Taking Social Media Reviews Into the Grocery Aisle

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Social media reviews on sites like Yelp!, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Zappos and others have taken on an important role in educating consumers about restaurants, hotels, and a wide range of goods and services across the board. But there are fewer online resources where one can find reviews of more mundane products like groceries and drugstore items — leaving consumers to a combination of couponing and trial-and-error.

Enter Consmr.com, a service launched in June by former Zagat’s mobile chief Ryan Charles that allows users to rate and comment on sodas, makeup, canned foods, shampoos and all kinds of other everyday consumer goods. The service also includes a “check-in” element where users can indicate what products they’re currently using and potentially earn badges.

Street Fight recently spoke with Charles about where Consmr fits into the hyperlocal ecosystem, and why he sees an opportunity for the check-in behavior to expand into the drugstore aisle.

Where did the idea for Consmr originate?
Coming out of the recession, I thought to myself that I should be a little more careful about what I was spending my money on. I realized the purchases that I made at drugstores and supermarkets were very much trial-and-error.

I don’t make any decisions without consulting Yelp! when it comes to a small business. [But] there wasn’t a resource or destination for these types of products, particularly in and around social platforms. I think that’s important, being able to see comments from peers and everyday people who have used the product and can let you know, “Hey, this product is good.”

I went down to a local drugstore and bought mouthwash that was on sale and had some great packaging and branding on it. It convinced me to make the purchase. When I got home and I used it, I was disappointed. I realized that there needs to be a platform where people can share those types of experiences, to help the best products go to the top. That’s the basic concept behind Consmr.

If I had to go back to the store to buy a new mouthwash, that was another $7 on top of the $7 that I already spent that was wasted. To me, that didn’t make a lot of sense. There are so many tools out there under so many other verticals, [but] there really wasn’t this Yelp-like website for consumer products.

I wake up and I use shampoo, conditioner, face wash, mouthwash. Then, when I get to the kitchen table I’m having cereal, juice, frozen foods that I microwave. There are so many products that you use in your morning. So, why shouldn’t there be a resource [for] rating those products and talking about their qualities?

How does Consmr relate to the hyperlocal space?
There are different stores across the country specific to regions and certain types of products… Safeway vs. Stop-n-Shop. So, you already have different types of products, whether they are the store brand or whether you have access to a local Trader Joe’s, or a Whole Foods, and also depending on region. So there’s definitely going to be this local aspect of how people review these products and where you can get these products.

I think that’s going to end up being more apparent in mobile, where we’ll be able to tell you that a particular product is available within a certain radius. I think that’s also going to be important because people are going to try to make decisions about products by [looking] in a particular category, but only three of them are going to be locally available, and maybe two of them are actually in stock.

How have people responded to Consmr? 
Well, the first thing we’re starting to see is that users are competing within our platform to become experts in particular categories. What we did to play that up is [created] slots on the website for the five top category experts. The users who have written the most helpful reviews over the last few months are featured so they can be easily followed by other users. People want to become the expert of chips and dip, or they want to become the expert in makeup and skin care products.

One thing we noticed fairly quickly is there’s certain categories that are more popular than we thought they would be. Something like household goods — cleaning products — people are particularly passionate about that, and that was something of a surprise to us. We didn’t think that would be one of our most rated categories, but in fact it’s actually up there with some of the bigger categories that you would’ve expected like snacks, candy, beverages, and things that are fun to rate and review. People are taking it seriously — reviewing products and [showing] loyalty to the products they use.

How do you think the service will translate onto mobile devices? 
I think that’s where the real utility of our product is going to shine. Where we think there’s going to be an opportunity is when you’re in-store and you look up a product. You can imagine yourself standing in an aisle, and being able to quickly see what the top five products are for that particular category for the aisle you’re standing in.

I think that’s going to really help users make decisions. It brings [things] back full circle to the day that I was in the drugstore, seeing a product on sale and saying, “Ah, this is going to save me a few dollars. The branding on the package looks convincing. Let me make this purchase.” [What if I could] say, “Let me pull out my smartphone and take a quick look and see if this is well rated.” Maybe I would see that it’s not, and I should stick with another brand that I already use. That way I’m not disappointed, and I don’t have to purchase a new product.

Who do you see as your main user base?
What we’re really looking to do is reach out to all segments of the potential audience out there — whether you’re a mom who’s shopping for your kids and you have knowledge around those products, or you are in your twenties and you’re a young professional. You know, everyone is a little bit of an expert in some section of products, whether we realize it or not. My goal is to try to find those little bits and pieces of information. Maybe you’ve tried the laundry detergents that are out there, all the organic ones, or maybe you’re someone who loves green products. Maybe you’ve just shopped at Whole Foods exclusively and you know all the smaller brands that Whole Foods carries.

What we want to do is piece all that together to create one universal database about what products are good, finding out more information about people’s experiences around those products. Our goal is to try to extract those little bits and pieces to create this mosaic of information for consumer packaged goods.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.