopping.
The power of content
The heart of The Beautyst's proposition? Content. Social content is at the core of the purchasing journey that guides consumers through The Beautyst, with more than 300 pieces of content posted every day on the online community. This extends the shopping experience by making it even more collaborative and community-based.
This combination of content and commerce is one rich with potential for retailers of all sizes and types, and is also suitable for publishers. Any publisher with an active community can deploy these principles allowing readers to buy the products they recommend. This means that they prevent readers purchasing on another website after taking advice from them, and they offer an additional service to their readers without them directly buying the products. There is no investment for the publisher, and they can preserve their all-important editorial independence and integrity.
Content and commerce has been, until fairly recently, a relatively unused combination. But this is destined to change as social shopping continues to grow in popularity. In many ways, social shopping is preferable over in-store shopping trips, where the customer is only ever one click away from a price comparison or easily searching what others are saying about their intended purchase. By adding their own comments to help shape others' social shopping experience, shoppers are joining the conversation and bolstering social networks' focus on this budding trend-all of which means it's only going to grow in 2015 and beyond.