Shopping is undeniably a social activity. As more retailers realize the need to embrace social media, they're also recognizing that there are key loyalty differences between online and offline retail behavior: in the online world, retailers have to deal with the fact that customers can switch behaviors as soon as they see something better.
Customers, especially generation Y, who are more involved in social networking than any other generation, tend to leave the retailers site to seek opinions and recommendations from social networks and communities. There are two approaches that retailers can take to be part of the conversations and enable their customers to engage in social shopping in a more seamless manner.
The first method involves syndicating their product catalogs right to the place where the conversations and recommendations happen: blogs, social rating sites, social networking sites and other affiliate sites. There are plenty of examples of retailers syndicating their product catalogs via APIs and making them available to social sites. I love what companies like Best Buy, Tesco, Amazon and EBay have done by making their APIs available for developers to integrate into their sites. This method also involves building social applications on platforms like Facebook and enabling social shopping experiences.
Best Buy Remix is the open API for Best Buy's product catalog, featuring full product information including pricing, availability, specifications, descriptions and images for nearly a million current and historical products. It can be accessed via http://remix.bestbuy.com/ Through the Amazon Associates Web Service API developers can retrieve product information and access e-commerce functionality. This allows developers, web site publishers and others to leverage the data that Amazon uses to power its own business, and potentially make money as an Amazon affiliate. https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/main.html . Tesco has its own API web to access the Grocery catalog at https://www.lansleytech.com/tescoapiweb/ . Check out Nick Lansleys blog for more information: http://techfortesco.blogspot.com/ . The eBay API at http://developer.ebay.com/common/api/ enables developers to submit items for listing on eBay, get current listings and eBay categories and more.
We are not only seeing more and more retailers make their APIs available so that they can be wherever their customers are but we are also seeing Social Networking sites open up so that you can take customers social networks to shopping sites for a true social shopping experience, bringing us to the second method: enabling social interactions on the retailers site.
On the retailer's site, customers should be able to view their friend's comments and ratings. If the customer is considering a specific product and wants to solicit feedback from their friends they should be able to push the information out via feeds to one or more social networks and get feedback in real time. In addition, integration of instant messaging tools within the retailer's site can enable the customer to engage in real time conversations with any of their friends. Customers benefit from this approach since they are able to view comments on products from friends whose opinions they trust and also engage in real time communication with them. They have a richer shopping experience as a result and retailers benefit from the fact that the customers never have to leave their site to obtain feedback and opinions.
To enable the above scenarios, retailers need to look for social networking platforms that can enable the following:
- Provide a large user community. The social networking platform should be well established and have a significantly large user base.
- Activity Feeds. The social networking platform should enable users to selectively publish feeds of their activity on retailer's sites to various Social Networking sites. Feeds are a powerful viral promotion and user acquisition tool. The more users clicking on published feeds, the more the increase in traffic to your site.
- Single Click Sharing. This capability allows customers to share news, offers or other content on retailer's sites to the various social networking sites in a 'single-click'. This capability has excellent viral capability and helps retailers in user acquisition and brand visibility.
- Easy Integration. The social networking platform should enable the retailer to integrate social networking capabilities into their site. This is an effective tool for driving large user acquisition and engagement. With this capability, users should be able to-
· Log into the retailers site using their Social Network ID.
· Access and interact with their social network profile and friends list via the retailer's site.
· Communicate with their friends on the retailer's site and share content from the site via instant messaging tools.
· Selectively publish feeds of their activity on the retailer's site to social networking sites.
· Share wish lists and shopping lists with people in their network.
Recommendations based on Market Basket Analysis are great for making recommendations to customers but ultimately customers trust opinions of their friends and peers and their ability to seek opinions easily can mean significant ROI for the retailer. A combination of both options would give customers a much richer experience.
Some of the options/tools that I have explored lately, that will help you enable all or some of the above capabilities:
- RPX: RPX handles the UI, authentication, and import of user profile and registration data for your website. With RPX (http://rpxnow.com ), you can have your users log into your site using their Facebook account, Google account. MySpaceID, Yahoo account, OpenID or Windows Live ID. http://MySears.com is one of the sites that use RPX today.
- Facebook Connect: With the Facebook Connect APIs you gain access to a user's identity, feeds and other integration points within Facebook. For more information see: http://developers.facebook.com/connect.php . The Facebook Connect APIs can be used to enable users to easily share content and the actions they take on your site with their friends on Facebook.
- Windows Live Authentication: Windows Live ID is the identity and authentication system provided by Windows Live. I like the fact that it has a massive user base and more than 460 million users have credentials that work with Windows Live ID. Three software development kits (SDKs) now make it possible for developers. The SDKs and other information can be found at : http://dev.live.com/liveid/ . http://Expedia.com is one of the sites that use Windows Live Authentication today.
- AddThis: AddThis is a bookmarking and sharing button on the Internet. It makes it easy for visitors to bookmark and share content to their favorite social destinations. http://www.time.com/time/ is one of the sites that uses AddThis. You can get more information at
- Disqus: Disqus is a comment system that enhances the discussion on websites. http://www.ubergizmo.com/ is one of the sites that use this solution for adding discussions to postings. You can get more details of Disqus via: http://disqus.com/ .