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PowerReviews – Web 2.0 approach to Product Reviews

PowerReviews A small California based start-up has recently made appearance with a sneak peek at their soon to be shopping portal full of consumer product reviews. Earlier this year this same company started offering product reviews outsourcing to big and small retailers for free. That is right, they offer service that such companies as BazaarVoice.com are charging thousands for. How is it possible? Here is their story on it. In a nutshell:

  • PowerReviews will use the reviews they collect from their clients customers to build their own shopping web site and will monetize it via affiliated sales commission.
  • PowerReviews will license the technology to businesses who themselves want to maintain the product reviews database.

The idea sounds great and PowerReviews team is working hard to get into the market. Among other things, they are patenting a number of leading edge technologies to make use of their services by retailers as easy as possible. The real question is, as a portal will they be able to compete with the behemoths like Epinions and Amazon who currently dominate the market? The answer to this question ultimately defines if they stay afloat 2 years from now or not.

My personal opinion is that they have a very good shot at it. Unlike TheFind – one of the price comparison engines I reviewed earlier – PowerReviews doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the information they provide by taking a different approach to monetizing their idea. Their business model looks sound and they should be able to pull it off.

Not Your Typical Price Comparison Engine

I have briefly touched the subject of comparison shopping in my earlier post when I listed the popular price comparison sites. Now I will try to summarise what I know about how comparison engines work, what business model they use, and will review a few new web sites that don’t follow the traditional approach.

SprenzySprenzy was launched in August this year by Chuck Lai and Peter Koonts. Before starting Sprenzy Chuck was in charge of product development at MySimon (a division of CNet) and is well familiar with Shopping.com API which Sprenzy utilizes. In a way Sprenzy is similar to the traditional comparison engines because it uses the legacy revenue model: Pay Per Click. What does it mean?

To get to the Shopping.com’s (and therefore Sprenzy’s) database the merchant needs to sign an agreement which requires them to pay each time a user clicks at the link to their product (very similar to Google AdWords). Sprenzy then gets a slice of that money. What happens if a merchant doesn’t sign the agreement? You guessed it right! Their products are not listed. This basically excludes any low margin and wholesale resellers – those who are more likely to sell at lower price.

So why am I even reviewing them? Sprenzy has taken a very innovative approach as far as the user interface is concerned. They actively use AJAX and javascript to improve your shopping experience. In addition they built in Epinions product reviews conveniently available as you shop. The feature I like the most is ability to add items to My List for side-to-side comparison.

MpireIf you are a bargain hunter freak deep to the bone (like myself) then you will like Mpire. Mpire has differentiated itself from the rest by bringing together listings of new and used items from eBay, uBid, Yahoo! Auctions, Overstock, and a number of regular online stores and by adding analytics on top of it to help you figure out what you should be paying for the item. You can see the average price, a historical price range, and a 30 day price trend – they call it Mpire Price Check. This should give you plenty of information to spend a night shopping. I have had a very nice impression from the web site overall. Those thumbnail pictures getting bigger in size as you hover the mouse look very cool.

Some of the neat tools worth looking at are the eBay search tag cloud and pricing guidelines for some of the products. Additional functionality opens up when you sign up for a free account. You will be able to save your searches, create watch lists and set up price alerts.

JellyFishJellyfish made a lot of buzz when it launched back in June this year. Unlike traditional merchants advertising through the Pay Per Click system, merchants pay Jellyfish a referral fee, at least 50% of which is passed onto the consumer as a cash back. This is very similar to what eBates and FatWallet have been doing for quite a while except that Jellyfish have added some neat search features (ability to refine the results by price range, store or manufacturer) and added AJAX to improve the overall user experience. As I was browsing the web site the one thing I was really missing was those product reviews I could read at Sprenzy.

I really don’t see what is so revolutionary about paying cash back to the user that Jellyfish is doing. Especially since this comes at the price of reducing the list of available items (only affiliated merchants list their products in the database). One thing they have done right compared to Ebates is they don’t require you to sign up to make the purchase. Lame – Ebates!

SortPircesSortPrice while somewhat less user friendly yet is a very nice and simple to use comparison shopping engine. You can search by keyword or by category. You can drag and drop your selections to a list for comparison.
Lack of detailed item descriptions is a real drawback. User reviews for the product and the store would not hurt either. I understand the limitations come from the completely different revenue model that the company employs.

Sortprice lists a small subset of the merchant products for free and then, as opposed to charging on a click basis, they have an Enhanced Listing Program where merchants pay a flat monthly rate to get the rest of their items in. Taking into account recent click fraud developments this can be a very attractive alternative for the merchants. As for us bargain hunters… the model still punishes unaffiliated merchants and hence reduces the number of offerings.

ShopWiki ShopWiki launched earlier this year and TheFind launched in beta just yesterday could be the ultimate solution to the problem of excluding products from the search… that is if it works. These web sites don’t charge merchants for inclusion of their products and instead crawl the web as opposed to working through merchants’ API and feeds.
TheFind

This on one side increases the number of offered items but on the other side it noticeably lowers the quality of presented information. Product categories, reviews and feature comparison are non-existent among these web sites. I would rather consider them “smart” or “enhanced” search engines than comparison shopping tools.

