IMshopping has launched a human-powered shopping search site and Twitter shopping service designed to help consumers find niche products on the web. It’s sort of like a shopping 411 service, which human guides on call respond to product questions and provide personalized recommendations for users about what product best suits their needs. IMShopping tries to simulate the experience of going into a store, speaking with a sales person and being guided to the item that works best for you. IMShopping also closed a $4.7 million Series A round of funding from SK Telecom Ventures.
IMSHopping hopes to fill the gap pf personalized, detail-oriented service that e-commerce sites don’t have, since these sites are focused less on answering technical questions about a product and more on price and reviews. Twitter users can directly ask questions by messaging @imshopping. The shopping guides in the community and trained experts offer detailed responses within minutes. Shoppers can use these responses to instantly make purchases or save to their own folders before making a product decision.
Shoppers who are asking questions on IMShopping’s site can search IMshopping’s database for product questions that have been already answered, or pose their own shopping questions (the site currently has an archive of 20,000 questions). As the shopping guides craft their response, they review a detailed analysis of the product, including specifications, reviews from third-party sites, blog buzz and price. This response is then delivered to the shopper and also archived anonymously for review by future shoppers. All public questions and responses are searchable via Twitter or can be viewed by following @imshopping. Consumers can also ask direct questions via Twitter that are not made public.
The guide will give you an answer of where to find your desired item and also provide you with links to sites where the item can be purchased. You can also rate the response you received from the guide-the guides are paid based on the quality and etail of their responses. The site is really designed to get answers on where to get hard to find or obscure items-like what electronic toy is best for a hyperactive two year old. If you already have a specific item in mind, the site may be useless to you.
As a business model, IMShopping collects revenue when consumer buy products that are recommended through the site. The problem is that when a consumer finally gets the right product for their needs, what is there to stop them from then searching for the produt on Google. The company is staying quiet on future business plans we are told that over time the company will roll out programs for general consumers to earn value from assisting on searches and getting rated for the quality of their answers.
Human search hasn’t done well in the past; take a look at ChaCha’s former business model. It’s hard to understand how human guides could do better than Google or Yahoo unless the guides are experts in electronics, clothes etc. IMShopping is hoping to add the human touch to the online shopping experience but increasingly retail sites employ staff to conduct live chats with potential customers.