The Emerging Field of Social Commerce and Social Shopping

Just under a year ago, I blogged about “(the beginnings of) social commerce” services which would “would provide consumers with rich social context and relevancy to the purchases which they are making.”

Steve Rubel soon after picked up on the theme and called it a “trend to watch” in 2006, saying last December,

“Social commerce can take several forms, but in sum it means creating places where people can collaborate online, get advice from trusted individuals, find goods and services and then purchase them. It shrinks the research and purchasing cycle by creating a single destination powered by the power of many.”

Since that time we’ve seen an onslaught of developments in this area, most notably by startups, some of which I’ve blogged about (like the emergence of badge proliferation). But I personally am now refocusing on the categories of services which have emerged in the past year as new startups have begun to fill this space.

Most notable is the field of “social shopping.” Social shopping is about sharing the act of shopping itself with others, and I view it as a subset of social commerce as a whole. Just as some people enjoy shopping with others in the real world, some will enjoy doing it virtually within a social network. Nearly all of these players have promoted a meme of three activities which people can do collectively: discover/find, collect/organize, and promote/share/connect/recommend/publish. It is these three acts which compose the endeavor of shopping together with others.

It’s interesting to see that while the number of startup companies launching services in this space has exploded (in additional to Yahoo’s Shoposphere), the new players clearly fall into two camps: the leaders and the laggards. The laggards – MyPickList, StyleFeeder, Slister, ClipClip, and I am sure there are others – just don’t seem have garnered any user traction (at least according to Alexa stats). On the other hand, the leaders – ThisNext, Kaboodle, Stylehive, Wists, and Crowdstorm – are all currently running neck and neck in terms of traffic, despite having launched at different points in the year. Also note that while this group has generated some traction, it clearly isn’t knocking the ball out of the park like other unrelated consumer web services launched in that timeframe have. [see link to graph]


Some consumers, however, will prefer not to shop with others. That doesn’t mean, however, that these people who don’t purchase goods and services in a social vacuum. Nor does it mean that they won’t benefit from information about social relevancy and context in the goods that they are purchasing. An element of social input in online shopping services augments the experience, even if it isn’t central to it. There are numerous opportunities to add a layer of social features to an existing set of commerce functionality or to new services which aren’t primarily social. These instances of social commerce aren’t social shopping per se, but rather integration of social software features into an entire commerce product.

A good example of these is the emerging set of deals focused sites. While deal-tracking sites have been around since the late 90’s, the newest generation of them add social input into which are the “best” and “most relevant deals.” The revamped Judy’s Book is taking a spin at this, as well as Dealplumber,, and Clipfire. Other cool services which I’ve seen recently that I’d characterize as social commerce, but not strictly social shopping include Shopwiki & to-be-launched Zanbazaar (wiki-style buying guides) and Rightcart & Bloggerkit (tools for bloggers and small publishers to integrate product content), among others. And, of course, the big players like Amazon and eBay are making strides towards incorporating social elements into their offering as well.

There’s been a lot of progress made in the past year in social commerce, but it’s clear that there is still quite a long way to go. We are at the beginning of exploring the opportunity that adding social context and relevancy information to products can create. Social commerce can encompass and influence a wide array of points on the purchase process, both before and after, and I continue to believe there are multiple large opportunities for startups to capitalize on this basic thesis.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.