February 3, 2011, 12:21 PM

Buy.com buys into group shopping

The online retailer buys the developer of ShopTogether and uses its technology to allow online shoppers to browse Buy.com together. Consumers can sign in with their Facebook credentials and invite friends from the social network to join the online shopping expedition.

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Buy.com Inc. has bought a company that that enables online consumers to shop with friends. With the acquisition of DecisionStep Inc., Buy.com hopes to make online shopping more like shopping inside bricks-and-mortar stores.

Buy.com did not say how much it paid for the company, which developed the ShopTogether social shopping application.  The acquisition is powering Buy.com’s  ShopTogether Community, through which consumers can interact with other shoppers on the site.

ShopTogether enables shoppers to engage with fellow consumers via e-mail, an on-site instant messaging system, Facebook Connect, Twitter and other social networks. Using the tool, consumers can browse products together and redirect friends, with their permission, to product pages.

Shoppers who sign into the site using their Facebook credentials can see which of their friends are available to chat with via the instant messenger;  a toolbox on the right side of the screen shows the photos and names of all the shopper’s Facebook friends.

When the consumer clicks on an online friend’s photo, that friend receives the following message: “Click here to shop with me on Buy.com. You can shop with your friends just like you're in the store together! Get a second opinion or just have fun shopping with your friends on Buy.com. Log into Facebook on Buy.com to see which friends are online now."

Shoppers who use the feature in a beta test spent significantly more time on the site and had a higher conversion rate, says Neel Grover, president and CEO of Buy.com, No. 32 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. He declines to disclose specific figures, but offers a simple explanation for the gains : “This takes shopping from a solitary experience and makes it more social.”

Grover says the retailer has been developing a social shopping feature for the site for nearly two years, starting the project internally before co-developing the tool with DecisionStep. After testing the feature, Buy.com decided to acquire the company.

ShopTogether is used by such retailers as Mattel, Foot Locker and Charlotte Russe, and Buy.com plans to keep offering the tool to other retailers. Buy.com says ShopTogether will also be integrated into the white-label marketplace that Buy.com offers to deploy on the e-commerce sites of other retailers.

To entice shoppers to use ShopTogether, Buy.com will highlight special offers in the feature’s toolbox.

“We’re looking to drive engagement,” Grover says. “But already, in the early testing we’re seeing nice engagement. I think that’s because we sell more than 9.5 million products, many of which are expensive, and if you want to make a big-ticket purchase, you want to check with your friends to make sure you’re getting the right product.”

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