07-Jul-2011 22:46

Are you a 'Social Shopper'?

Offline retailers believe that online shopping will not replace a visit to the shops simply because sitting at a computer clicking on links is just not as much fun as hanging out at the shopping centre…

However, a quick glimpse down your local High Street with its closing-down signs, Estate Agency boards, Pound Shops and charity outlets suggest that consumers don't entirely agree.

Now a new phenomenon - dubbed “social shopping” - threatens to incorporate the missing social element in online shopping and possibly destroy even more bricks and mortar stores.

Social shopping encompasses a range of ideas, from shopping within social networks, to shopping-specific search engines that use friends’ recommendations to group buying sites such as Groupon.

Groupon harnesses the power of the crowd to bring people daily deals that they may not even have known they wanted - from manicures to mountain biking.

It has a very simple business model - people sign up for offers and once the required number of people are registered, the deal is confirmed and a voucher is sent to your inbox.

The firm has five million users in the UK alone, and is said to be the fastest growing company ever.

It puts much of its growth down to web-based recommendations - people see a deal and spread it among their online friends but not everyone is convinced by its social credentials.

As the world's largest social network, Facebook is keen that people talk to retailers as well as their friends and it is trying to figure out how to make the most out of social shopping.

It boasts that half of the top 25 retailers use the site but the level of integration varies, from those who simply see it as a way to gain fans to "like" their brands to firms, such as clothing firm Asos, which are happy to allow users to make purchases from within the social network.

Asos is one of Facebook's biggest successes. It puts its full catalogue on the site and its fan page has 800,000 members.

Amazon uses the social network to offer product suggestions based on likes and favourites pulled from users' profile information.

Facebook's director of business development Christian Hernandez believes that Facebook can help users "connect to brands that they care about" and he reckons that among his Facebook friends there is plenty of chatter about shopping.
Not wanting to be left out, the high street too is embracing social media.

In March, London's largest shopping centre Westfield unveiled a tweet mirror that allowed shoppers to try on an outfit and share the image in real time with friends and followers on Twitter.

The mirror, brainchild of Dutch firm Nedap Retail, is already installed in dozens of shops in Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland.

How many shoppers want to invite their online friends into the changing room is unclear, but it offers a small glimpse of what offline retailers will have to do if it wants to persuade consumers away from their screens and back to the stores...

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