Social Shopping – the problems and some ideas

My wife has been very wary of looking for a sitter/daycare for our 19 month old. Especially since he’s still not talking and not able to communicate his needs clearly. But when a woman in a mom’s groups she belongs to emailed with a recommendation for a sitter, she forwarded the email to me and is considering using her.  It struck me how powerful just one email, from a mom she’s only known for a few weeks, about another women who she’s never met, can be.

Countless sites are attempting this, from Scordit to hollrr and more successfully to Blippy. Even Facebook is getting into the game with Places and it’s couponing system. But all those solutions seem to be lacking… something. Here are the pitfalls as I see them:

  1. They show you all reviews/ratings from everyone. The problem with that is I don’t care what most people think about a product. Though, I do occasionally read some of the more thoughtful reviews on Amazon.
  2. The products/services are show in a “stream”. The Twitter feed/Facebook wall style of presenting status updates just isn’t useful for product recommendations. My friends may buy a new vacuum cleaner today, but I may not need one until next year. However, I still want to get their opinions, and not have to do tedious searches to find them.
  3. You only get one review, and usually just after you got the product. The sites that offer incentives to review/rate products only incentivize the initial review.  To be a truly effective review, I want to see the initial thoughts on the products, plus the thoughts after a month or so of using (or not using) it, and then maybe 6 months or a year later.
  4. They want you to be part of THEIR social network. Here’s the sobering fact… NO ONE is leaving Facebook. At least not for the near future. People are NOT going to your site, signing up, filling in their info, leaving reviews, and “talking” to others on YOUR site. They will stay on Facebook. As the ReadWriteWeb/Google debacle from a few months ago shows, for many people Facebook IS the internet… and your site is not going to change that.

I figure there a few things that a successful social shopping site must have.

  1. First and foremost, it must be a Facebook app. Sure, you can have a regular website for those who want it… but the focus should be on FB and keeping the info within the FB frame.
  2. Finding recommendations needs to be super simple and intuitive. If I’m looking for a TV, I should be able to simply type “TV” and see what my friends have bought. I would also offer an advanced search for power users, so people can drill down into specifications or even expand the social graph beyond just their friends… but the core functionality should be just the basics.
  3. Awesome incentives to post and review. “Badges” are fine, but “20% off a $100 purchase at Best Buy” is GREAT. Also, increase the incentives as time passes – I envision something like Scordit, where you get points for each post or review.  Your first review, or “I just bought ___” post, gets 1 point.  A month later, your second review gets 5 points… a year later, 10 points. The points can then be used to get rewards, for example 100 points gets 10% off a purchase at Amazon… or a $5 gift card from Best Buy.
  4. Assign “importance” to your friends. Over two Facebook account, I have 117 friends. These are all people I know, but honestly, I only truly value the opinions of about 35 or so of them.  In my theoretical Social Shopping app, I should be able to give those friends priority and have their results be first on the list.

    Additionally, it would be cool to give certain friends priority over certain types of purchases — like my more tech-savvy friends having more priority when it comes to computer purchases. In a perfect world, there would be an algorithm that parses the data from your friends, and your interactions with them, and automatically prioritizes them. For example, you have two friends with the jobs listed as “IT specialist”, but you’ve only written on the wall of one of those friends.  So when you search for “computer monitor”, those 2 friends show up first, with the #1 friend on top.

  5. Mobile apps for every platform. If you’re in the store with your iPhone or Android, you should be able to open the app, scan the barcode, and get reviews. If there aren’t any reviews from your friends, you then have the option to view ANY review of the exact product, or your friends’ reviews of similar products. Including something like Google Goggles functionality would also be useful… since some stores don’t always have barcodes on their display items.

These are just a few of my thoughts on the matter. I think the biggest issues are going to be lowering the barrier for entry, and providing good incentives for people to participate.  Blippy gets really close, and has shown some success… but they’re still just not quite there.

Maybe one day I’ll spend a few days hacking out a prototype of my idea.