The retail experience is profoundly social by its very nature. Don't you think? After all, it brings people together to interact over products and services. Sometimes it's one-on-one, other times in groups. Conversation ensues as a result of the interaction with the sales assistant and/or with shopping partners. Or, at least, it used to...
When consumers didn't walk into stores with so much information, knowing more than sales associates.
When sales associates were true relationship professionals, rather than order takers, who engaged customers in dialog to uncover needs, who consulted rather than forced a hard sell.
When consumers had more time on their hands and social shopping outings were an ideal means of getting caught up on friendship.
Interestingly, it looks like not all is lost. In fact, technology offers profound social implications for the retail experience - not necessarily as a result of the kind of scenario described in Prototype Store Checkouts Inspired by Internet Shopping Experiences [which I consider more of an efficiency enhancer], but rather because of the tools of social media that allow us to transfer and enhance the social elements of shopping on the consumer's terms. Through blogs, comments, comparisons and other new e-commerce tools.
Take the tools described in Social shopping is poised for growth that "enable two or more consumers in different locations to view the same product on an e-commerce site while trading comments back and forth." Example: Charlotte Russe and DecisionStep's ShopTogether service [definitely check out the demonstration video; I'm in awe over the options available for sharing and the ease of it] which has resulted in shopping not just with friends, but also with parents, siblings and other family members.
[Here is ShopTogether applied to Area Rugs!]
How Retailers Can Benefit From Social Media offers additional examples of retailers using social media - such as ratings, reviews, recommendations, blogs, forums and photo sharing - to "transform their Web properties into online destinations with vibrant communities" by creating a "compelling content experience" which can lead to long-term trust and loyalty. Check out Whole Foods and its forums, and Comcast's Vehix.com.
Vehix.com is worth exploring. I love how clean the site it; not your typical car buying experience! Notice the ratings and reviews, and the community tab.
[The article also refers to Circuit City leveraging social media tools to help shoppers make decisions via integrated forums, but I couldn't find any signs of it other than references to Twitter and Facebook. Plus, the busy-ness of the website turned me off. If I missed it completely, could you let me know?]
According to a study by Ketchum and the University of Southern California's Annenberg Strategic PR Center, and described in Blogs making a bigger impact at the point of purchase, study finds, "consumers are more frequently basing their buying decisions on information gleaned from shopping Web sites, blogs, and social networking sites." That includes perspectives from peers. I love the article's characterization of Google as the "world's largest publication" because so many consumers [myself included] start their shopping at a search engine's query window.
You can glean more details from the study in Survey Reveals Media Channel Lines Continue to Blur about the 2008 US Media Myths & Realities survey.
Does your own personal online activity parallel any of these observations about online resources?
What's your reaction? How might online and digital social add analog social to your retail experience? What are the implications?