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Online Shopping Gets A Makeover

They may not beat a day at the Outlets, but “social shopping” web sites are catching on!

By Barry Myers

For many of us, the act of shopping has long been a social activity. Whether it’s a day traipsing around the local mall with friends or a simple conversation about all the things we would love to own, the shopping process is, by definition, social.

So it should come as no surprise that in the Web 2.0 world we live in, online shopping too has undergone some exciting upgrades.
Community consumer reports

So-called “Social Shopping” sites are all about sharing your shopping discoveries with a like-minded community. On a superficial level, these sites bring people together through their love of conspicuous consumption. But thinking these sites are all fun and games would be a big mistake. By combining e-commerce and social networking tools, they allow consumers to locate hard-to-find bargains and make better buying decisions.

Time Magazine called social shopping sites “community-created Consumer Reports”. It’s as if you have an army of online personal shoppers doing all the groundwork for you before you make your final purchase decision.

Just like on the leading social networks, community members can create and join groups, share advice, feedback and product suggestions, and personalize their profiles with polls and other widgets.

Users who register with social shopping services create their own pages to collect information on items they find around the Web, complete with product images and links to appropriate web addresses. By connecting on the site with others (“shopping buddies”) who share your tastes and by tracking their shopping lists, you can easily discover sought-after products that would have taken hours of surfing to find on your own.

The shopping list function also allows you to keep track of and share all the things you need, want or dream about owning, making it a whole lot easier for friends and family to give you the right gift when the time comes.

Power to the consumer

But members do way more than just list products: they rate, review, tag, and recommend. In a very real way, members of social shopping sites are further accelerating the shift of power away from retailers and toward consumers. Once you establish a community of shopping buddies you trust, you can really begin to see how these sites can thoroughly change the way you shop. That conversation I referred to earlier just got a whole lot bigger. As these sites and communities continue to grow, we may see the end of re-gifting entirely!

One of the best things about these sites is they allow you to discover products (or at least discover others who have discovered them for you!) that you simply would never have known existed.

To say the most prolific members of these sites have eclectic tastes would be an understatement. Among the products made popular by online advocates: Walkie Bits, which are little turtles that move across tabletops; a faucet that changes color based on the temperature of the water coming out of it; and a $50 watch that says NOW on its face instead of giving the time.

Which brings us to another key aspect of these sites: their ability to feed that part of all of us that loves to be seen as “in-the-know”. It can be quite an ego boost when people you don’t know send you a note complimenting you on your fashion sense or mark your review as useful. Because of this, many social shopping sites have recently begun “expert” programs, in which particularly prolific members are selected by the site’s staff and highlighted as “tastemakers”.

Of course, at the heart of these sites are fun and engaging communities of people who love to shop. And on the social web, things are no longer confined to the site itself. Most social shopping sites now have some type of “shopcasting” feature that lets members share their lists, recommendations and discoveries across their own blogs and the other social networks they belong to.

Go forth and shop

Before we recommend a few of our favorites, a quick note of caution: many users find these sites utterly addictive, logging on several times a day to see products that other people are looking for or have recently discovered!

Kaboodle is the granddaddy of social shopping sites, having been around for all of four years! The site boasts over 10 million monthly visitors, 750,000 registered users, and over 4 million product listings.

Another well known social shopping site, ThisNext, is the pioneer of the shopcasting function. So, if you’re a heavy blogger or social network user, this might be a good choice.

Wists, which is part of the Gawker Media empire, focuses on allowing you to create wish lists of all the stuff you want, from any website, in one place. You get your own url for your Wist (short for weblist – clever, huh), which makes it easy to send to friends.

A relative newcomer, Wishpot, was just named the Open Web Awards Winner for Best Social Shopping Site of 2008 by Mashable. There was a tie for second place between, Pikaba, a site that allows merchants to bid on your shopping needs, and Tigerbow, a site that allows users to send real gifts to virtual destinations.

Finally, Jellyfish, another pioneer in this space, has managed to retain its identity despite being purchased by Microsoft last October. It’s worth a look for no other reason than its awesome Smack Show feature. During a Smack Show, Jellyfish auctions off new products with a price-dropping twist. Every second that ticks off the clock, the price of the product being auctioned drops until the deal sells out. Of course they don't tell you the number of items available for each auction because what would be the fun in that!

There are lots more social shopping sites out there with fun names like Veedow, Smoop, FriendShopper, and StyleHive (not to be confused with StyleFeeder).

Each social shopping site will have a different look and feel and, accidentally or not, attract a certain demographic. Because we are living in this amazing era of innovation and evolution, some will stick around, but many will not.

So, as always, you should do a little surfing to see which one melds with your personality and tastes. But isn’t that half the fun anyway?

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.


Comment by Rose, posted 1/3/2009, 10:50 PM:

e-commerce is getting more and more popular. this creates the need of having good tools to help shoppers make right decisions while buying online. <a href="http://www.reizit.com/">reizit.com</a> is a place where shoppers can recommend or bury a product, share experience and discuss shopping deals.
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