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:
· 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:
Youtube is another good way to interact with cutomers. I recently read it is now the second most popular search engine after Google.
People often want to get a better look at what they are buying, and a video can show them in a way text and pictures never will.
It will be interesting to see how this develops.