Blucarat wants to power the next wave of social shopping

By Erin Griffith , written on October 31, 2013

From The News Desk

Let's face facts: social shopping has been a dud. Facebook has failed, over and over, to get it right, and it seems to have caused a ripple effect across both the social media and commerce worlds. First Facebook went all-in on "Beacon," the tool that published your credit card activity in your friends' News Feeds. That terrible idea obviously failed. Then it went all-in on "F-commerce," which was meant to drive commerce on Facebook pages. That also failed, because it was expensive for stores to execute, and because people don't want to shop on Facebook. Then there was Facebook Gifts, which has been a big disappointment, too. The company has scaled back the service and doesn't even talk about it in earnings calls anymore.

The next logical step for melding social media and commerce, then, is to inject social media into the commerce experience. Using Facebook's log-in, commerce sites now bring social media interactions in-house. You could, for example, sign into and see which jeans your friends liked. Indeed, Levi's was a big early adopter of social integration, launching a "Friends Store" within its site. It was social, but without the awkward automatic sharing stuff. also did this really well. The site asked you to log in with Facebook, and then showed you a Feed of all activity on the site. It looked like Pinterest, except every pin was a shoppable item. Rather than browse category by category (and scroll through pages of the same rug in 30 different colors), you could see all the different things people on the site were liking, sharing and buying in one place. It worked, too. Fab said people who visited the Feed bought something twice as often as those who didn't.

I guess it didn't work well enough -- Fab has killed its feed. Links to it redirect back to the site's homepage. (This is the first time I'm noticing the Feed is gone so I've reached out to Fab to find out why. It is still alive in Fab's mobile apps.) Levi's has killed its "Friends Store" also.

Despite all these setbacks, social shopping charges on. If the next big idea doesn't work, it might be time to just give up.

Thomas Kwon is determined to crack the code. His startup, Blucarat, recently spun out of MDC Partners, a media holding company. While being incubated there, Blucarat piloted its software with 50 different commerce companies. Now, the 19-person company has raised $1 million in funding from an undisclosed investor as it prepares to officially launch in the coming weeks.

The company's software helps commerce sites be more social. The idea is similar to the Fab Feed and the Levi's store, but supercharged. Users sign into a commerce site using their Facebook details and a social bar appears at the bottom of the page. They can ask questions to other shoppers on the site. "I'm looking for a gift for my boss," for example. Other users, either your Facebook friends or strangers, will jump in to provide suggestions. The bar tracks all the things you look at, talk about, and click on. Customer service reps can jump in as well. It's a way for commerce sites to enable realtime socializing, and Blucarat has already facilitated thousands of question and answers.

"The whole experience is about, 'how do I get people to recommend more products to each other?'" Kwon says. Word-of-mouth recommendations is the holy grail of social commerce.

Blucarat will launch with several customers in place in the coming weeks. It has already worked with sites such as BCBG, Harry Winston, and 1-800-Flowers. In beta-tests, customers that signed with Bluecarat tools spent three times longer on a site than non-community members. They spend an average of nine to 10 percent more when shopping through the commerce bar. Around 30 percent of visitors log in with social media accounts.

Social commerce is becoming social-enabled commerce. If it actually sticks, Blucarat will be there leading the charge.