May 1, 2009, 12:00 AM

Art e-retailer uses social technology to let customers shop together

Novica, which used Sesh co-browsing technology for customer service, has now opened up the technology to let registered shoppers chat, draw on pages and navigate the site together.

Online retailer Novica has expanded its use of some unconventional technology it’s been using for customer service to now enable shoppers to browse its online store with one another-inviting friends to join them or asking fellow Novica shoppers for advice.

Novica, a partner of National Geographic that sells the works of artists from around the world, has opened up to registered shoppers social technology from vendor Sesh Inc. (“Sesh” is slang among young people for a group activity, a social session.) From a prompt directly below a shopper’s name on the upper left of the home page, the technology launches a system through Sesh.com that frames the web site, allowing a shopper to invite another registered Novica shopper to discuss products in a chat box, write notes on top of any section of a web page, and use pen tools to draw on the site. Co-browsing functionality also enables shoppers to navigate the site together, each taking turns guiding one another to different pages.

Novica has been using the technology since the fall to provide customer service. The retailer says the technology was a hit with customers who called in on the phone and then were prompted by the customer service agent to join them in a sesh, which offered a more enriching service experience.

Other sites using Sesh for co-browsing customer service include AlphabetSigns.com, Cabinet-tronix.com and CityLightsCollectibles.com.

Novica decided to go beyond customer service and create a social shopping environment for customers to interact on their own. The aim is to build on its Novica Friends community, where, ala Facebook, registered users can become followers of any of the artists featured on Novica.com.

“The real-time sessions customers can have with each other, talking about products or artists or advising one another in areas of expertise, go well beyond static forums or customer reviews,” says Charles Hachtmann, chief marketing officer at Novica. “This is the next step in the social web on retailer sites.”

On another note, Sesh is working on a method to draw social network users to retailers using its technology. It’s in the early stages of creating a Facebook application that Facebook users can download to their accounts. The application will enable a user to invite a Facebook friend (within the walls of the closed social network) to a “sesh.” If the friend accepts, the application will then take both users out of Facebook.com through Sesh.com to the retailer’s home page for co-browsing. Further, the company foresees tying this functionality to retailers’ social network display advertising.

Sesh is considering a variety of retailers to target as it develops this ad-oriented technology, says Jarrod Rogers, Sesh CEO, including its flagship client Novica.com.

Using the Internet has always been an individual experience, but shopping is so often a social experience, such as going to the mall with friends, Rogers says. Recent research has shown consumers now spend more time on social networks than they do on personal e-mail sites. Sesh wants to take advantage of increased social networking to facilitate social shopping experiences online.

“So far, social networks have not been able to drive traffic to e-commerce sites. And Facebook is struggling to create a revenue model,” Rogers says. “Technology that can marry socializing, display advertising and shopping can bridge the gap between social networks and generating revenue, for retailers and social networks.”

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