'Tis the season for social shopping features.
As syndicated user reviews and other "2.0"-type e-commerce experiences gain cred, a number of sites are using user content to spread the commercial cheer. Whether the social shopping fad will have any effect on this year's holiday buying season, however, remains to be seen.
"There's a lot of supply, but it's unclear whether or not there's the demand," for social shopping services, said Forrester Research Senior Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "These are interesting ideas, but it's still a little early," she continued.
Several companies have deployed blog and video content to assist Web users' gift buying process. Best Buy is sponsoring a gadget guide pooling reviews of new tech products from across the Federated Media Publishing blog network. The $179 Staywell Infra-Red Dog Door, for instance, is featured in a post from Uncrate, a men's shopping blog in FM's network. The guide also features product reviews and posts from other gizmo-crazed blogs in the network, such as Street Tech and XYZ Computing, both of which are running Best Buy banners.
Separately, ExpoTV has packaged a number of end user video product reviews for Web and cable VOD. Clips feature everyday folks presenting a range of items, including REI Monarch III GTX hiking boots and the Le Creuset Dutch oven. Each compilation show features five mini-guides. The video snippets, amateurish versions of the product-driven lifestyle shows that flood cable TV, will be made available in December through Comcast, Time Warner and other cable operators. In between the short episodes, ExpoTV offers shopping tips and suggests purchasing gifts online at UncommonGoods or RedEnvelope.
Another site, MyPickList.com, has gathered about 1,000 registrants in the few weeks it's been publicly accessible. The site allows users to highlight and link to preferred products using a customizable widget they can add to their personal blogs or profile pages. If items sold by MyPickList affiliate merchants are purchased through one of those widget links, the company shares half its commission with the widget-wielding user.
"We're not trying to become a portal," said Jeff Eichel, president of MyPickList publisher Sprout Commerce. "Our products are geared around being portable....To be able to piggyback off of existing infrastructure that's there already made the most sense." The company also aims to help lesser-known brands get off the ground through its Favorite Thingz site, which allows users to earn money by spotlighting brand logos on their personal pages and blogs.
ThisNext has a similar tool allowing users to deck their sites with lists of products, called "shopcasts." Shopping search site ShopWiki lets users submit video and text reviews, and add to or edit product category guides. Yahoo aims to socialize online shopping through its "Shoposphere" communities.
Sites like Stylehive, Kaboodle and Wists have similar offerings, enabling people to grab product images and links, add them to their sites, write reviews, and share information about chosen items with others.
The democratized approach can only go so far, though, said Forrester's Mulpuru, who believes an editorial filter is needed for the social shopping phenomenon to become truly valuable to the majority of consumers. "These are all attempts to facilitate that process of discovery and unearth that gem, but what they're doing right now isn't unearthing gems; they're unearthing a lot of junk."
Sprout Commerce's Eichel is banking on the social shopping scene to have a greater effect over the next two years. "Retailers love the whole concept," he said. "There's nothing better to them than word of mouth marketing." Still, he isn't counting on his company's offerings gaining much traction this holiday season. "I doubt it's going to have any major impact this holiday year," said Eichel, "but next year it could have one."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.