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It’s an empowering time for online retailers. Thanks to sites like Pinterest and Curisma, retailers know more about what their consumers are demanding than ever before. 

Two thousand years ago, Romans would make a shopping list by scratching the name of items they needed into a thin layer of wax on a wooden tablet.

Today, it’s a new generation of tablets that are playing an increasingly vital role in the retail journey, reviving a retail pattern that has long dominated the offline shopping experience: discovery shopping! 

Offline, retailers have long realized the importance of retail theater, creating environments that entice shoppers to discover, discuss and share products with friends.

However, until recently, consumers looking to get that retail therapy fix online were faced with a bargain-bin style model, where purchase options were based on price and convenience alone.

In recent months it’s been fascinating to watch this trend spread across the industry, as new services are snapped up by curious shoppers seeking a retail channel that can surprise and entertain too.

Driving this change are a range of discovery shopping sites, which allow consumers to curate their own shopping collections by pinning, posting and sharing product preferences with a virtual arena of fellow shoppers, often through their mobile or tablet devices.

Understandably, these sites are also shifting the way retailers make their stocking decisions. For the first time, shop owners can see exactly what shoppers would like to buy and stock accordingly.

A great discovery

A digital pin board might sound likely an unlikely place for a new era of shopping to begin but photography and video pinning site Pinterest was one of the first sites to contribute to this phenomenon.

While many of Pinterest’s users started sharing photos of cute animals, holiday pictures or inspirational quotes, it wasn’t long before people began pinning pictures of products that they liked as well – from cars to coffee tables.

Pinterest is now visited by more than 20m people each month and has been the catalyst for a new generation of shopping sites, such as Fancy, Pinshoppr and Etsy.

Aside from helping shoppers to discover interesting and unique products from across the world, these sites entertain; they offer users a fun, social experience and the opportunity to connect with people who have shared interests. 

Savvy retailers have already recognized the opportunity that this trend presents and are actively encouraging shoppers to share their products elsewhere on the web.

Aside from providing a new platform to showcase goods and drive traffic to online stores, the emergence of these sites provides retailers with money-can’t-buy insight into what’s hot and what’s not.

Removing the guesswork

This trend is being fuelled further by the rise of crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which provide manufacturers with an opportunity to crowdsource opinion on new products and gain funding to take them to market if enough interest exists.

Retailers themselves are also adopting a similar approach. Sites like Made.com and The Grommet are offering consumers the opportunity to purchase products that are pre-production, new to market or limited edition.

As well as supporting product developers and designers testing new products, these sites allow savvy retailers to avoid a warehouse full of unwanted goods.

Responding to demand

It’s an empowering time for online retailers. Thanks to sites like Pinterest and Curisma, retailers know more about what their consumers are demanding than ever before.

It’s no longer the case that the biggest brands with the cheapest goods online will attract the most consumer attention.

Now, rather than eating into margins with unsustainable prices or loss leading products, small merchants can use shopping discovery sites to ride the wave of emerging retail trends and make smarter, more popular, stocking decisions. 

Bernard Luthi

Published 30 July, 2013 by Bernard Luthi

Bernard Luthi is CMO and COO of Rakuten.com.

4 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Pete Williams

Pete Williams, Managing Director at Gibe Digital

I always wonder if, apart from the few, any retailer is so co-ordinated within their businesses to actually make buying decisions based on social activity until it turns into actual sales?

The danger of course is to buy in a load of stock for items pinned and then end up not selling them as users were really only browsing the store so to speak.

Where I think these sites can help retailers is understand which colour pallets to look at for the next season and which celebrity based trends to follow and imitate. Great design leads rather than follows however the consumer is in control today and so a mixture of consumer driven and design lead stock will always generate the best results.

The use of social in-store on in advertising is where retailers can also make a positive impact with virtual models showing styles that are being bought worldwide, interactive adverts that change depending upon whether it's raining or sunny etc.

about 3 years ago

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zonia henn

As a fashion buyer and retailer, over the years I have learned that what consumers say they would like, and what actually sell are very different. Yes the digital age have narrowed the gap, and trends and fashion is instant and faster. Lead times shorter, but manufacturing and orders still need to be placed and decided upon long before the images or products are posted.

about 3 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

I think it's great that users have so many platforms to share, find and understand products before deciding to purchase.

I think it's often the consumer who is now empowered though, not always the retailer as general consumers seem to be the ones making the difference on these platforms. The retailer obviously puts the products out there but once they're online they're available for scrutiny by a huge audience.

Making the most of online platforms is more important today than it has ever been but also less important than it will be tomorrow and in future.

about 3 years ago

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