Shopping is inherently social for women. Men might dread looking for new jeans, but it’s different for women. There’s the girl buying Louboutin shoes because their signature red soles scream that their owner is on top of the latest trends. Or she’s sporting a Missoni dress, which she fully realizes is recognized not because of its fabulous fit but because of its fabulous pattern. Women are bent on impressing one another. They want to save their best looks for girls night out rather than socking it away for the perfect date.
Now, the social web is providing women a new platform for self-expression with their own virtual runway. It’s a quiet shopping revolution that will have as big of an impact as ecommerce did over a decade ago.
Social shopping has exploded in recent years with sites like Shopstyle and commerce tools such as MetaLinQ’s PinChoose. Link those experiences to blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Their viral nature exponentially grows. Women now have the opportunity to “try on” and match individual items from vendors ranging from Target to Barneys. No longer are they confined to one-store shopping and forced to squint their eyes to imagine the combined look of clothes and accessories from competing companies. Social shopping enables them to hit multiple stores to piece together an outfit, which they share with their friends in their social network, get immediate feedback and then make the purchase. For many, social shopping has become as much of a form of artistic expression as a mechanism to purchase. Showcasing a new look to your girlfriends is now accomplished in your sweatpants, with a click of a mouse.
This brings up not only amazing opportunities for marketers but challenges too. Fashion brands need to figure out how to control brand identify and affinity on this new platform. The most important new wrinkle for brands to grasp is that consumers now can mold and promote the brand as they see fit. Brand control is limited. This is a novel concept that for most fashion houses is worth embracing rather than shying away. There will always be social media nightmare case studies. Remember Kenneth Cole’s disastrous tweets about Egypt?
Still, the opportunities are too many to pass up. For fashion specifically, a company can hold sway over how consumers evangelize a product and participate in promoting the brand — in a way that’s not inherently risky. Social shopping tools can and should be leveraged by brands not only on their partner sites such as Shopstyle, but also on their own sites and within their social networks. Giving their audience the tools to create and share looks is the key to purchase. This new platform has plucked clothing items that were once only aspirational and handed them to amateur stylists to promote on social shopping sites, Facebook, Twitter and more. The affluent consumer now has greater access and can see how a single item can work for various looks – all of which ultimately leads to the final purchase. The dynamic aspect of these social shopping tools also enables blogs, video and other content providers to insert ecommerce into the editorial experience, which creates a shorter, more immediate purchase funnel.
Social shopping is more than ecommerce. It is a dynamic marketing platform. In the internet’s early days, many retailers feared ecommerce stores would cannibalize their brick-and-mortar business. The more savvy operations realized that the two could complement one another. Social shopping can build on this in a second revolution. Imagine the girl sitting at home using a favorite brand to design looks online. She then shares those combinations on her favorite social shopping site, along with those linked to her social networks, which entices others to “shop the look.” She posts the outfit to her favorite blog, which is then promoted as a community look of the week. Viewers on these sites see the ensemble, get excited about a potential new wardrobe enhancement and grow eager to make a purchase that they can then digitally share with friends. Some will buy it at their local Nordstrom; others will do their spending online. The result is greater brand reach and awareness, coupled with brand evangelism that marketers couldn’t put a price on.
And to think, it all begins with a girl looking to showcase a cool pair of Louboutins and a Missoni dress with a killer pattern.
Kristine Shine is the chief revenue officer of PopSugar Media, a digital publishing company focused on young women. Follow her on Twitter @kristineshine.