While low prices and huge inventory are the main attraction at Amazon.com, the site’s reviews have emerged as an essential online resource. Now, a new generation of start-ups wants to take on the shopping giant by spreading reviews across the web.
As PowerReviews CEO Andy Chen puts it, he’s building a “next-generation Epinions.” His competitors in the distributed reviews space include Bazaarvoice and European-oriented Reevoo. Today, a new start-up, Ratepoint, is throwing its hat in the ring.
Boston-based RatePoint has raised a little over $1 million from Prism VentureWorks, .406 Ventures, and its founders, who were part of the team at GeoTrust, which they sold to VeriSign in September.
The start-up has gone from concept to launch in four months, an impressive feat — but then again, that might just show how wide open this category is. RatePoint makes a toolbar (as of Sunday night, only available for Internet Explorer) that aggregates user ratings. Toolbar users will see reviews weighted to emphasize other users with similar tastes.
“A five star for me is not always a five star for you, it might be a three star,” explains founder Chris Bailey. For now, the user reviews are only of URLs, so the tool the service most closely resembles is probably StumbleUpon. Product reviews are in the works.
PowerReviews, which has $6.25 million in funding from Menlo Ventures, Draper Richards, and company founders, is taking a slightly different approach, though its earthy green and cutesy star design is pretty similar to RatePoint’s. We’re pretty sure PowerReviews came first.
The company offers review software and management for retailer web sites — for instance, Walgreens — and distributes the reviews across its 80 customer sites, taking a cut of ad and product sales. Its staff of 18 does a diligent job of quality control.
Until now, PowerReviews’ reviews have only been available on customer sites, but the company plans to launch a portal in the next few months. Since the review templates are extremely specific, the portal will provide some interesting side-by-side and tag-based comparisons. It will also expand a revenue stream of sponsored listings (though sponsorship does not affect search ranking, says Chen).
I saw an early version and liked it, though I felt like the site could really benefit from being mashed up with price comparison, local availability, and color tools. How many shopping web sites are you going to go to that don’t actually sell products?
Both companies’ ideas are interesting, but my hesitance towards installing yet another toolbar makes me prefer PowerReviews’ approach. Reevoo uses primarily email surveys (to ensure customers have actually bought a product), which also seems a little too onerous.
By staying focused on reviews, the companies are ensuring that they always stay relevant to consumers. However, they’ll only become useful — and profitable — when they elicit a whole lot of participation. Amazon may be in need of some competition on the reviews front, but it’ll be hard for any site to emerge from the pack.