28/03/2017 09:10 BST | Updated 29/03/2018 06:12 BST

From Search To Social - How We Shop Now

When I first started working in the online shopping space, the magic was in the hunt ... the ability to find what you are looking for online without leaving the comfort of home. Whether it was on Yahoo! Shopping,, eBay, Google or Shopstyle the 'story' was how easily you could find that perfect black top or blue dress at the right price from your favourite brand.

It certainly didn't take long before kicking up your feet and finding what you wanted online became a given. Nearly 20 years since early adopters first pressed 'buy', the sites we relied on to find what we were looking for soon became filled with thousands, even hundreds of thousands of product, and a new generation of shoppers became less interested in anonymous search and more in discovering new brands on photos of real people.

Social media, of course, has been the driver of this change in how we discover and shop for clothing, beauty items and even household furnishings. With Facebook approaching 2 billion users and the iPhone having celebrated its 10th birthday, social networks such as Instagram and Snapchat are driving a new generation of shoppers to transact in a different way to the generation before. Ironically, technology has sent many millennials back into brick and mortar stores but instead with devices in hand. According to CEB Iconoculture, 45% of millennials use their smartphones to help them shop for clothes in a physical store.

For the social media generation it was going to be inevitable that shopping for clothing would become less about search and find and more about interacting with peers. New companies, as well as, seasoned ones are addressing this trend with ModCloth and ASOS building their own social commerce communities and start-ups such as Fitbay (US), AskAnna (France) and Style Counsel (UK) building communities about what to wear and buy.

The key to integrating social into traditional commerce has been about authentic interaction. ModCloth customers upload pictures of themselves wearing the brand's dresses and show how they style them; millennial men's brand Bonobos has grown through viral social media campaigns and user generated content; UK e-commerce giant ASOS has developed a social community element via ASOS As Seen on Me where customers show off their ASOS purchases.


The start up community is developing a groundswell of concepts aimed at finding ways for users, particular younger ones, to keep buying. Style Counsel's newly launched app aims to replicate the experience of asking a trusted friend for her thoughts about an outfit for a date, work or just everyday life. But instead of going shopping with that one super stylish best friend users tap into a community of fashion bloggers and enthusiasts who weigh in from around the world. One friend becomes thousands with sartorial bonds developed across continents.


The irony about the impact of social media on commerce is that in some ways it brings us back from cold, technical search to interacting again with others. In replicating the experience of going shopping with friends, technology is helping make what's old new again.