Are Social Communities Hurting eCommerce?

09.17.2009

I read an article in Online Media Daily today that covered a study conducted by OPA (Online Publishers Association). Within the study it was found that the share of time spent on commerce sites has declined. They say that part of the reason for this is the rise in social networking sites in the past few years. This really got me thinking. Are social communities really hurting the growth of eCommerce? I say no.

The difference in the share of time spent on eCommerce sites listed within the study is minimal - 16% in 2003 vs. 13% in 2009 - and I think this difference could be attributed to a number of things.

- First of all, the majority of us have cut down on our shopping. In an article written by Aaron Patzer of Mint.com in January of this year, we see that from January to November of 2008 their users spent over 20% less on entertainment, home purchases and travel. Spending also declined in shopping. Mint.com's data showed that their users spent about $400 less each month than they did in 2007. Consumers on and offline are cutting back on unecessary purchases and aren't shopping around for those couple extra things that, while they may be nice, are not a necessity.  (I for example, have spent about 75% less on shoes this year than I did last year. And trust me, that is a big deal!...some would say it's an outrage!)

- eCommerce sites have become much more streamlined. The majority of the online shops that I use have greatly improved their user-interface and have added features that allow shopping to go faster. For instance, you can copy shipping addresses to billing addresses, create accounts to store information for future purposes, have improved search features, etc.

- Online shoppers have become much more knowledgeable. They know exactly what to expect and what to have ready. I no longer sit there and read every single little thing before finalizing checkout because I've shopped on the same sites over and over again, and I know exactly what their policies are, where I can go to track my orders and how I can expect to receive a confirmation.

Personally I find that social communities have taken me to more eCommerce stores. I see ads that are relevant to my inerests on Facebook and I actually click-through on a few. I have friends who tweet about their recent purchases and I go check out their recommendations. Just in the past 12 months, I've created accounts and joined mailing lists for Gilt.com, FreePeople.com and TheFairest.com all because they were recommended to me by my social community.

What are your thoughts? Have social communities affected your online shopping habits? If so, how?