I’ve seen attempts before to make online shopping “social.” There have been Chrome plugins, Firefox plugins, browser overlays…I’m not sure it ever worked out.
First of all, there are many tools for categorizing and sharing retail items on the web. Where should I start: Pinterst, Wanelo, Fancy, Fab, Polyvore…the list goes on and on. But one thing Zurf has noticed is that there are many users out there that still share links to online merchandise the old-fashioned way by just copying links and texting them back and forth to each other on Smartphones (oh the irony that texting is old fashioned).
This method is cumbersome and hard to manage, so Zurf is trying to remedy this problem by offering yet another tool to make social shopping easier on mobile devices.
Zurf created a stand-alone web browser for Android and iOS that makes it fairly easy to mark items with a sticky-note-like mechanism it calls zNotes. Using Zurf browser (instead of Safari or other mobile browsers), customers can press and hold items they like on any website and mark that image with a zNote (a small icon shows up on the image). They can then attach a message to that zNote and send friends a link to the page to see the item they marked for them.
If the recipient has Zurf installed on their device too, the link is sent directly to the app as a push notification that opens that particular page with the marked item on it, directly in Zurf. The recipient sees the webpage, just as it is, but the item that has been marked for them is visible with the zNote on it. They can tap the zNote to see the message attached to the item and reply directly via that zNote.
If the recipient does not have Zurf installed, they receive a link instead via SMS or email. When they follow that link, it is opened in their regular default browser, and they can see the zNote in read only view. They have the option via Smartbanners and/or mobile overlays, to install Zurf, so they can interact via the zNote.
No account creation is necessary to use Zurf, and while it is always a hurdle to get people to install a new app or change their browsing methods the company at least tried to make the install process as frictionless as possible.
The reason I think Zurf is interesting is because it marks items “inline”. It attempts to preserve the web pages as they are and just put notes on the items, yet keep users on the actual page where the product resides instead of sending them off to some other curated site.
Co-founder Shahin Shadfar is betting that brands will also like that feature — the act of keeping users on the actual brand’s website to view items instead of jumping out to a different website like Pinterest or Wanelo.
No doubt the company will have a big challenge ahead of them to get people to install a new app. Many mobile browsers have died on the vine, despite compelling and unique toolsets. Zurf will need to do a good job of educating their target segment of users about how this is easier than their current cut and paste text method in order to break through. If they can get across the benefits, maybe this could be useful to habitual mobile shoppers out there.
But it is very important to note that Zurf’s research indicates that users don’t really see Zurf as a browser, per se (even though it can be used as a regular old Webkit browser). Instead, users in their focus groups tended to view Zurf as more of a messaging app because they were communicating back and forth through the zNotes. From this standpoint, the hurdle of getting users to adopt a new messaging app seems a little lower than getting people to change their browsing habits.
But to me, the real opportunity for Zurf could be white labeling the service and getting brands to use it within their own retail apps, as an integrated service for mobile commerce sharing. That seems like a big win to me because many consumers will already have brand apps installed on their devices and they are using those apps to view and buy products. I asked Shahin if this was part of their strategic road map and he said that it was and that they are already in talks with certain retailers.
But for now they launch the standalone version too in order to build a user base and also a new way for those users to share messages about retail items.