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Shopping gets social

Posted: 20 January 2012

I can’t work out if I was completely behind the times and everyone knew about social commerce before I did! Or is it just the new buzz word for 2012? Social media has been spoken about for years now, but it seems that we are seamlessly progressing from using social media as places to talk to friends, to their becoming a new route to market. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg predicted: “If I had to guess, social commerce is next to blow up”. At the moment, 150m people engage with Facebook via external websites every month. If you go onto the Facebook page for Pampers, there is an online shopping basket and I read somewhere that Pampers sells 1,000 nappies an hour this way! Apparently, by 2015, the predicted revenue for the social commerce market will be over US$30bn. It’s a staggering number and, what’s more, there’s no store rent to pay.

In the 1990s, other than Amazon, which brought together selling and social feedback, e-commerce sites were basically digitised mail-order catalogues. By means of collective filtering, it made suggestions based on buyers’ purchases. It’s amazing how dominant social media sites are becoming in our lives and, if you think how Amazon tailors books to your tastes, think how well Facebook (which knows everything about you) can tailor products to your tastes, maybe before you even know what those tastes are! Today, some sites do an even better filtering job than Amazon, however Amazon’s customer service is world class. At Swipely, which operates in the social commerce space and combines e-commerce with social networks, users can now publish their purchases. Whenever they swipe their credit card, the transaction is listed on the site for the purposes of discussion with other users. “Turn purchases into conversations” is the firm’s strapline. People have always been fascinated with other peoples’ behaviour, but never has it been this transparent before. How that affects commerce is a huge unknown. A big question remains that will surely resonate with the high street: is the traditional process/ pastime of “shopping” (e.g. going into a store and trying on a jumper) becoming outdated?

Perhaps the site that epitomises social commerce in its purest sense is Stella & Dot, a site for women. Started in California by visionary founder Jessica Herrin, it proudly declares: “We envision a world where women live bold and joyful lives. They inspire each other through passion, hard work and style. Shop our fashion jewelry and accessories online or at a trunk show. Become a stylist and learn how our flexible work-at-home positions are creating work-life balance through entrepreneurial opportunities for women just like you”. Stylists are given their own URL and are enabled to run individual social commerce sites and their own businesses from home. Is this the start of something that is nowhere near finished? Please let me know, moira@thembsgroup.co.uk.

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