Over at GigaomShinyOrb co-founder Elizabeth Yin has posted a useful primer on social shopping; ”e-commerce sites that facilitate interaction among customers as part of a shopping experience“.

It’s jargon free, succinct and practical.

Elizabeth breaks down social shopping into three buckets

  • Group shopping sites – online equivalent to Costco such as Groupon, LivingSocial and BuyWithMe
  • Shopping communities – sites such as Kaboodle, Stylefeeder, and Polyvore that connect shoppers with similar tastes
  • Recommendation engines – such as Amazon reviews, Bazaarvoice and PowerReviews, online equivalent to asking a fellow customer in store for a recommendation

In Elizabeth’s view, social shopping is hot right now because

  1. So many people have an online identity
  2. Social graph APIs and tools have become available and easy to use

Elizabeth identifies a number of business opportunities in social shopping

  • For group-buy, focusing on niche verticals (travel, wedding photography, ultra-local),
  • For shopping communities, to break out of fashion with sites focused on other categories (travel and (adverture) sports), using marketplace technology (such as listia), and connecting real friends (using Facebook social plugins) such as on Elizabeth’s bridal site ShinyOrb).  Wherever there is a club in real life, there is an opportunity for a shopping community (nice).
  • For recommendation engines, friendcasting (our term) –  reviews from friends, via Facebook, Blippy, Swipely etc, rather than reviews from strangers

We really like Elizabeth’s succinct, practical and pithy definition and categorization of social shopping – in our view the definition is far better than both the existing Wikipedia definition – doing shopping in social networks like MySpace (paraphrased), or indeed our definition – a subset of social commerce in which people share the act of online shopping together.

And Elizabeth’s categorization of social shopping is inclusive enough to hold most of what is taken to be not only social shopping but social commerce too. Whilst there may be more ways of using of social media to assist in the buying and selling of products and services than than the facilitation of interaction among shoppers (for example using social media to decide whether to go shopping or what to buy with non-shoppers – it does cover most of the bases.  If you like Occam’s razor – you’ve gotta love Elizabeth’s primer.

  • Group Shopping <- ‘Social Shopping’
  • Shopping Communities <- ‘Forums & Communities’
  • Recommendation Engines <- Ratings & Reviews, Referrals & Recommendations, Social Media Optimisation (and Social Ads and Apps?)

The one thing we’d suggest tweaking is the exclusive focus on e-commerce sites, we’d be keen to include all digital tools that facilitate interaction among customers as part of a shopping experience – whether online or offline, not just e-commerce sites (i.e. mobile tools for in-store retail).

From this perspective, social commerce and social shopping can be seen as, if not synonyms, then two sides of the same coin – one from the shopper perspective and the other from the vendor perspective.

  • Social Shopping – facilitating [digital] interaction among customers as part of a shopping experience (in order to improve the shopping experience)
  • Social Commerce – facilitating [digital] interaction among customers as part of a shopping experience (in order to improve sales effectiveness)

This is of course very different from Stephen & Toubia‘s differentiation (in the JMR) of social commerce as online networks of vendors and social shopping as online networks of shoppers, but perhaps more in adequation with how the term is used today.  Thoughts?