Written by Alex Iskold and edited by Richard MacManus
It's no accident that Time magazine choose YOU as their Person of the Year. In 2006, the Web was all about the social. User generated content was king this year - and the Time editor in chief is betting that the impact of this will be felt for years to come. In this article, just in time for last minute holiday shopping madness, we look at how the social aspects of the Web are transforming online shopping.
Online shopping has traditionally been one of the big activities online. Jeff Bezos recognized that a long time ago when he created Amazon.com - now the biggest online retailer in the world, by a long shot (according to Mary Meeker's stats). Nowadays most major offline retailers have websites too - and rightly so, because more and more people are buying products online. According to a comScore press release last week, this year's xmas holiday online retail spending is expected to be 25% up from the same period in 2005. comScore estimates that online retailing is running at upwards of $610 Million per day in this holiday season - and the heaviest day was expected to be sometime during the week of December 11, with sales that should approach $700 million.
So there is obviously a lot of money to be made in the market, but we also think there is a lot of room for innovation. Indeed this year has brought the wisdom of the crowds into the equation and turned shopping from a lonely to a social activity. In this post we look at five social shopping startups: Kaboodle, Stylehive, MyPickList, Wists and ThisNext. Note that this isn't a comprehensive list of companies in this space.
The Traffic Chart
Based on the Alexa chart for our 5 companies, we see that Kaboodle is leading the pack - while MyPickList is substantially behind. Of the other three, Stylehive appears to be slightly ahead of ThisNext and Wists - but overall it's quite close. As our readers have pointed out many times before, Alexa traffic charts do not show the whole picture. So we also did a search for the term/tag 'ipod' to get an idea of the relative sizes of these sites. Here are the results, with the figures indicating how many times 'ipod' showed up:
Search for 'ipod':
The results support that Kaboodle is ahead. But why?
Each of these sites offers a combination of unique features - and ones that are common to all. What is it then that makes a user choose one site over another?
proclaimed from the DEMO stage that shopping needs to be social, Kaboodle's popularity has been on the rise. When Kaboodle had only 20K active users, it managed to secure a partnership with eBay - and it became clear that this company was going to be a major player in the world of social commerce. Kaboodle offers a robust and simple set of features. Users can collect shopping items from many sites using the Kaboodle toolbar. The items can then be organized into collections, reviewed and shared with other users.Ever since CEO Manish Chandra
Each collection can be viewed as a list, grid, slideshow and collage. Of these, the first two are very useful - while slideshow and collage are more like eye candy.
Kaboodle nails the usability for key social features: it is really easy to copy a single item or a whole list, and it is also easy to rate items or the entire list. Finally, the search on Kaboodle works very well - making the service simple, yet complete.
Stylehive is geared more towards fashion. Surprisingly the site is not as clean as Kaboodle. The index page is bulky and it is not obvious what to do. However beyond that first page, Stylehive does a good job on the UI. There are views of Web Sites, Items, Tags and People that are compact and quite useful. Each view focuses on an aspect, such as person, but also offers quick links to other aspects like recent items, tags and visited sites. Particularly notable is the view of popular sites, which does not seem to be available on Kaboodle.
Stylehive search has a vertical flavor to it. After the user types in some text and runs the query, the results are displayed as a layer. The results can be refined by tags, text, sites and other criteria - making the search useful and easy.
We did not notice other compelling features on the site. The entire experience seems more disconnected than on Kaboodle. There are definitely interesting elements and ideas here, but they need to be glued together better to create more of a flow for the user.
MyPickList launched in early May with a focus to help people make money on the items they like. Based on the traffic chart, it has not really picked up. We spent time on the site in order to understand what is going on there. The first thing that stood out is that the data capturing capability is inferior to that of Kaboodle. Users are asked to enter everything manually. In addition, once the item is captured for the user - it is not obvious where it actually ends up.
The social features offered on the site are few compare to Kaboodle. The search feature is simple and practical, but there do not seem to be enough users on the site to make it useful. The biggest feature is supposed to be the widgets, which can be embedded into blogs and social networks. This is done nicely. The widgets can be customized in a number of ways: colors, skins and layouts.
Despite the fact that widgets are done well, the site feels empty and under-developed. Perhaps refocusing it and doing widgets only is the way to go. As it stands, we have to conclude that the low traffic is probably an indicator of low usage.
Wists is another site that we visited for this faceoff. It has a very clean look and a very basic (perhaps too basic) set of features. The index page has a nice overview of the latest popular picks and draws attention to the search box. The search works well, as it is easy to look things up.
Next, we created an account and tried adding an item. This is where the site stopped being exciting. When clicking to add an item from Amazon, the user is asked to choose from around 100 images that appear on the page. Kaboodle chooses the most appropriate one automatically and it makes a big difference. However back at the site, the interface for managing the list is fine. One feature that we found interesting is the ability to publish a single item on a web site. This is basically the same as a widget, but the packaging and presentation of this feature on Wists was nice. Other features amounted to a subset of what is offered on Kaboodle - and did not seem that impressive or innovative.
ThisNext, our final contender, is hitting the market with a gorgeous all-flash site. The site itself is very snappy and inviting. It is not, however, as fast as Kaboodle - particularly the search function. Still, the design of the site and the presentation of the items compensates for this.
Another notable feature at ThisNext are the badges. They are great looking and easy to assemble. But beyond a nice design and pretty badges, we did not see anything groundbreaking. It seems like the site needs to innovate more to stand out from the pack.
Not surprisingly, Kaboodle leads the social shopping pack with a clean UI and the most comprehensive feature set. It is difficult to see how the others can catch up to it. Perhaps Stylehive and ThisNext appeal to more artsy types, but they will need more than just flare to lure Kaboodle's users away.
Most notably, there is still big room for innovation in this market. Kaboodle has nailed the basic feature set, but much more can be done based on the power of masses and technologies like RSS. We expect to see many more innovations in 2007, such as personalized recommendations, product alerts and interactive chats based on where you are shopping.