Shopping. Love it. Hate it. Fluid Social 2.0 promises genuine fun, tap the friendcrowds

Benny Evangelista, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle recently discussed user product reviews in the context of social networking. The sort of thing I keep relying on when buying a product on Amazon for instance, where I want to find out about the reliability and trustworthiness of private sellers – but currently I do miss the interactive bit and remain unable to spot friends or family among the hundreds of pseudonyms.

Brief comments, stars/ratings and ideally more in depth-analyses of a book I take into account when considering a purchase for study purposes. I would not necessarily look for friends and family’s opinion when it comes to study material, though. Rather, I am keen on finding a review that’s marked by critical and thorough summarising, not too poetic in language, not too abstract, strength and weaknesses in balance – and please not at essay-length. I would trust an academic friend’s opinion most in this case. This is different when I look for a camera, for instance, or some other electronic gadget I would be likely to search for on Amazon.

Now, social shopping is what Andy Floyd and his team at Fluid inc. have developed. Here is a taster of their tool
Fluid Social 2.0 that facilitates collaborative buying – which is promising fun, creativity, and interaction. The process is simple: you check out the item, below the photo of the product there is a Facebook application which, once pressed connects and allows users to publish comments, start a live instant message chat and helps to suggest amendments to the model etc.

Not a brand new idea itself but simply taking what we’ve got so far one step further. Amazon reviews are getting more in terms of quantit. Nice. But they do not necessarily make purchase decisions any easier. How do I evaluate 587 reviews and 4.5 out of 5 stars? What does it actually mean? I for one still look for the last critical comment, the last angry customer who awarded 1 out of 5 stars. He or she will tell me what possible problem I might have to expect with that specific supplier. If the problem appears to be based on communication or some minor issue and if it was handled well by the supplier, I go ahead. Usually I even award some mental extra points for such handling, it shows care and that means I trust. But this is not exactly what I think a useful, interactive system in the age of web 2.0. It still leaves the bulk of work/evaluation with me.

Seriously, I just wonder why it took so long to get to this point. Living in London means real life shopping experiences are marked by tiny fitting rooms (often with an umbrella in one hand, exposed to poorly working air conditions), limited selection of items on display (London is madly expensive, shops pay horrendous rents), hence limited sizes available, crowd-pushing, and a tendency towards reducing the shopping experience down to an as-fast-as-possible transaction. Get out here syndrome, I’d call it. In contrast, the last genuinely enjoyable purchasing moment I had was in a skater shop in Palo Alto, CA. A sun-flooded little paradise, full of awesome stuff, relaxed beyond hopes. No stressed out staff. I came out with a pair of Reef flip flops.

Let’s hope retailers pick this up quickly, and understand that shopping 2.0 during recession urgently requires a make-over, not just a glossy façade, piles of cheap items on sale noone really wants to waste their money on, but something innovate and interactive that does lead to customer feedback being taken into account in a collaborative manner. Something dynamic that promotes identification with a brand and customer loyalty the way the California Academy of Sciences (+ San Francisco Symphony, de Young Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, et al.) has shown what can be done by smart harnessing of Facebook, Flickr, Twitter etc. in relation to attracting audiences: making them truly understand what the services are about – and help them come back. I am not just a customer, I have also turned into a fan as you may have noticed.

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About Britta Bohlinger, CFE

Founder and Director of RisikoKlár in Iceland. Native German, global perspective - previously in London and Berlin.

4 responses to “Shopping. Love it. Hate it. Fluid Social 2.0 promises genuine fun, tap the friendcrowds”

  1. Phil Greaney says :

    I look at the most critical comment, too – I don’t think we’re alone. I hope somebody can make use of this phenomenon when designing a feedback site.

    I think if stuff like shopping can piggyback on existing, largescale and userful social networking sites like Facebook, then that’s much better than starting afresh with a new system. In any case, shopping seems to be getting much more interesting…

  2. britbohlinger says :

    This is fascinating – I indeed wasn’t sure whether I’d be the only one looking for the one rotten apple within large numbers of reviews. I had an impression it’s hard work to come up with smart and learning technology – the presentations at ICWSM (AAAI) in May in San Jose, CA, looked into this issue but did not provide workable solutions yet. However, if such review systems listed automatically, say, the past 10 worst ratings it would actually help me a lot. But displaying one’s worst ratings is so against our status-driven culture – are we ready for the changes that come along with this turn?

    I also agree with the idea to link and amend existing systems rather than reinventing the wheel. Currently, the way Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, Delicious, Google Reader etc. operate under the umbrella of Facebook is promising. Critics may fear though that Facebook could turn into an unflexible and dominating giant just as Microsoft…

  3. John Cass says :

    great article, really intrigued by Fluid and wondering if it works???

    My reasoning is that will your family and friends get back to you in enough time.

    • britbohlinger says :

      Good point, it would perhaps lead – sooner or later – to a rating system of friends’ and family members’ response quality and speed and add a new competitive component.

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