This post by guest blogger Kate Endress appears as part of our series Small Business 500

tips for small businessBrick and mortar stores often complain about customers browsing in their stores and then buying online, but online businesses can also find it hard to compete with physical locations. Some customers will never be comfortable purchasing online because they like the personal experience of handling a product, talking to a sales clerk, and getting advice from friends. While online businesses may never be able to fully replicate an in-store experience, here are five ways to add social shopping features to small business e-commerce sites.

1. Add reviews

Reviews drastically improve sales and this is one of the big advantages of shopping online over in-store. If you haven’t added user reviews to your site yet, do it now. There are a number of sites that offer review software for various price ranges. You can also make reviews more personal by adding video reviews from VideoGenie or Tout. These 20-second videos have been credited with converting 1,000 customers for ShoeDazzle.

2. Offer personal advice

To replicate the helpfulness of that in-store clerk try adding live chat to your site through a company like Olark. If you don’t have the personnel to man live chat, then add a personalized recommendation email form. Get customers to give you their email -- a great way to increase conversions -- and tell you a little about what they’re looking for and then email them back with a recommendation. This will take some time on your part but adding a personal connection with your site makes customers more committed to the purchase.

3. Poll customers about what they want

Facebook polls are one of the best ways to engage with your customers and you can do this on your site as well. Customers love having their opinion asked and sites like ModCloth use this to find out which products they should create. Capture the customer’s email after the poll and offer to update them when the product or the deal or the new feature is available.

4. Get customers to curate your products

Almost every e-commerce site has a popular products section, but it’s generally very unclear to customers how that popularity is determined. Sites like Fancy and Svpply have customers sign up through Facebook and then add products on the site. You may want customers to only list your own products, but the same principle applies. Consumers find it very engaging to follow friends and see which products they think are cool.

5. Make sharing better

Most sites now have links for Facebook, Twitter, and other social sharing but they often forget to add in compelling content. First, you should always prepopulate with engaging text with a call to action that their friends can follow to come to your site. Second, whenever you can have a compelling picture or marketing image that is unique to your site, gives some branding, and again gives a call to action to come to your site. Don’t count on your customers doing this for you, prepopulate where you can.

small-business-social-shoppingKate Endress holds a degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business and was previously a private equity investor before becoming an entrepreneur. In June 2011 Kate cofounded DITTO, an ecommerce site, featuring patent pending “try-on” technology selling a curated collection of the best fashion sunglasses and eyewear.

@shopDITTO
DITTO