Best Buy Peeking At Christmas Presents: Yours

Best Buy on Monday (Sept. 8) officially rolled out its homespun version of a retailer-neutral gift registry, but one that lets Best Buy see every transaction, whether it's marked private or public.

The application, called Giftag, requires a small applet to be downloaded and then integrated into either Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox browsers. Once installed, users can theoretically visit any E-Commerce site, find something they want and then click on an icon to select it. The application also allows users to select specific elements of the retailer's page to visually highlight it for a friend or relative.

Giftag was designed to not handle any transactional information—such as payment card numbers—so it can't facilitate purchases. Although this makes the application less complex and more secure, it also removes a convenience point, especially for a gift registry that could potentially have products from dozens of different E-Commerce sites.

Best Buy built Giftag within the last six months using a microformat called hProduct, it said, and a statement promised a full-fledged open-source approach "in the near future."

At that unspecified point, the statement said, "Giftag will contribute and maintain an open-source hProduct studio application built using jQuery that will allow developers and retailers to easily experiment with generating and verifying the hProduct. will host a developer section where Giftag APIs will be exposed and the Giftag development team will be available via forums."

Although Best Buy issued a statement, it was handled very differently than typical Best Buy announcements. The statement went out of its way to distance itself from, well, itself. Best Buy was not mentioned in the headline or lead of the statement. Indeed, Best Buy wasn't referenced at all in its own statement until the very last sentence. Best Buy's media relations people—who are traditionally the only contact people mentioned on a Best Buy statement—weren't listed as contacts. Instead, the actual product managers were the contacts.

"We're trying something different," said Steve Bendt, Best Buy's senior manager for social technology. "If it was branded Best Buy, (consumers) might not feel comfortable using it."

Bendt candidly said the application is "really rough today" and that "it's not the easiest user experience today," but pledged improvements soon. A working version of the product that StorefrontBacktalk downloaded actually seemed to work quite well.

An area that Bendt would like to improve is making the ability to invite people to view registry lists more intuitive. "Inviting people in to Giftag needs some work," he said.

Consumers are given the option to make their lists public—so it could be shared on social network sites such as Facebook or MySpace—or private—just for friends/family members who the consumer chooses to invite.

Regardless of whether the consumer marks the purchases private or public, Best Buy's personnel will be able to review all of the details, including the identification of the consumer. But Bendt said that it's not Best Buy's intent to use that information for one-to-one marketing or any other CRM purpose.

"Best Buy can see what's on the list. We need to have those rights for administrative privileges," Bendt said. "We weren't going to use it for marketing purposes. For us, it's in aggregate."

Bendt said that Best Buy wants the program to be used as extensively as possible and hopes that many other retailers will design to the open-source specs, leveraging what he hopes will be consistent ways to describe product attributes. Initially, a user making a Best Buy purchase won't see any difference than when purchasing from other merchants, but "down the road, it will work differently."

If any retailers want to be excluded from the Giftag program, Bendt said that Best Buy would honor those requests. "If you don't want your content here, we'll take it down," he said.

Although Best Buy wants GiftTag to not be for transactions, the potential for having a consolidated virtual shopping cart housing products from multiple merchants—with one-click purchasing access for all and integrated shipping systems sending different packages to different gift recipients, all from one screen—has the potential for a powerful E-Commerce application down the road, with third-party players managing the complexity.

That said, given that few retailers today can handle such efforts within their own systems effortlessly, it seems unrealistic, especially when the competitive politics are considered. Then again, if the industry is serious about differentiating on products and services and willing to let payment, distribution and other elements of the supply chain be outsourced, such consolidated online shopping approaches may not be so far-fetched. It may not be a "Best Buy," but it could certainly be a darn good sell.