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Why social shopping is the next big thing for mobile

By John Stewart

More consumers than ever are shopping on their mobile devices. Whether using the mobile Web or mobile applications, they are not only reviewing information and price comparing, but also buying items across a variety of price points.

According to research by comScore, the number of online retail mobile applications accessed by users has increased 91 percent in the last year. Additionally, mobile Web use for the same purpose has increased 47 percent.

Consumers are also researching big ticket items such as cars, computers and televisions on their mobile devices.

Talking shop
The explosion of mobile social media – comScore claims 2009 saw a 112 percent jump in Facebook access via mobile browser, and a 347 percent jump in Twitter access – coupled with the growing comfort with mobile commerce, has heightened consumer interest in extending this collective, communal experience into the shopping realm.

In essence, consumers want a mobile shopping experience that integrates all the key aspects of the social Web that they are used to – friends, groups, voting, comments and discussions.

Consumers want to be able to exchange purchase information and recommendations with friends, who in turn can influence their purchasing decisions.

At its core, social mobile shopping is about creating a highly personal experience.

With a recent report from Yankelovich Research revealing that 65 percent of consumers trust their friends over experts and celebrities, mobile social shopping applications will have to open up the retail experience to allow a communal exchange of information.

The key differentiator from the traditional mobile commerce experience is that social mobile shopping allows consumers to interact with other consumers before and after the purchase.

For example, consumers can share a photo of the item and get their friends opinions via Facebook, or write a review of the item directly on the site within a custom reviews tool.

The marriage of these existing social networks with a company’s mobile strategy can be complex, but the payoff is significant.

With ABI Research predicting that shoppers around the world will spend $119 billion on goods and services purchased via their mobile phone by 2015, mobile social shopping provides major revenue and brand awareness opportunities.

Executing social mobile shopping
The first step in creating a mobile shopping offering will be for companies to integrate popular social networking sites into their current and future capabilities.

Common integrations of these sites should include the pushing of either automated or user-defined status updates to be posted on the user’s Facebook page or Twitter feed.

For example, customers may be able to upload a photo of an item they want to their Twitter or Facebook page, inviting feedback or even a vote from their fans and followers.

From there, they should be able to easily purchase the item or give their friends an incentive to purchase the item in a few simple steps from within the social network.

Consumers should also be prompted to add their review to the retailer’s site or discussion forum, promoting their experience and allowing further interaction with other customers.

In addition, companies can also integrate specialty networks relevant to their specific business.

For example, a retail clothing company may want to integrate mobile access to, a virtual styling network where users can share outfits they have put together with their friends. There are also endless other possibilities for adding extra tools such as mobile coupons, geolocation services and tips.

Best Practice for long-term strategy 
While the benefits of mobile social shopping are clear, there are several challenges facing companies offering customers social mobile shopping opportunities.

First, for a mobile social shopping strategy to be effective, it must be offered across all of the mobile devices on the market.

The functionality must exist for a customer on an iPhone to share a photo of their purchase with a friend using a BlackBerry, as well as the thousands of other mobile devices on the market today. A single application definition seems like the best way to successfully do this.

Further, the customer on the BlackBerry will expect to have the same kind of mobile experience as an iPhone user, so the application must be able to up-level the capabilities of any mobile device to provide a feature-rich shopping experience. 

Significant ROI exists for companies that can successfully “scrape” their existing online sites to create mobile and mobile social shopping offerings.

However, with such a fragmented mobile landscape, companies have to be ready to support the newest mobile device, or the latest social network.

It is impossible to predict which social network will be most popular next year –remember MySpace, anyone? – and writing new code to accommodate new devices or networks can become prohibitively expensive.

Companies must work with a vendor that can provide ubiquitous mobile deployment across all devices and operating systems, as well as leverage a single application definition that can be easily changed to optimize their initial investment.  

As companies continue to expand their mobile commerce offerings, integrating social shopping capabilities will become increasingly common and will help shape the future of the mobile application landscape.

Moreover, savvy marketers and companies that leverage social strategies will position themselves to take advantage of the tremendous revenue potential that lies within the mobile channel.

John Stewart is vice president of technical services at Kony Solutions, San Mateo, CA. Reach him at [email protected].