With the vast majority of Americans researching products on the internet before they purchase them in stores or on the web, it's no surprise that a whole new form of shopping is emerging. "Social shopping" is the intriguing offspring of social networking and online shopping, and it can offer your growing business just the marketing leg up it needs.
Unlike the many retail sites that display products for sale, many increasingly popular social shopping sites (some still in beta testing stages) consist of product listings from site users who recommend their favorites, often with a strong emphasis on what's hot, new and exciting. And insiders know that listing their own products on the right social shopping sites can build buzz that leads to sales.
This accessible form of word-of-mouth marketing offers a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs with limited budgets. To help you navigate these new waters, let's take a look at why and how social shopping works.
1. Online research leads to sales. Almost 90 percent of respondents to a BIGresearch "Consumer Intentions and Actions" survey conducted in June 2006 said they occasionally or regularly research products online before buying them in a store. When it comes to online purchasing, a study released by Yahoo! and OMD found that nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed use trusted, familiar websites when purchasing online, and the majority (54 percent) say the internet is their most trusted shopping information source. So no matter whether you sell exclusively online, through a brick-and-mortar store or both, influencing online shoppers can have a profound effect on sales.
2. Peer-to-peer recommendations deliver credibility. Social shopping websites allow for word-of-mouth marketing at its best. The internet empowers consumers and accelerates the flow of information. Product recommendations that come from peers may be more trusted, so site visitors may return more often and be more likely to spread the good word and purchase the products they learn about on the sites. Social shopping sites reflect users' personal tastes and allow for online conversation. Visitors can learn what's popular, get shopping ideas and follow links to products they wouldn't necessarily find on their own.
3. Sites have distinct personalities. Here's a sampling of the hottest social shopping sites.
- ThisNext.com: Users can browse recommended products, add them to their wish lists, recommend or find out where to buy them, and create themed lists of their own.
- Crowdstorm.com: This site measures the buzz around products based on user recommendations. Popular items go to the top of the list.
- Kaboodle.com: Users create wish lists with photos and links to products for sale online. It's easy to post a summary of anything found on the internet.
- Stylehive.com: This is the hot site for women's fashions and interests.
- Wists.com: Users tend to focus on interesting new products and share links to the ones they want to buy.
4. Social shopping sites are An open door for entrepreneurs. Right now, any business owner can use them to build positive word-of-mouth that leads to sales. But you'd better move quickly. Some sites are testing free-use models as they build traffic and will likely adopt paid structures as they reach critical mass, perhaps through revenue generated by marketing agreements with vendors and retailers or by selling the trend information generated by users.
As with any marketing campaign, your first step is to get to know the media. Bookmark your favorite social shopping sites and learn how they work. Test the waters by posting one or two products with their URLs, taking special care to send your click-throughs to specialized landing pages so you can measure your results. Then have fun and stay active--and keep your postings interesting by sharing products others will want to buzz about.
Kim T. Gordon, author ofMaximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur atwww.smallbizbooks.com.