The site's CEO, Prashant Nedungadi, pinned much of the hopes on the customer service feature.
"We believe human assistance will create a deeper level of e-commerce satisfaction that doesn't exist on the Internet today," Nedungadi said. "There is a lot of information out there, but very little help when online shoppers need specific answers that will make or break their purchasing decision. At brick and mortar stores, human experts fill such a void, but on the web, it doesn't exist. We developed IMshopping to bring the same level of personalized assistance to online shoppers. Twitter is the ideal medium for having a conversation; Online shoppers have the option to communicate privately with the expert on Twitter, or publically so others can benefit from the right choices."
Although true, the most critical element for any information-rich customer service site is credibility. In short, if consumers (who are, thankfully, becoming more cynical every hour) do not have high confidence and trust in the source of the information, the recommendations will have no credibility and consequently no persuasive value.
Wednesday's launch still seemed rough, with a news release directing interested parties to a page for samples, but the page was filled with holding place questions, as in "Your Q: Your Q: Your Q: Your Q: Your Q: Your Q: Your Q: Your Q: Your." At least I hope that was a holding place question.
But deeper in the site, there were some answered questions and those answers were rather troubling, to the extent that a consumer is searching for credibility. The answers all seemed to be peppy and not especially neutral. One question asked: "Where can I find a great deal online for Sony VAIO VGN-CR507E Q 14 1 Laptop 1 86 GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2390 Processor?" The answer: "What a great solid little system that you can really do a lot on. You can really get a great buy at Amazon or Best Buy." Do you get the sense that answer could have been written before the question was written?Here's another that sets off just about every credibility alarm we have here. Question: "Where can I find a great deal online for HP Pavilion DV4-1020US 14 1 Laptop 2 0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 Processor?" Answer: "With a striking, liquid metallic industrial design on the outside and powerful entertainment capabilities on the inside, HP Pavilion dv4 series lightweight notebook is the perfect partner for fun, communication and productivity on the go. Get it at Shopper.com starting at $970." Yeah, when a sample answer—one that is supposed to typify what their answers will be like—describes a product as "the perfect partner for fun," one doesn't get the sense that a lot of rigorous analysis was involved.
Here's another one. The question calls for a recommendation: "Which is better for personal use? MOTO Q Global or BlackBerry Curve 8310 Titanium?" This is a good test if the system will ever say anything negative about anything. Their answer: "The Moto Q Global features include Windows Mobile 5, a QWERTY keyboard, EV-DO high-speed data,Bluetooth , and a megapixel camera. It also comes equipped with a side scroll wheel, a miniSD memory card slot, and a full-duplex speakerphone. The BlackBerry Curve 8310 features Email,WiFi support,Maps,Browser,Instant messaging,Organizer,and Media player. I personally like the Blackberry,I love the GPS and the speed of how fast i can get to what i need."
The problem: For a site that prides himself on the value of true human interaction—a premise that is absolutely on target—their representative answers for launch sound awfully machine-generated. It has the feeling of those Instant Message tech support services where you just know that someone is cutting and pasting on the other side and not really looking at the question.
A true customer service-oriented site, which earns its credibility with answers that spell out the good with the bad, could work quite well on Twitter. Despite the investment, not so sure this one delivers yet.