College marketing must swim upstream

By Lucy Batley

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In 2014, online retail sales exceeded £100 billion for the first time, with revenue expected to exceed £115 billion by the end of 2015 (source: IMRG and Capgemini). That's almost £2,000 spent in 2015 for every adult in the UK.

When faced with such overwhelming evidence it is fair to say that shopping is a national pastime. So, you would think it would be natural bedfellow of social media. Britons spend on average 62 million hours a day on social media, that's an hour each a day for the entire population of the UK.

However, the techies have struggled to provide a social shopping app that provides more benefits to the end user than the online retailer. Pinterest seems to be the least self-serving and grandfather of social shopping apps, launched way, way back in 2010. Despite being a prime candidate for monetising its product, Pinterest seems to be shy about making the leap and has been slow to ride the e-commerce wave. There were noises on the scene as recently as February this year about an imminent buy button launch, but this is yet to be seen.

In stark contrast, start-ups like Fancy (10 million+ users), Etsy (54 million users) and Wanelo (11 million users) have created shopping environments that have the appearance of social spaces, where spending money becomes a subsidiary function. Followers on these sites pin and share products they love, making the endorsement more organic and 'neutral'. Wish seems to be one of the upstarts making the biggest waves, with 30 million users, 10,000 merchants and attracting $50 million from investors in 2014.

Perhaps Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter, can crack the social element of hitting the shops with your friends and combine it with a seamless online experience. Her business alone created one of those billions the UK can claim. Not surprisingly, her yet-to-be-widely-launched app has an air of the familiar and the elite, with users cooing over each other's latest Chloe handbag.

However, despite the despot-like air of this brand, this app will offer you the chance to affiliate with particular style tribes, creating a more meaningful exchange of ideas, created by the users, rather than a 'product discovery' algorithm that is learning an approximation of your taste and choosing items for you, like Wish. Created for humans, by humans, now there is a crazy idea!

Perhaps the real issue is trying to create an online social space that welcomes product placement where others have failed. A space that creates real end-user benefit before profit. Still, there seems to be plenty of runners in the race willing to take that chance.

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