Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Get in on the social shopping craze

The social element of shopping is manifesting in many ways online, providing marketers with opportunities -- and challenges. NetPlus Marketing's president describes the environment.

The thrill of the deal, spreading the word, networking with birds of your feather, getting the scoop -- social shopping has all of the trappings, joys and innuendos that fuel commerce.

In 2008, U.S. advertisers are expected to spend nearly $1.6 billion -- up 69 percent from the $920 million they will have spent in 2007, according to the report, "Social Network Marketing: Ad Spending and Usage." In four years, U.S. ad spend on social-networking sites is expected to reach $2.7 billion.

Social commerce has arrived….so pay attention
Simply put, social commerce is about customers having the means to interact with one another in order to make better buying decisions.

The social aspects of shopping have long been an integral part of our culture first institutionalized and marketed perhaps with the original Tupperware Home Party in 1948. Asking someone where she got that great bag, hearing about the latest sale from a friend or socializing at the mall are all integral parts of our consumer culture.

The advent of ecommerce and, more specifically, word-of-mouth vehicles such as reviews on shopping sites and other online platforms is a bold extension of the power of word of mouth and the social joys that accompany shopping. New media communications now provide an even broader, extensible platform to further ignite the social aspect of shopping.

Social shopping online expresses itself in a multitude of different ways, from so-called social shopping sites with features that encourage word of mouth to social networks such as Facebook that are trying to monetize their social fabric with shopping applications.

What does this all mean for marketers? How can they join in the conversation, start the buzz, spread the word without seeming like…well, like they are trying to sell stuff? What is acceptable in this environment? What are the current options, opportunities and challenges?

To begin to answer these questions requires gaining an understanding of how social shopping is being enacted, the environment, the opportunities and challenges.

The environment
From social networks to social shopping sites and site features that encourage and facilitate social commerce, social shopping is evolving. With most teens and nearly 40 percent of adults visiting social networking sites, advertisers are avidly experimenting on Facebook, MySpace and niche online social networks, according to a new eMarketer report. Social networking sites and services designed around shopping such as Stylehive, Kaboodle and CrowdStorm encourage customer feedback, discussion and reviews. They are rooted in encouraging dialogue, chatter and peer-to-peer sharing of information.

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