Do consumer packaged goods, too, need their very own social network? Zagat's former head of mobile, Ryan Charles, sure thinks so -- and so do a few brands. Even before Mr. Charles has had a chance to wrangle venture funding or a critical mass of users for his new CPG-focused reviews site, Consmr, brands such as Chobani and AriZona have backed it.
Here's the sell: Search for a coffee shop or a dentist and you're bound to see at least one user-review site rating the product or service, if not many. But search for product names or categories such as "Greek yogurt" or "iced tea" and no such luck. There's no Yelp or RottenTomatoes for products we buy at the grocery or drug stores as there are for local businesses and movies.
"Product discovery hasn't really changed yet because of the social web," said Mr. Charles.
That's not to say no one's buying frozen food, skin-care products, toilet paper or other packaged goods online. Packaged goods is now a $12 billion business in e-commerce, Jason Katz, exec VP-general manager of Etailing Solutions, told Ad Age in March. We just don't buy those products according to online reviews or numbers of stars like we use to chose restaurants on Yelp.
Enter Consmr. The website gives each of 50,000 products their own brand page and provides space for user reviews and ratings . Consmr has also partnered with magazine publisher Rodale to import product reviews from "Men's Health," "Women's Health" and "Prevention" and is providing incentives to product bloggers to cross-post their reviews.
Like other social-media properties du jour, users will be able to check in to products on Consmr. (Since the site is just launching in beta today, only time will tell if they actually will.) While check-ins for packaged goods are, surprisingly, not a new concept, check-ins have largely relied on barcode scans with mobile phones to verify you're actually holding the product. Mr. Charles, now co-founder and CEO of Consmr after leaving his Zagat gig in April, says check-ins are faith-based for now and a mobile product is in the works.
But again, some brands believe there's something to the idea. Chobani and AriZona will be giving Foursquare-like badges -- here called "flair" -- that affix an image of congrats to users that complete some task. For checking in to all Chobani's many flavors of Greek yogurt, for example, a reviewer can win "flavor fiend" flair, reserved only for "Chobani connoisseurs." However, the brands that are participating today are most likely of the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality. There currently aren't many reviews on the site and searches like "granola bar" only bring up one review out of many products.
If nothing else, Consmr definitely has good timing. The site launches at a time when packaged goods companies are hammering out how exactly their products hang online. Procter & Gamble Co. recently launched a new Facebook commerce platform and has been testing its own direct-to-consumer e-commerce store. Other retailers are buying up e-commerce start-ups to be there when consumers want to buy their soap and cases of Coke online. Walgreen's recently purchased Drugstore.com for more than $400 million and Amazon scooped up Soap.com and Diapers.com parent Quidsi for $540 million.
"When you try a product the natural next step is to tell people if you like it or don't," said Emily Schildt, a spokeswoman for Chobani. "What appeals to us is that we have people coming to Facebook and Twitter to share their thoughts, so a site like [Consmr] could provide a community for consumers."