Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - great concept, terrible design!

I recently came across a new e-commerce site called This is how describes itself " will be an open, online retail platform for consumer packaged goods, focused primarily on linking manufacturers of essential household stuff like tooth brushes, toilet paper, trash bags etc. to end consumers directly." - Crunchbase.

I was intrigued - why Why not - doesn't has the same variety of goods? What do you gain, rather than or Then I saw's crunchbase page.

"Consumers currently lack a convenient way to shop for household essentials on the web, while manufacturers of consumer packaged goods are in the market for a fresh alternative to the large bricks-and-mortar retailing services. The model will be unique both in terms of how goods are ordered/distributed and how consumer packaged goods companies can target, incentivize and personalize offers to consumers"

Once I explored the website I did begin to understand the merits. See for example the page for the Cat litter deodorizer. It clearly lays out how long the product typically lasts, reviews from customers etc. Some other pages also laid out the green rank of products etc. The bottom line - the site is custom designed for household products, and so gains a significant advantage over other sites like amazon.

Thinking of in a jobs to be done framework, the site is enabling users to shop for household products online rather than go to the store. Quoting from a HBS working knowledge paper, there are a few dimensions to this framework:

"With few exceptions, every job people need or want to do has a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension. If marketers understand each of these dimensions, then they can design a product that's precisely targeted to the job. In other words, the job, not the customer, is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to develop products that customers will buy."

In terms of functional dimension, the site does well in terms of how it enables viewing of various aspects of household products important to the user e.g., how long they last, how green they are etc. There is also a product rank section that lets you see how other products in the same category are handled. This is something that amazon is likely going to find hard to do, given that they have a much larger variety of products, and products can be listed by merchants in the marketplace. So far, so good.

The social element is well handled - in terms of reviews appearing instantly on the tight, letting you see what the other users think of the product. Another aspect of both social and emotional element is the budget; the question is there on a lot of people's minds - am I paying more than others for the same stuff? The site shows a tab called My Budget which compares your expenses to the average household.

There are two things that the site does badly. One is design
. See the following screen shots: in the first one I hover over one of the category icons. As I go to select a subcategory, I move the mouse left - and the category to the left gets selected. I had seen such issues with websites designed in 2000 - it seems that they did hire a designer from that era!

The second thing that seems to be forced is social networking. There is a section called MyFriends - where you can share activity related to your favorite products in the neighborhood. The web is full of places where people highlight products that they love - but these products carry a lot more emotional value for them. Whether it is music, movies, books - sharing these highlights an aspect of the user's personality.  I completely understand reviews - but social sharing of toilet paper and detergent is unlikely to excite anyone. I might be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

It would be certainly interesting to see how does. I haven't made my first purchase yet, but do plan to soon, and post more thoughts on the site.

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