Local social shopping – now online

March 5, 2009 by John Swords

Would you walk into a great looking store if there are only salespeople there but absolutely no other shoppers you can see? Ever seen people peek at others’ shopping carts while waiting in line at the supermarket? Ever seen them reach out and grab a few extra products they hadn’t thought about buying before? Would you feel comfortable parking the only car at the shopping mall’s parking lot?

My father told me that when I’m looking for a good restaurant, I should walk into one that’s full of people. This would be a good indication that the food is fresh and the service attentive. Life experience has taught me to apply this advice more broadly to shopping in general, whether I’m looking to buy food, electronics, apparel, or book travel – take a look and see if there are other buyers around. And if there are – walk in with comfort and trust. I think it’s basic human nature – we take our cues for buying and shopping from other people, real people, that live, work, and shop in our vicinity. Some may call this “the wisdom of crowds”, other would say it’s “keeping up with the Joneses”. Whichever the case, when we’re shopping, we’re drawn a lot more into stores full of people. Empty stores are unappealing. They make us uncomfortable, keep us guarded, can even make us a bit suspicious, and certainly tight-fisted with our wallets.

That’s in the real world. What about online?

Shopping online is a lonely activity. It’s you and your computer. No matter how sleek a retail site may be, you’re there alone. You can’t see your neighbors. You can’t tell if the shopping site had drawn other people from the street. You don’t know if anybody else from town has parked their car outside. As a result, you’re not as comfortable about buying there as you would be if the store were a brick and mortar store, full of real people that warm up the place and that you can see shopping around you. Think about how much money internet retail sites are leaving on the table everyday because their visitors are missing that sense of comfort and trust that comes from seeing other human beings, people from the same subdivision, people from their part of town, shopping around them.

Now imagine that you go shopping online, and at the retail site you’re visiting, you can see people from your own zip code shopping. These are not necessarily people you personally know. Much like in the real world, they could be strangers. But they have a lot in common with you – they live in your area. And now you can see that they shop here too. You might even be able to take a peek and see what they’re buying. What would this do to your level of comfort? How much more appealing would it make this online store? Would this not give you this “warm and fuzzy” feeling that you get when you walk into a store at the local mall and it’s full of buyers ? Would you not find yourself getting curious about additional products you weren’t even considering when you walked in, because you can see some neighbors buying them?

These are exactly the benefits that the TurnTo widget offers online retailers and their shoppers. It brings online these simple and highly intuitive elements of local social shopping that we’ve all been so used to in the real world. The business benefits of the crowded store travel well to the internet shopping site – your visitor is a lot more comfortable coming in, browsing, spending time, engaging with your brand and your products, getting product ideas by looking at other shoppers, proceeding to the cash register, and giving you their credit card to place an order. Parting with your money is a lot easier and seems safer and wiser in a busy store. Chances are your online store is quite busy. Now make this busyness visible.