Social Shopping: New ways in which our social networks will influence our purchase decisions


These days, we’re never alone. Our social networks are constantly with us, just one tempting click away – the click that distracts us in meetings, entertains us in public transport, and has ruined many a date. The increasing presence of and access to our social networks is influencing how we buy and sell, and in this post I’ll be focusing on two fascinating developments in how we shop – asking for instant opinions while in store, and selling to our social networks online.

We’ve always searched for opinions on decisions. Before, we asked friends or sales assistants – ignoring the feeling we had that they were probably either telling us what we wanted to hear (in the case of friends) or simply telling us to buy (sales assistants). Then, we started reading online reviews – what were meant to be honest opinions from strangers. These too are now taken with a pinch of salt as companies hire writers to create praising reviews for them for a few dollars apiece – necessitating the creation of a fake review detector earlier this year.

There are signs that the next stage of asking opinions about purchases could lie in apps that enable people to pose questions to their friends, network and strangers immediately, while still in store. Opinionaided allows people to ask questions ranging from ‘Which shoes to buy?’ to ‘Should I dump my boyfriend?’ The answers will be immediate – and brutally honest. Honestly Now is a similar social game, but aimed at women aged 30 to 50, and focuses on personal decisions and tricky situations. Players can choose to keep questions private with friends, or share queries anonymously with all users. With both apps, key to getting users to trust the opinions is allowing them to rate others’ answers; those with stellar ratings get pro status – making it harder for companies to keep recommending buying their own products.

The access we have to our social networks could also change the way we sell things. One of the first companies to offer any Facebook user who considers themselves a trendsetter the chance to curate their own boutiques online is Shopcade. Shopcade users will be able pick items from different brands based on their sense of style, and make money when their friends buy through them. Some forward-thinking brands are turning directly to social selling through social media. For instance, a newly launched jewellery brand Chloe + Isabel only sells their high-fashion accessories online through organically-growing networks of women – sold by a fashionable and tech-savvy version of Avon ladies. The company designs, produces, and markets fashion jewellery for interested sellers, who then create their own virtual boutiques selling the brand’s jewellery on a 30% commission. A sign of strong faith in the future of the business model is shown by the fact that the company has so far received over $10 million in venture capital.

It’ll be interesting to watch these new behaviours emerge, and how brands will tap into them. The desire for instant and honest feedback on purchase decisions won’t necessarily need to exclude brands – for instance, fashion brands could offer instant opinions from personal stylists, or team up with respected fashion bloggers to do this. Whether any big brands will experiment with social selling 2.0 will be interesting to see – the next stage of brand ambassadors could well be brand salesmen.

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