Andy Dean (below right) offers an alternative view of the future of online shopping…
It’s 2015 and you need a new microwave. Unlike back in 2010 when you used to devote hours of precious online time researching the best product, reading consumer reviews, comparing prices, or even actually visiting a shop, in 2015 you’ll simply leave the whole thing to your social network. But hang on a minute! Who’s going to give their social network all that power? They couldn’t possibly know what I want; they’ll buy the wrong thing… or will they? Look at it this way: you’re only buying a new microwave because your old one has broken. You know nothing about them and can’t muster up any interest in them at all. So what are you going to do?
Friends you haven’t met yet You’ve been buying stuff on friends’ recommendations for years and it’s very rare that they’re wrong. In fact, you’ve been buying stuff on strangers’ recommendations for years too – how many of the reviewers do you know on Amazon when you’re making a purchase? Have you ever met any of the people who gave that DVD you bought five stars? Letting your social network do the shopping for you is actually preferable – there will be people better able to assess those reviews on Amazon (because they read more books than you do) and people who have actually rated that DVD you bought. But would they really actually shop for you?
Have you ever given your sister some money and asked her to go out and buy your mum’s birthday present? Your sister loves shopping and knows exactly what to get your mum. You’re able to give your mum something she actually wants and your sister has a great time getting it on your behalf. Everyone’s happy and you were barely involved at all. Your social network can also help you – it’s full of people with whom you have a bond, and we’re hardwired to help our friends. So, altruism plays its part. And so does the vicarious shopper in your network: the person (or people) who love shopping, the microwave shoppers amongst them. Return to sender Let’s get back to this microwave. So, instead of popping next door and buying the same one as your neighbours, you put a call out to your network. One of your friends is a brilliant cook, another has just bought a microwave and most of them know that you’re a gadget-freak. Lo and behold! Three days later you receive an invoice for £250 for a shiny new internet-enabled microwave (it is 2015 after all!).
The fact that you haven’t seen the item you’re buying shouldn’t really make any difference – it’s been going on for years. Back in May 1984, the fabulously named Mrs Jane Snowball became the UK’s first online shopper when she placed a ‘teleshopping’ order with Tesco. And eBay’s been doing a roaring ‘sold unseen’ trade for years – in fact, in 2001, a Gulfstream II Jet was sold for $4.9 million, and only this year, the online auction house’s mobile app facilitated a successful $265,000 transaction for a Piper Malibu aeroplane.
The choice is yours
This snowballing (irresistible, sorry) of online buying shows no signs of stopping – and as with all successful digital movements, it will continue to adapt, reflecting changes in online behaviour and digital social attitudes. Which, in turn, are becoming aligned with our natural social mores. How many times have you said (or heard) “You choose” when you’re with a friend, deciding where to have a drink, what film to watch or what wine to have with dinner? How many people derive real pleasure from buying someone a gift they’ll really like? The online equivalent is one stop on from the now ubiquitous wish list – rather than ‘I would like…’ we’ll move into ‘I want to buy…’ and our network will do the rest. After all, a friend indeed is a friend in need. Amaze is a pan-European marketing and technology company, specialising in digital strategy and communications, web-based business solutions, marketing and PR. Amazin work with leading organisations, including Coca-Cola Enterprises, the Co-operative Group, ODEON Cinemas, Toyota, Siemens Enterprise Communications, Opal Telecoms, Dyson and Lexus, to identify and maximise opportunities for audience engagement.