As more shoppers move to the Internet for their bargain hunting, we’re left (certainly in England) with quite a bit of vacant high street property. Many stores, even big chains, simply aren’t able to price their products competitively enough to compete with on-line stores that don’t pay inner city rents.
Once the shoppers are on-line, a wealth of information becomes available that helps the prospective buyer make their decisions. Price search engines help to find the best deals without the user even having to move from their seat (let alone hike around town). There are countless sites hosting professional and consumer reviews and opinions to help buyers find the potential pit falls of their chosen product. Other web sites help users find new and interesting products that the shopper perhaps did not even know about.
What does the future of on-line shopping look like?
One benefit to going shopping in the real world, is that you can bring a friend with you. You’ll get a cup of coffee and talk about whether or not those jeans you were looking at were a good deal, or whether they would suit you and, additionally, what else you might buy to go with it. These sorts of activities are currently poorly served by the current format of on-line shopping. Shopping via your web browser can, for some people, feel a bit soulless. Can we ever recreate the “social” aspect of the on-line shopping experience? I think that we probably can get very close!
Social Shopping for the masses!
It turns out that we already do rather a log of socialising on-line anyway. With social networks like Facebook, Twitter and <insert your favourite regional social network here>, we can communicate at light speed how we feel, what we are doing and whether or not the dog is currently asleep.
A simple web shop that provides Facebook integration does not, however, mean that you have a social shopping site. A web site must actively support shoppers in their efforts to find products, recommend products to others and to get overall advise and ideas.
Most of all, social shopping must be fun.
Shelf9.com is a new social shopping platform that aims to bring together groups of like minded people and help them communicate. A user can find things they like from a very large catalog of products from a variety of on-line stores and brands. Products can build their own “shelf” with the products that they particularly like, or that work well together. Building a shelf is done with an easy to use drag and drop editor and, once complete, these shelves can be shared with friends via social networks.
I think that Shelf9 has a lot of potential to help small businesses come into contact with shoppers. If you have an on-line store, one of your main concerns will be marketing. If you make your own products, this also includes building up your brand awareness. To achieve this with Shelf9, you can simply start building shelves with your products (which can easily be added to the platform). Once added, other users can combine these with other products in their own shelves which they will share with all their friends. If a shop has high quality products, they will quickly become disseminated throughout the community.
Shoppers get to discover all sorts of smaller brands from shops that they would never have found otherwise.
Shelf9 is completely free for shoppers and small businesses alike and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite everyone to have a go.