How do they make money? They monetize the service very similar to the way regular search engines do it – by offering promoted or sponsored search results and by listing featured stores on the search results page.

Since we are down to the search engine level let me mention these two web sites as well: Retreve and Givemebackmygoogle. Both are aiming at improving the results returned by plain vanilla search engines when you are looking for consumer products. The last one is especially remarkable due to its simplicity. It is more like a hack than a web site. I could probably build one like it overnight. Maybe I should? ;-)

Dealigg – new player in social bargain hunting

Dealigg There are total of 349 Digg imitators out there according to this blog. Is this a lot? Apparently not. One more web site can now boast social shopping and voting for deals as the main force keeping their shopping deals supply fresh. Dealigg has recently made appearance in the cyber-news which went mostly unnoticed.

If you are familiar with dealspl.us and dealspy.org then you will probably notice the similarities among the three. I am not certain about dealspl.us but dealspy.org and dealigg.com both use Pligg – a popular open source content management platform – which partially explains the similar looks.

In general the web site looks OK although somewhat unfinished. The “Privacy Policy” and “Terms of Use” links are both broken and the styling could be somewhat refined. There are rough edges here and there.

An advice to Dealigg developers. Spend more time and effort marketing your web site. Should you choose Digg for your announcement do not repeat the mistake I made. Do it like the clever people have done it. Find an active user with a lot of friends/followers ready to digg his/her submissions and let them submit your story. This is the drawback of all digg style sites – including yours now ;-) – the news entry has to hit the front page before the second wave of diggers – those who never even look into upcoming news section – will pick it up and make a hit out of it. Digg is not ideal – it can be played.

As for the digg-style bargain hunting clones (or mods) – the market is ripe. Give it more time and you will see more sites like these popping up.

Update 11/19: If this site takes off you won’t be needing connections or bots anymore to play Digg. :-)

Are you getting a good home rental deal?

Have you ever wondered if you pay too much for your rent? Wonder no more. Folks at iiProperty have the answer for your. Rentometer is a new mashup that tells you if the rent you are paying is too much, too little, or just the right amount.

RentometerThe web site uses “data from publicly available sources on the internet and in print” to get the pricing. You enter your property type, the address and it will show where you are compared to similar rental listings in your area and will even mark them on a mini map using Google Maps API.

The interface is very clean and straightforward. The only suggestion I have for them is to clarify their sources. For some reason I am having hard time buying the pitch if I don’t see what the original source is.

MyNewPlaceAlso take a look at MyNewPlace. It uses a similar idea for mashup except they give you much more details and more options for refining your search (plus you can rent that “similar” property via them and they will give you a $100 cash back!). MyNewPlace will not average out the prices for you so you will have to make some of your own research however with so many other factors affecting the rent (besides number of bedrooms) the estimate Rentometer gives can only be used as a rough starting point. Compared to MyNewPlace Rentometer looks more like a toy or… maybe it is just a way for iiProperty to promote its brand?

Trezr: Digg-style bargain hunting

I would like to welcome a new addition to our collection of popular bargain hunting sites which is due for an update later this month. This new web site has been just a few months in the wild and yet it seems to be attracting plenty of attention. Lets us see if this is a long lived fame. ;-)

The concept is similar to Digg in the sense that people can submit links and then get them Trezr’d (voted for). When you submit a link you pick a category (no tags folks?). They also distinguish deals, coupons, and money saving tips as 3 major categories. A single vote equals to a silver coin. Several silver coins is a golden one. Only links with a golden coin are kept in the system (for up to 3 months according to their FAQ). The smaller unpopular items are removed after a while (a sort of garbage collection). Naturally the top picks (7 of them from each: deals, coupons and tips) get to the front page.

The web site is very nicely designed in Web2.0 style with rounded corners and a lot of gradient colors. I opened an account for a test drive and had a very nice impression overall.

Trezr

When you submit a deal you are currently not allowed to attach an image. There are also no special fields for the item price or discount. You are basically limited to several sentences to describe your item. In that respect Trezr is behind dealspl.us or other web sites specialized in on-line shopping.

A very smart move on their part is the incentive program Trezr offers to the people submitting links. It is a revenue sharing via Google advertising. I personally think there is a major conceptual difference between sharing ad revenue and allowing people to use affiliate id in the links they submit (read more here about monetary side of it). With the first approach you as a submitter are more rewarded for the attention the link generates. With the second approach your incentive is closely connected to the shopping transaction. Due to this fact the second approach is more easily abused (read dealplumber review here for an example). Why? You click on the link, your id is stored in the URL, then you forget about the original web site and continue browsing the merchant’s shop. Nevertheless your id is preserved in the URL and when you make the purchase the referrer gets their commission. This naturally stimulates referrers to submit more links with their ids creating a network of low quality offers.

deals from trezr.com

add this to your site

One more twist to the Trezr story is the weblet they promote (see it on the right side). The weblet is essentially a web widget that you can install on your web site to display the links you submitted to Trezr (or just any links from their web site). It looks like widgets now are “must have” for a successful web site.

Also read this Trezr review from our Australian friends. As for the fame… I think even if Trezr doesn’t become a shopping destination due to the limited visual presentation of items for sale it has a good shot at staying afloat as a social portal where people can exchange money saving related tips. The time will show.




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