E-commerce UX outfit metaLinQ has posted a useful interactive directory of social commerce software vendors at http://socialcommercevendors.com specifically for online retailers.

It’s a work in progress and metaLinQ are asking for feedback, suggestions and contributions.  But with 93 companies offering 118 solutions in 23 categories it’s already a useful resource (for f-commerce software vendors see also FacebookStoreFinder).

We’ve listed the proposed 23 social commerce categories below which together provide a good birds-eye view of all that passes for social commerce today.  If nothing else they reinforce the idea that there’s a whole lot more to social commerce than setting up shop on Facebook and selling on group-buy sites.

Some may argue that such a broad church of 23 social commerce categories makes the term social commerce meaningless, encompassing all social software for e-commerce sites and all e-commerce software for social sites.  But for those ready for solutions rather than strategy, it’s a useful resource.

Strangely, the directory does not include “ratings and reviews” – the one social software service that has a proven track record in boosting e-commerce performance. Perhaps it will come.

To make the categories more intuitive, we’d suggesting bundling the tools into two buckets – e-commerce software/services for social sites and social software/services for e-commerce sites, and listing them by the particular benefit they are designed deliver.

Social Commerce Categories

Ask a Friend: Makes it easy for a shopper to ask her Facebook Friends, Twitter Followers, etc. for their opinion on items that the shopper is considering buying. Unlike traditional Q&A, this solution is particularly helpful when shopping for soft goods such as apparel where it’s more important for the person providing advice to know the shopper and her tastes and body style than to know or have experience with the product itself. With well-implemented social Ask a friend solutions, the retailer benefits not only from helping the shopper make a decision but also from exposing their products to numerous friends and followers some of whom will also make a purchase from the retailer.

Augmented Reality: Utilizes cameras to blend ‘real-world’ imagery with product imagery and information in real-time. Can be used to allow a shopper to visualize how an article of clothing will look on her and to share the combined image with her friends.

Co-browsing and/or Chat: Allows shoppers to chat in real-time with their friends while easily sharing product details of the item the shopper is considering. Co-browsing further allows the shopper’s friend to see the same screen that the shopper is looking at as she navigates between different products on the retailer site.

Crowdsourced Personal Shoppers: Lets shoppers pose a question about products they are considering buying to product experts from a pool of previously-contracted personal shoppers who each get paid a small fee or commission. The interaction can be real-time as in chat or near-real-time (response within 5-10 minutes).

Customised on-site FB apps: These vendors provide widgets and applications that utilize Facebook Connect that are customized for each retailer.

Discounts/Coupons: Refers to consumer-facing social shopping web sites and applications that also allow online retailers to participate by providing special offers to their users. To be included here, the social shopping web site or app must do more with Facebook than just allow its users to share coupons. This category is tentative.

Distributed Commerce: Retailers can expand the reach of their online merchandising by employing Distributed Commerce widgets. These widgets can be deployed on various external sites such as affiliate blogs, retailer blog or Facebook fan page and provide to visitors interactive product information and imagery. In the past, most such solutions were deployed using Flash in small standard ad units. Syndicated Merchandising™ is a subset of this category that provides for distributed rich product presentation without the transaction processing component – instead the visitor is transferred to the shopping cart on the retailer’s main ecommerce site.

Facebook Store: Also referred to as F-commerce, these solutions allow retailers to place a mini version of their online ecommerce site inside a tab on their Facebook fan page. Some solutions provide for only browsing of products and take the user to the main ecommerce site for actual order processing while others provide an integrated checkout.

Gamification: Employs techniques known as game mechanics to encourage shopper behavior that is advantageous to the retailer. Typically involves issuing points and badges to shoppers who look at products, share, ask or answer questions, etc.

Group-Buying Platform: Offers a white label group discount buying solution that allows retailers to implement their own Groupon-style promotions.

Incentivised Product Sharing: A form of product sharing that employs various forms of incentives such as discounts, coupons, points, virtual currency, etc. to encourage shoppers to share product details with their friends and followers. This category includes both post-purchase sharing of the products just purchased as well as pre-purchase incentivized Likes and other forms of incentivized sharing.

Marketplace: Refers to consumer-facing social shopping online marketplaces that also allow online retailers to list their products.  Traditional marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay are not listed. To be included here, the marketplace must be primarily oriented to consumers selling items to other consumers and it must do more with Facebook than just allow its users to share products, i.e. it typically has social merchandising features

Onsite Social Merchandising: Makes it possible for shoppers to see items that their friends and neighbors either purchased or thought were interesting right on the retailer’s ecommerce site. Seeing friends and their items helps the shopper discover interesting products and provides an endorsement to these items and to the retailer. This category also contains vendors where the exact details of their onsite social shopping solution were fuzzy.

Outfitting: Allows shoppers to visually put together an outfit of several articles of clothing, possibly shoes, accessories, etc. and then share the result with their friends for opinion or to showcase their tastes. Some solutions simply compose various product images on a 2D canvas, whereas others allow clothing to be ‘put on’ a 3D avatar.

Product Curation: Refers to consumer-facing social shopping web sites that allow visitors to explore products picked out by celebrities, experts, friends or other shoppers of similar taste and that also allow online retailers to list their products there.

Product Sharing: Makes it easy for shoppers to spread the word about the retailer’s products to their friends and followers. Provides retailers with reporting on most viral products, most influential shoppers, and the effectiveness of various sharing channels and methods. Note that product sharing solutions that employ incentives to get the shopper to share are currently grouped in their own Incentivized product sharing category.

Q&A: Traditional Q&A lets shoppers post product questions and to see previously asked questions and answers tied to a particular product or product category. It can frequently take a day or longer to get a response, especially on smaller retailer sites with not as many visitors. On the other hand, unlike some of the more newer real-time forms of Q&A, the User Generated Content provides long-term value for both shoppers and retailers. More recently Q&A vendors have added social features to their solutions such as allowing customers to share their answer with friends and followers.  In addition, near-real-time options that attempt to reach out to customers who have previously purchased this product to get an answer to a question quickly are now available. Q&A is particularly well-suited to hard goods and travel where expert product category knowledge or prior experience with product are more important than knowing the person asking the question. Note that more real-time forms of Q&A solutions are separated in their own categories such as Ask a friend.

Real-time Trends/Activity Widgets: Shows visitors to the retailer’s site, blog or Facebook fan page a real-time view of interesting activity happening on the retailer’s site such as any friends shopping on the site, most popular products, items being bought or set aside, etc.

Recommendations: Leverages social graph and social profile information to provide more relevant product recommendations to shoppers.

Rich Media Merchandising: Uses interactive product imagery, animations and video to provide product merchandising in social contexts such as on Facebook.

Social Sign-in: Software development tools and services that make it easier for retailers to let shoppers login to their site using their Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, AOL, etc. logins instead of having to set up a separate user and password for the retailer.

Social/Group Gifting: Consists of two types of solutions – group gifting that allows friends to pool together to buy an expensive gift and consumer-facing social gifting web site and applications that contract with online retailers to make their products available as purchasable gifts. Note the distinction between this category and Wishlist, is the social/group gifting process originates from people who are buying gifts whereas Wishlist process starts with someone adding an item on the retailer’s site to their wishlist where their friends can then buy it for them.

Sponsored Advocacy: Refers to solutions that pay or incentivize visitors to share your content with their friends and followers. The distinction from Incentivized product sharing is typically instead of product details, informational content, videos, etc. are being liked/tweeted/shared.

Wishlist: Allows shoppers to put items on their Wishlist, which is then shared with their friends and relatives to allow them to buy these items as gifts.