Create a social shopping experience

As we move deeper in the age of social networks, a new shopping experience takes shape: social shopping. Shopping with your friends has always been a fun way to engage in actions with them and do things together, but can this experience be moved online ? Can you enjoy online shopping, from the front of your pc as much as real-life shopping where you see your friends face, expression, smile? While this is a matter that we can not prove yet (maybe until we will have virtual reality or shopping inside applications such as Second Life or IMVU), we can definitly create a fun and helpful experience for customers. It has been shown several times that people tend to ask questions about products in social networks (such as Facebook or Twitter) before they buy and they base their decisions on their friends opinions.

In this article I will talk about ways in which we can use social elements inside the shops we create. I will cover aspects such as why are these elements important and about a mindset that we need to have when we introduce them: where can we use Facebook comments to increase sales, what should we let visitors tweet about, etc. The article will not include how-to aspects because the Internet is already full of these and a simple search on Google can reveal them.

So what is social shopping? Social shopping is a new method that uses the power of social networks to aid the customers with the ability to communicate online with their friends about the products they want to buy. To understand why this is important, let’s see some statistics:

  • 32% of consumers think better of a brand or product that has been recommended1
  • 46% of online shoppers are undecided what they want to purchase online1
  • 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users2
  • When asked what sources “influence your decision to use or not use a particular company, brand or product” 71% claim reviews from family members or friends exert a “great deal” or “fair amount” of influence.3
  • 83% of online shoppers said they are interested in sharing information about their purchases with people they know, while 74 percent are influenced by the opinions of others in their decision to buy the product in the first place.4
  • 81% of respondents said they`d received advice from friends and followers relating to a product purchase through a social site; 74% of those who received such advice found it to be influential in their decision.5
  • Facebook and Twitter users spend 1.5x more online than the average shopper6
  • About 29% of respondents aged 18-34 said they have discovered a product or service through a social network.7

http://www.immediatefuture.co.uk Accessed at Oct 17, 2010

http://econsultancy.com Accessed at Oct 17, 2010

3 Harris Interactive, June 2010

http://www.managesmarter.com Accessed at Oct 17, 2010

http://www.clickz.com Accessed at Oct 17, 2010

http://www.briansolis.com Accessed at Oct 17, 2010

http://www.atg.com Accessed at Jan 21, 2011

Using social elements in the right place can help us convert visitors into customers. Let’s see some examples.

Facebook and social shopping

Facebook is one of the best tools for social shopping. You can use the Like button to gain fidelity from users and later inform them about discounts or offers, post to their wall, invite their friends to join shopping and get discounts together. All of these are simple to implement and Facebook Developers section covers them in detail.

You can also implement the shops you create directly  in Facebook using Canvas. This way you will pass over the border between shops and the social network as you will allow users to shop directly from their favorite website. This has several benefits: it can be very user friendly as people will shop without leaving Facebook and it can gain trust from users because they already trust Facebook. This trust can be extended to some degree if you use Facebook Credits (however you need to play carefully with this, as Facebook takes a commission that not many of your clients will want to lose).

However you decide to implement these features, it is very important to keep in mind that you need to not be overwhelming and to plan very carefully every element. For example, it is good to have the Like button customized for each product and placed near the “Add to cart” button as this is a call to action that your client will want to do. Also, it would be a good idea to place a post to News Feed box under these where you will let the user ask his friends what they think about this product. We will probably show you how to implement this in a future article.

API Graph can help you learn more about customers without asking them to complete forms. The information you learn about them can be used later in newsletters or in personalizing their experience trough the shop. For example, if you learn that your customer is a woman of  36 years old you can recommend specific products for her which would be different from those shown to a man that is  57 years old.

A very important aspect that you should consider is letting users signup and login with Facebook. This would be a 2 click-steps, instead of completing a very long form. You can take the other information you need, such as shipping address or phone number in the Checkout step, when the user buys first.

All of these are cool, but the  most important aspect of social shopping is perhaps the communication that increases sales and converts friends of customers into customers. Communication leads to trust, and opinions about products from real people and especially people that we know in real life increase conversions. This is why Comments provided by Facebook should have a central role in your ecommerce application.

Facebook Comments

Have you ever based your purchase on the reviews a product had? How important it is to know who wrote that review, if it is fake or real? Using Facebook Comments can help us in several ways:

  • Facebook Comments show who wrote that review – you can see a few words about that person directly in the comments box or you can click on their picture and view their profile.
  • Facebook orders comments by order of relevance for you.  Comments are ordered to show users the most relevant comments from friends, friends of friends, and the most liked or active discussion threads, while comments marked as spam are hidden from view.
  • You can reduce SPAM because writing comments/reviews is not public. Users need to signup to Facebook or to a 3rd party client such as Yahoo, AOL or Hotmail in order to write.
  • You can administrate all of your comments directly from Facebook
  • Facebook includes a basic grammar filter that:
    • Fix common grammar mistakes (e.g. convert ‘dont’ to ‘don’t’)
    • Facebook Comments are viral – every message users post is also shown in their News Feed – you can reach their friends and then their friends friends creating a viral loop that brings new customers for your clients.
      • Trims extra whitespace
      • Auto cases words (e.g. capitalize the first word of a sentence)
      • Expands slang words (e.g. plz becomes please)
      • Adds a space after punctuation (e.g. Hi,Cat would become Hi, Cat)

Maybe you are wondering why, as a developer, should you care about the number of customers your clients have or gets thanks to you? The answer is simple: because there are a lot of developers that do exactly what you do so you need to differentiate, to stay above. These social elements can help you achieve exactly that goal.

It is very easy to integrate Facebook Comments. While you can find the complete documentation athttp://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/comments/ , i’d like to state that all you have to do is add a code that can be generated on that page:

<div></div><script src=”http://connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#appId=APP_ID&amp;xfbml=1″></script><fb:comments href=”example.com” num_posts=”2″ width=”500″></fb:comments>

You will probably want to change:

a)      appID to an application ID that you have registered on http://www.facebook.com/developers/createapp.php

b)      href – to your page URL. This will be used in News Feed

c)      num_posts – number of comments that will be shown

d)     width – the width of the comments box

You can also use a programming language to dynamically change the href portion for every page.

Social shopping outside Facebook

Social shopping is not just for Facebook. Any social tool, such as Twitter or MySpace can be used to create something unique. However, you should keep in mind that all of these have something specific. Twitter is not a social network in the real sense of the word, but a news network. It is great thus to use it to inform people. Give valuable information to customers that they will want to share with their friends. Place Tweet buttons in your products page, in your wishlists (“I like these products from SHOPNAME: product1, product2, product3.”) and anywhere you can give users something valuable to share.

Create a points system based on actions users do in shops (reviews, adding products to wishlist, sharing with friends) and reward them with gifts or discounts.

It is also great to use tools others have created and decrease the time you spend coding your own. Addthis.com provides a wide list of networks where you can share information, while OpenInviter provides a huge lists of networks where you can send invitations to friends. Online shopping tools such as ShopSocial.ly or Squeeqly.com can add a plus of professionalism to the shops you create. ShopSocial.ly let’s your users discuss about products they like, while Squeeqly rewards customer with discounts for sharing their purchases on social networks.

In this article we have discussed about social shopping features that you can add to your shops and create unique ecommerce websites. In future articles we will discuss about the ways we can code these features in our applications.

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My name is George Olah and I am an entrepreneur and web developer. My favorite web domains are web development, online gaming, gamification and social shopping. If you need any work done in these fields please contact me!
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