Social commerce is a form of electronic commerce that involves people sharing ideas and tips online about products they have bought or want to buy. It's related to social shopping, which refers to shoppers using social media and networks to engage in social commerce.
Social commerce as a phrase is used most often in contexts involving the perspective of retailers, whereas social shopping is more often used to refer to similar phenomena from the viewpoint of shoppers. Retailers also sometimes refer to "crowdsourcing product decisions," which means that a "crowd" of shoppers are helping one another make buying decisions by sharing information online.
The Many Faces of Social Shopping
Social commerce and social shopping come in many flavors. A horde of social commerce startups have launched in recent years offering social media tools to help people share information as they shop and thereby make the experience more "social." Tools include photo displays of favorite products, menu buttons that let people "like," "favorite" and recommend specific products.
Many of these social commerce services integrate directly with Facebook and Twitter so they allow users to piggy-back on their existing social networks; others offer their own networking tools.
Below is an overview of some leading types or categories of social commerce tools, technologies and related online communities. There is overlap between them, but each has core features that differentiate it from the others.
- Shopping communities: These social commerce communities are similar to social networks in that the primary focus is on helping shoppers connect to and follow one another, rather than simply buying/selling products or scoring deals/discounts. Two examples of established social shopping communities are Kaboodle and Polyvore, both focused on apparel. Kaboodle has a design similar to Pinterest and allows users to have individual profiles. Polyvore's specialty is letting its users mix and match outfits and display fashion combos in interesting ways.
- Shopping recommendation tools/sites : An example is OpenSky, a Mew York City-based social shopping marketplace that launched in 2011 offers deals exclusive to members. Its tag line is "shop your favorite people's favorite finds," because it's designed to let people share their recommendations automatically with friends. Other similar sites include ThisNext and Lockerz, which looks like Pinterest and is designed to let people recommend products they like.
- Image-sharing shopping sites -- Pinterest is the poster-child for visual shopping networks, having pioneered the visual grid design for sharing images of favorite products and other things. Other include The Fancy and Fab. Both started as image-sharing sites and have branched into social commerce.
- Group shopping, also known as "social buying" -- Groupon and LivingSocial are the poster children for group buying, but a ton of other, specialty group-buying sites have cropped up too.
- Daily deal and flash sale sites -- This category was red hot in 2010 but cooled off a bit in 2012 as many of these one-day-sale wonder sites started branching out and expanding into new areas, largely in an effort to build real businesses. Popular daily deals/flash sales sites and clubs in apparel include Gilt Groupe and RueLaLa.
- Social Marketplaces -- Etsy, Zaarly and Yardsellr are examples of very different kinds of social marketplaces. Etsy started as a simple online catalogue of hand-crafted goods but has added a lot of social networking features. Zaarly is designed to let people identify talented artists and craftspeople to hire them for specific work. And Yardsellr is attempting to create an online version of yard sales.
- Shopping games and apps -- Shopcade is an example of a Facebook shopping app that's popular. It shows users a stream of products based on what their Facebook friends have liked, shared or bought online.