Nearly half of all Americans are now members of at least one social network and spending more money while they're at it, double from just two years ago. Research shows that social media users spend, on average, one and a half times more time online than the typical web surfer. In fact, heavy Facebook users spent an average of $67 online during the first quarter of the year--compared with less than $50 for the general netizen, according to recent comScore research.
E-commerce has gone social. Gone are the days of one-way, private online shopping.
The first to really socialize were online flash sale sites, where steep discounts are offered to members for a limited time. Sites like Gilt Groupe, HauteLook, Rue La La and DailyCandy's Swirl mimic designer sample sales, offering luxury fashion for a fraction of the price. These sites rely heavily on online conversations to drive sales. Smartly so, because a recent MediaPost study revealed that 59 percent of consumers rated "personal advice from friends" as the most influential source of information for their purchase decisions, and 51 percent of Twitter users reported they follow companies, brands or products on social networks.
Also going social are collective buying sites--like Groupon and LivingSocial--which are appearing in most urban areas. Each day members are e-mailed a discount offered by a local business. These sites have integrated tools that allow users to easily share deals and recommendations and plan activities with friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Companies no longer have total control over their brand's message. That responsibility now falls in the hands of the social web with a recent surge of consumer product review sites like ThisNext, Viewpoints and Milo.
Social shopping startups continue to pop up all the time. One is Swipely.com, which "turns purchases into conversations." When users swipe their credit or debit card, the transaction shows up on the site--for the community to discuss, of course. --K.O.