Social Shopping

Source: NYTimes, Aug 2013

The Web has yet to duplicate the real-world feel of a mall, where shoppers can pop in and out of multiple stores, easily browsing racks of clothing, display cases of jewelry and shelves of housewares. And online, friends can’t join you in a dressing room to help you avoid buying fashion faux pas. … But now, many entrepreneurs have their sights set on better replicating those experiences online, creating a category of e-commerce loosely known as social shopping.

The social shopping sites essentially compile stylish goods of similar sensibility from shops around the Web, and make it easy to share with friends what items they like and buy. Most of the sites have adopted the interface of pinning images on a virtual bulletin board popularized by Pinterest, one of the most popular social networks.

“The current state of commerce is very fragmented,” she said. “Stores expect you to discover their site on your own and know what’s relevant and interesting.”

The shopping sites do not sell one type of item or good — instead, they mimic a bazaar where people can browse through bins at their leisure. The point, of course, is also to find a way to profit off the millions of people who are looking for a better way to shop online.

Among the sites are Polyvore, Svpply, Fancy, Fab and Wantworthy. They each vary slightly, but they share a common DNA. After a user signs up, which is usually free, the sites show a collection of items, either based on a curated selection or what other members have recently bought and liked.

In addition, most social shopping sites let their users find and follow their friends and favorite brands or shops, which creates a feed akin to those on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The feed is filled with new items that they might like to buy.

the latest social shopping sites, says Gene Alvarez, an analyst at Gartner, are meant to appeal to a younger generation of shoppers — users who like to see what’s trending among others with similar tastes. The rise of the visual Web and popularity of image-heavy sites like Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr and Instagram, is also influencing the look of e-commerce sites as well, he said.

“Once they start following, they start purchasing,” he said about users. “It’s a recommendation, but it’s not automated. It’s a recommendation from a friend instead of an algorithm.” The power of that influence, Mr. Alvarez said, cannot be underestimated.

Wanelo, for example, lets a user tell friends about a great find by clicking a button to post the item on the site. When users decide to buy an item through the site, like one of its colorful shirts or shoes, they are rerouted to the company that is offering it for sale. Wanelo collects commission, essentially a finder’s fee.

In March, the company raised $11 million, to put the company’s valuation at $100 million.  Wanelo now has more than 10 million members — mostly women, the company says, and many teenagers, one of the most coveted demographics for online retailing. More than 200,000 companies and brands have signed up on Wanelo.

Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder and chief executive of Rakuten, a Japanese e-commerce company and investment firm, said that American companies were finally beginning to realize that the future of commerce looks more like a marketplace, where people can complete errands at the same time, like buy wine for a dinner party, right after they have picked out the dress.

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