Remember Clippy the Paper Clip? Remember how much you hated Clippy?
On the surface, Shopping toolbars make sense. A consumer is on an ecommerce site looking at computers, he goes to a product page, and comparative pricing information pops up in front of the browser, as a sidebar, or from the top/bottom of the page. The consumer then sees that the product can be acquired at a better rate on another site and therefore clicks through to the other merchant and orders the product. In this scenario, the consumer is happy because he gets a better price. The company providing the shopping toolbar and the comparative pricing information is happy because the consumer clicked on what is most likely (although not always) a paid link which = $$$. The merchant who made the sale is happy as that merchant’s marketing dollars were well spent on that shopping toolbar.
Doesn’t that sound simple? Everyone except the original merchant is benefiting…and that original merchant probably has his own deal with the toolbar company and steals customers away from competitors all the time. So again, on the surface, shopping toolbars seem great.
To understand my opinion on shopping toolbars, you need to know a little more about my history with downloadable applications. My name is Brian Smith, and I worked at WhenU for 9 months. Keep coming back, it works if you work it. [I have a feeling that the majority of readers will not get that joke and that's a good thing!]
While at WhenU, I worked on downloadable applications such as toolbars. In my 9 months at the company, I helped develop and market a football news toolbar (it’s not active anymore, but read through the about us/help section for details), coupon toolbar, anti-spyware toolbar, and a general searchbar. Were these toolbars successful? It depends on your definition of success. I’m not going to share specific numbers since I’m under a nice little WhenU NDA, but just ask yourself if you’re using a WhenU toolbar. Do you know anyone who is using a WhenU toolbar?
The problem with these new shopping toolbars is that in my mind, they are readily associated with Adware/Spyware. Most people have multiple spyware blockers on their computers and when you download the Dealio, SquareTrade, ActiveShopper, or NexTag toolbar (or when you run a scan) you’re told that it’s potentially a threat. Does the Dealio toolbar actually do sinister things like keystroke logging? No. Does it give you pop ups? No. But that’s no longer the point. It’s still a downloadable application which, in the mind of the consumer, could be doing sinister things. I think that people are now hyper-sensitive to spyware and take few chances. I trust Yahoo! I trust Google. I trust SideStep. I trust SouthWest Airlines [maker of DING!]. I probably trust these companies a LOT more than I should. Google, for one, tracks a LOT of information.
So the question is whether these new shopping toolbars offer enough value to the consumer to outweight potential trust issues. I’m not going to write reviews of all these bars as ecommerce-guide.com already did so: NexTag toolbar, Dealio toolbar, and SquareTrade toolbar – but I think you know my answer to the question.
Beyond the spyware stigma, another problem is the frequency of engagement. I like SideStep’s toolbar because it interacts with me only 1-2x per month – when I’m booking travel. I like the Google and Yahoo! toolbars because they sit there patiently, waiting for me to interact with them.
However, the shopping toolbars were always getting in my way. NexTag continuously popped-up or showed up in the left side of the browser window. Dealio faithfully dropped down price alerts in front of me and ActiveShopper did the same. The problem is that I’m a frequent browser and the idea of always seeing a notice to compare prices just pissed me off. Add that to the fact that I already have quick and easy access to Yahoo! Shopping (as well as Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! News, etc.) through my trusty and unobtrusive Yahoo! toolbar and Froogle (as well as Google Search, Google News, etc.) through my trusty and unobtrusive Google toolbar.
Yes, there are ways to change the user preferences, but that’s not the point. As a representative from a major player in the downloadable toolbar market explained, a good toolbar is “there when you want it. You shouldn’t be reminded of Microsoft Agents like Clippy the Paper Clip or Max the Dog” – the little applications that made you cringe the fourth, sixth, and ninth time you saw them.
But maybe my aversion to these shopping toolbars is unique. Maybe most people don’t browse through shopping sites all day. So are these toolbars being downloaded thousands of times? The following numbers are from Download.com and correspond to Windows downloads…
Last week, NexTag’s toolbar was downloaded 18 times. It’s been downloaded 733 times since it was introduced on August 14, 2005. Last week, Dealio’s toolbar was downloaded 13 times (and last week was its debut on the site). To put these numbers in perspective, Yahoo!’s toolbar was downloaded 10,000 times last week and Google’s toolbar was downloaded 2,250 times last week.
Download.com isn’t a perfect indication of popularity, but I think you get the picture.
If I were working at these companies, I’d spend more time on the core shopping comparison experience – comprehensiveness, categorization/normalization/grouping, ratings, feeds, merchandising, fee structure, etc. – and less time on downloadable apps. And if my expertise wasn’t in the shopping comparison space, then I wouldn’t get into it by way of a toolbar.