Bing Puts Sharing into Shopping

Mobile phones and social sites have changed the way we interact, both with our friends and the rest of the world. It looks like Microsoft has caught on to this. Its newest feature for its Bing search engine lets you search Bing Shopping from a mobile phone and query your social network on Facebook and Twitter as to whether you’re getting the best deal on a prospective purchase.

Sadly, this feature is currently limited to users of the HTC HD2 smartphone. It follows on the heels of sharing for features such as news and entertainment. You can send product listings to selected friends via email as well as Facebook and Twitter, with just a click. So you never need to shop alone anymore.

Some observers seem to see this as a development that stems from the tools on various shopping-related sites that let users share, compare, and vote on products. You can see this in action on Amazon, Kaboodle, and just about any site that permits user-generated reviews. Some argue that online group buying,  catered to by sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, is also a form of “social shopping,” despite the fact that there’s no actual social interaction involved.

In truth, Bing’s latest feature does no more than speed up something that many of us were doing long before there were cell phones or online social networks. Then as now, every group of friends had someone with specialized knowledge who loves to share it, a “maven” for a particular area of expertise. Before going shopping, a wise consumer would consult the appropriate maven.

Want a new camera? Go to your friend the camera maven before you hit the store, and he (or she) will ask you a few pointed questions and then tell you what camera you should get, down to the make and model. If you’re really lucky, you’ll even get your camera maven to go shopping with you, so there’s no chance of a misstep.

Having an online social network changed this by letting you send email and other messages to your maven before you went shopping rather than phoning or meeting in person, so they could answer at their convenience (and perhaps after doing a little research). Having a cell phone meant that you could call your maven while you were in the store, though of course it also had its disadvantages (dropped calls, confusion over products, etc.). Once cell phones became smarter, you could get around this by taking a photo and emailing it, but that’s still not an ideal solution given how well (or poorly) camera phones take pictures.

With Bing’s latest feature, you can always take your knowledgeable friends shopping with you. This may be an improvement on taking a picture of the product and emailing it to friends, which some have noted is another modern technique many have used. Either way, Bing actually seems to be ahead of the curve on this; even Google and Facebook don’t appear to have similar features yet. If consumers find this iteration on social shopping easy and useful, it could spike Bing’s popularity with the important younger, tech-savvy crowd. 

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