Words cannot describe the degree to which I hate shopping. Over-stimulation is probably at the root of my shopping aversion. There are too many choices and too many questions that go unanswered, which invariably raises the possibility for future regret. Abundant choice seems to be a precondition for buyer’s remorse. So, why bother setting myself up for disappointment?
Like for most people, the idea of getting a cool new toy has its appeal. But my allergy to the process often makes me avoid entering the shopping fray altogether.
But what if everything about shopping were answered for me? What if I always knew what the best product would be for me? What if I could instantly aggregate a global opinion on which product was best generally, and best for me specifically? Were that the case, I think it’s safe to say I’d buy more stuff.
Tom Patterson and Wize are trying to provide those answers, by crawling the Web and allowing the best products to rise to the top based on a collective showing of virtual hands. Wize is the Web 2.0 equivalent of Consumer Reports. Rather than covering a couple thousand products each year (Tom estimates that Consumer Reports covers about 1,500 a year), Wize has the potential to cover an unlimited number. It’s already tracking around 50,000 individual products on the site.
While Consumer Reports employs a staff of 450 to perform product tests and comparisons, Wize takes a technological approach. It combs the Internet for product references among bloggers, commentators, and reviewers in the open-media community. Wize’s algorithm then interprets these online reviews and creates a single score between 1 and 100 for every product. Wize also aggregates consumer comments from other leading sites like CNET, Amazon, and Buy.com—which adds a nice qualitative touch to the quantitative scoring. It’s this automated aggregation capability which differentiates Wize from other “commenting” sites like Epinions and upstart Viewpoints.
When I talked with Tom, we focused on how the increased efficiency of this process benefits the consumer. Tom believes that Wize brings the wisdom of crowds right to the point of consumption, as consumers—on seeing which products have high scores on Wize—can go directly to e-commerce sites to buy the product.
Tom makes a reasonable point. As I played with the Wize.com site, I found it quite a useful tool. I currently need a new MP3 player, and it was great to be able to poke around on Wize.com, quickly sort by manufacturer, capacity, and price, and see specific scores and comments for each product.
To be a completely effective shopping assistant, Wize still faces the challenge of continually understanding the customer’s specific context. For example, for my MP3 player, it wasn’t as simple as just buying the “best” product. Napster is my music service, so I still needed to check out the list of Napster-compatible devices and then go back to Wize and review products in the context of that compatibility constraint. It would have been great if Wize had asked me up front which music service I use, and then presented the best devices based on consumer feedback for my service.
What about the supply side?
While Wize has the potential to change how consumers buy things, it also has implications for how suppliers market their wares.
Today, I think of successful consumer-product companies sending teams of shelf-space schmoozers to companies like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and how it’s easier to squeeze a new product through the head of a needle than to get it prime shelf space at a big-box retailer.
But what if alternative channels start providing a meaningful amount of consumer-product purchases? What if the impact of shelf space and end-of-aisle promotion—or being one of the few products selected for a Consumer Reports category review—started giving way to blogger reviews and open-media ratings?
In the current system, many great products never make it onto the typical consumer’s radar screen because they have no way to generate meaningful visibility. But in a consumer-product meritocracy, where the great products from any source were quickly identified and moved to the top of the list, an entirely new set of doors would open to innovators and entrepreneurs.
Web 1.0 started giving consumers global access to new products from new innovators: services like Yahoo! Stores, let anyone, anywhere open a store and start taking orders. But who has time to search the Web for the perfect product from some unknown company? What’s been missing was the ability to collect and synthesize market feedback about these products, and present it to the consumer in an easily intelligible (and consumable) way—a Web 2.0 specialty.
That’s where services like Wize could be wonderfully catalytic to getting new, great products on the map.
Wize, currently in beta, is simultaneously expanding the number of products it covers and honing its technology and algorithms for collecting and interpreting open-media product feedback. To date the company has raised $4 million from Mayfield Fund and Bessemer Venture Partners.
Naturally, the critical focus for the company is creating a useful and enjoyable service for consumers. But in the long run, the folks who benefit most from Wize might be the small suppliers, who may, at long last, get a more level playing field for competing with the big boys.
Ezra Roizen is a strategic advisor to new ventures in the areas of private financing, mergers & acquisitions, and strategic planning. To contact him about The Roizen Report (edited by Nina Davis), contact him via his Vator profile.
Disclaimer: The Roizen Report is a highly subjective and informal discussion of a current technology, company, or trend. The views discussed are solely those of the author and are not those of any organization with which he may be, has been, or will be affiliated. The Roizen Report should in no way be used in the forming of an investment or otherwise consequential decision.