Internet shopping: the new dawn

Student Life

No one cares what you buy this Christmas. It’s not important. What matters is where you buy it from. While Mary Portas and David Cameron tussle with shopping malls in a desperate bid to bring you back to the high street, internet shopping is going through a transformation of its own. This Christmas isn’t about e-commerce, it’s about s-commerce.

S-commerce is social shopping and it’s been the word on retail strategists lips (and possibly in Portas’s nightmares) since midway through this year. It uses social networking to sell products and rate them.

This isn’t a totally new concept. Socially focused websites have been around for a while such as Groupon (group + coupon) which launched in November 2008. What’s new for Christmas 2011 is social networking being an integral part of the shopping website itself.

One of the most prominent arrivals on the scene is Shopow (shopper + power – what is it with social shopping and portmanteaus?). At its core, Shopow is a price comparison site but its s-commerce focus makes it so much more.

Once you’ve compared prices, users are advised to review and rate items, as with many other e-commerce sites, but the difference is that once you review you’re invited to spread the word on Shopow and beyond. To paraphrase Cher Lloyd, they want people “writin’ bout it, clickin’ bout it, tweeting bout it”.

By way of remuneration for your prolific advertising of different products and shops within your digital personal space, Shopow offers the internet’s reward of the moment: badges. Earning digital badges is the life blood, if not sole focus, of websites such as GetGlue and Foursquare. You earn badges for use of the site’s features and reaching landmarks in your usage. There’s also the opportunity to work your way to earning the coveted mantle of that day’s most active users or top reviewers.

Users can follow each other and be followed so that no-one has to miss their insights, ‘shout’ about items (posting their views to a communal newsfeed) and ask questions to fellow Shopow-ers (in a communal forum).

The ‘questions’ area of the site is particularly popular and, in spite of the fairly limited number of users at present, plenty of questions are being asked and more importantly they’re being answered. The questions are fairly banal such as “Does the size 8 of this dress come up big?”. While it doesn’t make fascinating reading, people, for whatever reason, trust other shoppers more than anyone else when it comes to making a purchase so being able to ask the opinion of others, even strangers, is bound to be popular.

The site also includes voucher codes from various online retailers. While codes for big name shops are few and far between, the range is pretty good and there’s at least one retailer for each letter of the alphabet (well, except ‘x’ but be fair). If the other sides of the site take off, big names will come flocking.

There is a peculiar symmetry between this Christmas’s rise of s-commerce and the Portas report which suggests getting socialising back at the heart of our high streets as the remedy for the town centre decimation. Has the internet managed to stay one step ahead once again bringing socialising to shopping while Portas’ proposed ‘Town Teams’ are little more than just words on paper?

Dom Gilchrist

PHOTO/Robin Drayton

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