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Here’s an interesting quote from this weekend’s New York Times on social commerce “Buy My Stuff, and Their’s Too” (archived below):

“But social commerce doesn’t usually come naturally. Companies are awkward. They can be rather boorish and self-absorbed, tending to see each interaction as a chance to make money. Many commercial forays into social media have been clumsy, with companies using social media sites simply as another medium to distribute advertising, or trick consumers into making an impulse buy. And that is no way to make friends”.

The social commerce 101 thrust of the article is that smart social commerce should help shoppers make smart shopping decisions, and encourage conversation with and between customers.  For example, Bonobos, a New York clothing company, helps shoppers shop smarter by listing competitor products, and by soliciting opinions from its customers on new designs.

Basic stuff perhaps, but it’s worth hearing again.

The post contains a couple of nice soundbite quotes relevant to trends in social commerce; one from Anthony Sperduti of New York ad agency Partners and Spade

“What the world needs now is curators and filters”

Yep.  The future of social commerce is curation.

And the other from Sarah Hofstetter, from digital ad agency 360i.

“This is a conversation, not a one-night stand”

A bit Cluetrain, but valid.

And we  agree with the general thrust of the article – whilst it may be possible to make a quick buck with social commerce, the power of social commerce lies in combining social technology with commerce to improve the customer experience and in doing so build loyal customers who buy more, more often and refer more.

Buy My Stuff — and Theirs, Too

By JOSHUA BRUSTEIN

Retrieved October 3, 2010 from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/weekinreview/03brustein.html

J CREW launched an advertising campaign in September, featuring splashy print ads and a photograph of a well-dressed young man on its Web site, sitting atop a ladder. Surrounding him was an assortment of items: umbrellas, medicine balls, a retro-looking trailer, a slab of raw meat.

All of those items were available for purchase. But J. Crew stood to profit only from the sale of its clothes. The other goods were merely recommended by J. Crew to its customers, with Web links to the purveyors of those goods.

J. Crew saw a business opportunity in assuming the role of a sophisticated and self-assured friend, guiding customers through the infinite offerings of the Internet without pushing them to buy only its own wares.

“What the world needs now is curators and filters,” said Anthony Sperduti of Partners and Spade, the New York advertising agency behind the campaign. “J. Crew is savvy enough to know that the Internet has changed our buying patterns.”

J. Crew is hardly the only company trying to sell something by befriending you. The idea that social commerce — which mixes networking with online shopping — can win business has spurred companies to try to connect with customers through sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But social commerce doesn’t usually come naturally. Companies are awkward. They can be rather boorish and self-absorbed, tending to see each interaction as a chance to make money. Many commercial forays into social media have been clumsy, with companies using social media sites simply as another medium to distribute advertising, or trick consumers into making an impulse buy. And that is no way to make friends.

“This is a conversation, not a one-night stand,” said Sarah Hofstetter, senior vice president for emerging media and brand strategy at 360i, a digital advertising agency. “If you’re in this community, make sure you’re contributing to the maintenance of that community.”

By showing off other people’s products, J. Crew is trying to prove that it is more than just a huckster. But its campaign is still not as socially interactive as those of other apparel companies.

Bonobos, a New York-based clothing company specializing in pants, is focused on two-way communication. Like J. Crew, the company uses its expertise in other company’s goods as a social selling point. But the company also solicits opinions from its customers — not just about a certain product, but about what other brands should be promoted and what other types of clothing it should make.

Bonobos now sells competitors’ clothing directly on its Web site, even when the company itself sells something similar. The company makes a profit on these sales, although the margins are smaller than on its own products. “One of the things that makes retailing fun on the Internet is that the customer gets to have a voice in the process,” said Andy Dunn, who founded the company in 2007.

Whether this strategy will pay off has yet to be determined, and some analysts are skeptical that companies have much to gain from social commerce. But the opportunity to chime in was a welcome alternative to the “bland and clinical” experience of shopping for clothing, said Ryan Cravens, a customer.

Mr. Cravens, a video game aficionado with a taste for loud colors, jokingly sent an e-mail to Bonobos suggesting that it make a pair of bright yellow pants to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, the video game. He was surprised to receive a reply with a photo of a prototype.

This led to other interactions — and many purchases. Along the way, Mr. Cravens, 32, says he began to feel as if he had gained something that felt like, well, friendship.

“These are guys you’d like to have a beer with,” he said. “I follow them on Twitter and half the stuff they say isn’t about the brand. It’s not just trying to drive you to the site to buy.”