If you’re a female Chinese millennial, it’s highly likely you’ll have Xiaohongshu installed on your phone.
This wildly popular shopping app (which recently raised a big sum from the VCs) enables you to share your shopping experiences, discuss your plans for what you plan to buy next, and collaborate with your friends and family to avoid fakes. It’s an easy way to see what other people are buying – and of course it helps the marketers behind the app to see what’s hot and what’s not in Chinese eCommerce.
It’s looking likely that online shopping is going to become more collaborative in the West as well as the East.
Many purchasing decisions are informed by friends and family (and by stakeholders in the case of B2B commerce). This social reality isn’t presently reflected in the online shopping process. Collaboration can support the customer decision process and help move shoppers from consideration to purchase without leaving a site. Collaborative tools can also provide retailers with useful business intelligence that helps them understand the customer’s decision-making process.
What consumers value
According to research by the Ecommerce Times, there are five thing shoppers particularly value in collaborating online:
- Being able to shop with a group of contacts of their choice
- Being able to look at the same items as their contacts but also being free to independently browse other products on their own
- Being able to whittle down their product choices by shortlisting them as part of a decision making process
- Being able to collaborate in real time or asynchronously
- Being able to access the help they need when shopping online
- Few online retailers presently offer these tools as part of their offering on-site.
On a practical level, it makes sense for collaboration to be integrated with browse and purchase activities in eCommerce.
Many purchases require the buyer to collaborate with others, such as when group travel tickets are booked. The user journey is interrupted if the shopper has to leave the site to use tools such as email and social media platforms that allow them to collaborate. eCommerce managers know that any interruption in the user journey on site is a threat as they may not return.
What’s more, time is a factor in many online purchases. If an extended family is collaborating to buy plane tickets or book hotel rooms together, the cost of tickets or the availability of rooms may change rapidly. It’s hard to track this away from the site. This is a good reason why collaboration needs to happen where all the information is available i.e. on site, not in an email client that’s separate from the booking site.
Building collaboration tools into eCommerce advantages customers by supporting their decision-making process.
Enabling collaboration also helps vendors, for a number of reasons. It’s a way to provide a better, less frustrating experience for that family trying to book a holiday together. The experience of collaboration turns shopping into a more sociable experience, with an exchange of ideas and information that reflects the experience of shopping together in a physical store. This is likely to mean shoppers spend longer browsing sites and maybe even spending more than they would otherwise.
In addition, collaboration may provide valuable data for retailers as it helps them to better understand why consumers take the decisions they do online and how they are influenced by others. Collaborative technology may be able to capture sentiments as well as technical data about clicks and dwell times.
There may also be opportunity for retailers to push messaging into the social collaboration activities, such as promoting offers for groups if it’s clear that several site visitors are collaborating together on a purchase. It will also help the retailer understand who is buying and possible personalise the offering. In the travel industry, this would help retailers identify which customers might be open to additional purchases. For example, a group of five people buying together might be interested in hiring a larger car or booking group activities.
If collaboration remains on-site, data is retained. This means marketers can see if the shopper collaborates with 1, 2 or 3 people about the purchase, whether this is a regular collaborative purchase for them or a one-off collaboration. When these tools aren’t provided, the web visitor either goes offline and has a face-to-face or telephone conversation about the purchase, using a different device and channel e.g. IM on a mobile phone, or opens their email client to message about the purchase they plan to make. It’s also hard to understand how long that decision takes. Keeping the conversation on site means all this information is retained.
Asia leads the way
What’s curious is that we aren’t seeing many collaborative tools emerging from existing eCommerce vendors such as Amazon and eBay. Instead, social media is starting to integrate eCommerce features. Pinterest is dipping a toe in the water of eCommerce but it’s very early days yet. It could be that it’s social media that challenges the status quo rather than eCommerce revising its approach.
Asia is already further ahead than the West when it comes to social collaboration in eCommerce.
As yet, there have been few examples of Asian social media or eCommerce platforms becoming popular in the West so it’s unclear if the challenge will come from further afield or via our local platforms evolving their approach.