What is a Social Inventory?
Broadly speaking a social inventory is an inventory of each and every product that is part of any and every online conversation, or alternatively, an inventory of each and every product that has the potential to become a conversation. It does not refer to a physical or real inventory. Rather it is an inventory of information about products and conversations around them.
Social commerce websites like ShopSocially hold a social inventory. As and when a product a product is reviewed or recommended it is enveloped by a layer of conversations around it. The product is inventoried by documenting it along with relevant information like features, pricing, availability, etc. and the surrounding conversation.
Who benefits from a Social Inventory?
Online shoppers and consumers derive the most benefit from a social inventory. A large inventory gives the shopper a broader range of choices. The quality of conversations and information, like reviews, recommendations, and deals, around the product can be crucial into transforming an interest into a sale. Pro-active shoppers who may want to help their friends make purchasing decisions can also make good use of the social inventory. Pick lists and wish lists containing links to the inventory can contribute to qualified, organized and easily searchable volumes of information.
Retailers can exploit a social inventory to better understand and fulfill consumer needs. By observing the gaps in the social inventory and their real inventory, retailers can stock up on the goods that have presently captured consumers’ attention. Retailers with a small online presence can leverage the power of social networks as their products get increased visibility and exposure on a social commerce website.
How to build a social inventory?
Social commerce and shopping websites have many options for building a social inventory. The key is to cultivate an open environment that allows collection of relevant and high quality information from consumers and retailers.
Relationships with retailers are a crucial first step towards this goal. Retailers can provide complete product information apart from information related to purchasing patterns that can highlight latest trends, frequently recommended products, and consumer demand for products with low availability. Such information can be obtained post-purchase and after seeking her permission. Social shopping website ShopSocially has been a pioneer in this space.
Depending solely on relationships will obviously constrain the growth of a social inventory. Products that form any conversation must also be catalogued. For instance, a gadget offering from a new entrant, that finds mention in a social recommendation, could be catalogued for later use. Immediately after cataloguing retailer websites can be crawled to extract the relevant product information. Henceforth, any mention of the product will lead an inquisitive consumer to the products page in the social inventory. From there the consumer can be redirected to a retailer of her choice, potentially converting a recommendation into a purchase.
As consumers make recommendations and share purchases through various channels, the social inventory swells. Crowdsourcing becomes an integral part of building your social inventory. It is easy to visualize multiple conversations held by different groups of shoppers around the same product. Each of these conversations contains qualified information in form of trusted recommendations and reviews. Products with more conversations around them are bound to see higher reach among online shoppers.
Another advantage is that products without an online presence can be brought into the social commerce fold. That burger you had at a diner on Route 66 may be worthy of a social recommendation, but without an online purchasing option the diner may not be able to derive any benefit. However, in response to an increased buzz around the product, the diner could possibly set up a website or a Facebook page. On the strength of the social network the diner will end up getting the kind of exposure that is almost impossible offline.
The challenges towards building a social inventory are of two kinds, technical and social. The technical challenges present themselves in maintaining a fast and easily searchable database of every product with relevant information and the surrounding conversations. Information within the database must be strictly organized and continuously filtered to maintain the quality of information. Equally important is to validate the sources of information and indentifying genuine points of purchase. With today’s technology this should not prove to be a deterrent to any social commerce player. The aim should be to assist the shoppers in making the right purchasing decision and the easiest manner possible.
First mover advantage: ShopSocially
What could a social inventory look like? We need not look any further than social recommendation services like ShopSocially, Blippy and Swipely. Purchased products and recommendations show up in search results for different product categories. ShopSocially seems to be at a distinct advantage here.
Its competitors, Blippy and Swipely, restrict shared purchases to transactions made on a handful of credit cards local to USA. Even within the American borders this severely restricts the number of users and variety of purchases shared over social networks. International users are alienated and the quality of feedback takes a beating. Privacy concerns over sharing of credit card data may also demotivate potential users from adopting these services. A recent incident in which users’ credit card data was posted online following a security breach does not help their cause. A wide user base and an expansive array of products are crucial to building a social inventory. Restrictions on either are bound to constrain the growth of a service’s social inventory.
ShopSocially faces none of these hurdles with its facility to openly ask for recommendations and share purchases, a feature that none of its competitors has. Taking social shopping at its word, this unique feature allows users to specifically request recommendations from their friends through Facebook and Twitter. The utility of this feature cannot be overstated. Shoppers get informed recommendations from people they trust. Valuable time, which would have been wasted on searching for recommendations from random strangers, is saved.
Shoppers can share and recommend any product, regardless of the purchase point. While sharing a purchase the consumer has the option of posting details from a webpage which could be a retailers website , a third party review, or even the purchasers own blog. A search and auto-complete feature further lets the purchaser accurately identify the product if it has already been posted. The purchasers’ recommendation is then added to the list of conversations about the product.
These differentiating factors are bound to attract more users to ShopSocially’s open social shopping service. This will definitely translate into a larger, ever expanding social inventory as more users adopt the service and diverse purchases from every nook and corner of the world are shared. A huge social inventory will in turn attract more users towards the service, as high quality relevant conversations grow around products. ShopSocially has the potential to become the go to point for making purchasing decisions.
As with any service on the internet there is the risk that spammers could overwhelm the service. ShopSocially’s focus on the immediate social network could mitigate this risk. With its objective of enabling friends to help a consumer make a purchasing decision, spammers are bound to find it hard to gain any traction. Irrelevant and misleading information will be drowned out by the collected chorus of trusted social recommendations. Ultimately purchasing decisions stemming from use of the service are bound to be well informed and unexploited.
ShopSocially’s unique approach to social shopping is clearly a first step towards building a useful social inventory. It would be interesting to see how the startup leverages this advantage to fight in an increasingly competitive social commerce environment.
Guest post by Abhijit K, an MBA student and a social media enthusiast. His areas of interest include Social Commerce, Social Shopping and e-commerce.