This post continues the weekly series of website reviews which I started last week with SlickDeals. The bargain hunting site of this week is FatWallet, the second popular site in my list. In fact it held the first position for a long time and gave it up to SlickDeals just recently.
Just as in case of SlickDeals, most of the popularity comes from very active community forums, which bring a lot of visitors to FatWallet.
The major difference between FatWallet and SlickDeals is the fact that FatWallet offers a cash back program that visitors can participate to sweeten all the deals they find in the forums (to get the cash back you need to be a registered FatWallet user and to follow certain steps when you make the purchase). Based on November 2006 data the cash back percentages FatWallet offers look pretty competitive compared to other similar rewards programs. FatWallet’s strength compared to other programs is the fact that they offer their rewards in the context of very popular deals forums. The forums community is generating hundreds of bargains a day and it is very hard to compete with the combined intelligence of hundreds of thousands of people.
In addition to the forums, FatWallet offers plenty of other tools aimed at helping you with bargain hunting. Let’s go over each and see what they are worth.
This page lists stores and the current cash back percentages for each. When you click on a particular store link you get to a page dedicated to that store which lists current promotions applicable to that store and also usually has a few links to specific parts of the store (e.g. different departments). This is very convenient however I wish the deals themselves were also integrated so when I choose to shop in a particular store I could do it all from one page. And hey, where is the Best Buy store page?
Hot Deal News
Hot Deal News is a sort of a blog where a person by the name K. Sebring hand picks deals from forums posts and summarizes them in a more readable format (as well verifying that all the links are accurate and nothing is missing). This is the place to come if you don’t want to swipe crowdy forums. The big problem with this blog is that deals often get here after a week or more since they are posted in forums. I am not sure who K. Sebring is but he should cut on those 4 hour lunch breaks. ;-)
Forums is ultimately where all of the action takes place. Functionality-wise the forums are inferior compared to those at SlickDeals however this simplicity may appeal to some (too much functionality may look overwhelming). In addition the forums are more restrictive. You will not find fancy avatars or long signatures. In fact you will not see any signatures ever since they were found inappropriate. On one side it takes away individuality from posters, on the other side it eliminates clutter. Pick what you prefer.
This is in essence an aggregation of ratings for all stores. I don’t see much value in doing it since you can see the same information from the individual store pages (see above). The only case when this could be useful is if you decide to compare stores by their rating side by side (I wish I could pick individual stores and compare them separate from the rest).
It should be noted that FatWallet has built their own user feedback database which may not be as comprehensive as that of ResellerRatings but which still looks very impressive (for example Amazon has 467 reviews at FatWallet and 1002 at ResellerRatings).
Prices page is a price comparison engine co-branded with PriceGrabber and it doesn’t represent anything significant. It would be much more useful if it was better integrated with FatWallet store rating and cash back information.
Wiki is the company’s attempt to aggregate the static information from forums into a more structured format. The forums are very well suited for limited time deals and promotions but they don’t work well as a reference for longer lived information (for example shopping tips or product specifications). In addition, since Wiki is much more search engine friendly, this can also be looked at as an attempt to monetize on FatWallet’s high Page Rank by bringing all those visitors that don’t land on the site forums pages.
Wiki is currently in Beta stage and doesn’t seem to be very active. There are some interesing pages (mostly ripped from forums) but it is still a long way before it becomes useful. If I were Tim Storm I would hire a couple of full time technical editors and would start filling in the content.
Big Fat Deals
Big Fat Deals is where FatWallet lists all the new promotions they collect via affiliate channels. These same promotions are available at the individual store pages and Big Fat Deals simply offers another way of looking at this information: chronologically and by category. They also bring together “popular” promotions to a separate list but
God Chief Mucky Muck only knows what is considered popular. Are these the ones that bring FatWallet higher commission?
FatWallet offers a greater variety of tools for bargain hunters compared to SlickDeals. Store pages look impressive and Wiki is a step in the right direction. Forums is still the most popular part of the website and functionality-wise they are inferior to SlickDeals.
The main FatWallet strength is integration of a rewards program with active user forums. This is probably what appeals most of the FatWallet’ers and this is what makes them come back.
I think the best way to improve the site is by adding a price comparison engine (similar to JellyFish) integrated with store ratings and cash back information.