While I'm doing my best to shy away from news items that are being covered in the general mass media (or on other Blogs, for that matter), I was fascinated to learn that eBay announced the launch of eBay Neighborhoods - a place for buyers and sellers to connect, share and exchange. It's a new Online Social Network, but with eBay's heavy e-commerce backbone, it's much more akin to the next-generation of Social Shopping.
As expected there are those who question whether or not the world needs another online social network (which is becoming a more and more valid question) and then there are those who feel that by adding in additional community elements to eBay, it can only help increase the amount of items listed and sold.
I'm not really excited about either of those conversations. I'm much more fascinated with what eBay is saying by creating a place like Neighborhoods. More than a while back, I began prodding at the concepts behind Social Shopping - the idea that online social networking and people's ability to leverage their social graph to find the best deals (and talk about them) would become a major force in the Digital Marketing landscape. eBay's announcement validates the concept and acknowledges that true, next generation, e-commerce platforms are going to have to do a lot more to get people excited about shopping online and, much more importantly, move away from "get them to convert in as few clicks as you can."
Shopping is a highly social activity. Shopping malls look increasingly like the town square, and most people don't go shopping to get in and get out. People want to browse, see other people and be seen. eBay is enabling buyers and sellers to have a similar (albeit digital) experience and engage in social shopping. The biggest issue I've heard from e-commerce players about integrating community and social tools is that it will distract consumers from buying.
When I think about Social Shopping (and what I'm seeing over at eBay Neighborhoods), I can't help but feel that for online commerce to be more successful and really take hold, it will have to mimic the real-life shopping a little bit more accurately. Empowering consumers to talk, share and (maybe) even mobilize to find the best deal out there is where the industry needs to be.
This could be the first step towards a better online shopping experience. Or, as some of the cynics are saying, it could also be JAOSN (Just Another Online Social Network).