A well thought through post by Darpan Munjal on social shopping opportunities for retailers, over at the Commercewiki.com blog.

The short version: Darpan sees 3 distinct social shopping opportunities – for both pure-play and clicks and mortar retailers – to help shoppers shop smarter by ‘friendsourcing‘ trusted advice from personal contacts in social or shopping networks.

Opportunity 1: Product Discovery (Help me find a good product) e.g. sites like Kaboodle or Stylehive that allow users to follow product experts to discover new products.  To work, product discovery sites need 1) authoritative product/category experts, 2) a reputation management system for selecting experts/gurus to follow and 3) online profiles (tastes, preferences, purchases) to filter advice based on profile similarity (in an analogous way to Facebook News Feed filtering (which itself is a automated filtering of Live Feed)).

Opportunity 2: Product Selection (Help me pick between the products that I like): Sites like My Zappos, Jansport and Charlotte Russe that allow shoppers to get advice (live or deferred) from friends via Facebook Connect, Twitter, Google Wave [Chat or Bookmarking/Wishlists].  Jansport (using Fluid‘s Facebook Connect app) allows users to share ratings and comments with Facebook friends whilst browsing, whilst Charlotte Russe (DecisionStep‘s ShopTogether) allows shoppers to shop together (co-browse/synchronised shopping).  In addition to allowing shoppers to get live advice from friends via Facebook Connect, My Zappos also enables affinity groups (e.g. Zappos Golf) for sharing of tips and advice.  Finally, Vans.com (using Fluid’s social shopping app) makes mass customization a social activity, allowing friends to co-customize sneakers.

Opportunity 3: Product Referrals (From Affiliate marketing to Social Marketing): referral (customer-get-customer and word of mouth programs) where shoppers who recommend to each other are rewarded if recommendations lead to sales. Darpan doesn’t cite examples of this kind of affiliate marketing for shoppers, but Dell Swarm, Vente-Privée and Groupon.com would be examples that don’t fall into the murky Avon-esque worlds of network/pyramid selling or shilling.

We like Darpan’s simple and elegant breakdown of opportunities into these three areas, product discovery, selection and referral.  It makes intuitive sense.  Also interesting is the implicit distinction between social shopping – which is all about friendsourcing advice/shopping with friends and ‘social commerce’ – typically associated with reviews from strangers.

Darpan’s rationale for social shopping over social commerce – if this distinction is made – comes (of course) from Nielsen’s finding that “Recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising globally, according to the latest twice yearly Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey. The Nielsen survey, the largest of its kind, shows that nine in every ten Internet consumers worldwide (90 percent) trust recommendations from people they know, while seven in every ten (70 percent) trust consumer opinions posted online”.