Pronto goes social: Part II — just how social can online shopping be?

August 8, 2007

Digital Marketing ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

Note: this is the second in a two-part series on Pronto.  This first
instalment contained an interview with Pronto’s president and a preview
of the site’s latest redesign
.  This part features a full review of the site, which will launch next week.

What makes you come back to a comparison shopping engine?

Is it because you had a good experience?  It was easy to find what you wanted?  You found the best price the fastest?  Or just the pretty colours?

John Foley told me that the Pronto team not only asked themselves that question, but sought to answer it in their latest release.  John said in the Q&A in Part I of this series that current CSE
players “all lack loyalty from their consumers (including us).”   My chance to play around with the site is proof that they’ve thought long and hard about this — and sought to build something that they themselves would use on a daily basis.

ProntohomeHere’s my take on the new approach and design.

Overall, the UI is friendly, the experience well thought-out, and AJAX-y goodness added only where needed.  Dialog boxes like opening an account, sending messages, writing reviews, adding friends,  etc., don’t prompt page refreshes and react quickly.

Socializing around products
The coolest, most dynamic part of the site revolves around a stream of activity on the index page I liken to the Facebook news feed: when somebody from anywhere on the site adds something to their “Like” list, it appears in reverse-chronological order, which is usually down to the minute. Pronto does a great job of making things actionable, too — I can “Like” a product right there, adding it to my personal wishlist.  I can even pound out a quick review, tag it, and indicate if I have it / want it.  If only it were like Digg Spy and refreshed in real-time 🙂 — talk about pure addiction, there.

It’s a cool way to get the pulse of the site. Plus, if somebody found something that you think is cool, you can jump to their profile and check out the other things the person has added.  If you’ve met someone that has similar tastes or has discovered unique products, add them as a friend.Prontolikes

The index also displays your own stream of “liking” activity on the right side.

Friending people, messaging them and tracking their activity on the site is dead simple.  It’s a natural extension of the interface and, unlike a number other sites that add “social networking for social networking’s sake,” it fits in very well.

Profiles are simple, as they should be.  Each individual gets a picture, answers some questions about themselves like “latest splurge,” and it lists the products you’ve indicated you liked.

ProntomsgIn the future, I’d like to see a compatibility system like Last.fm that figures out which Pronto users have the same tastes as I do.  Then the site would connect us and ask me if I’d like to track their “likestream.”  If I wanted to, I could add them as a friend and start a conversation.  Pronto would give me an indicator like “this person is 85% compatible with your shopping tastes.”

Another great feature could be an answers-type system, where I query either my friends or a base of users meeting certain demographics.  Let’s say I need to buy a gift for my girlfriend’s birthday, and we’ve been together for a year.  It’s the first bday I’m buying something for her.  So I send a question to willing recipients of the 20-25 year-old female demographic and indicate which brands she likes.  I get back products that she might like.

The shopping experience
At its core, Pronto is still a product index and comparison engine.  This is very important because sites like ThisNext, for example, are largely dependent on users “sucking in” products via a browser bookmarklet.  Pronto, on the other hand, packages product search technology and just happens to have a social layer on top of that.

So finding products via the search engine is dead simple.  I did have a few problems when searching for “palm treo 700p” — I was shown scores of accessories but not the actual phone.  So being able to sort by price, relevance, store and alpha would be a welcome addition to the search results.  This would be particularly powerful since the results already include “like” amounts, which adds the social element to a straight search algorithm.

Top stores and brands are broken out by category based upon user popularity, so this also aids in finding a reputable merchant or educating me on a brand in a category about which I may not know much.

Product pages show price comparisons amongst merchants.  Clicking through takes you directly to the product page. And if you feel passionate enough against a particular product, you can seek it out and write a “Dislike” review.  But, by its nature, the liking system floats the most loved products to the top and the things that aren’t liked are voted down.Prontoresults

One small critique I have is that the transition from product results to merchant product page or product detail page to merchant product page was sometimes abrupt.  If I didn’t mean to click off the site, sometimes I was surprised to see myself land outside of it.  I’d recommend placing an interstitial between Pronto and the merchant to explain clearly what’s happening — “Hey, you’re leaving Pronto and going to one of our awesome merchants” — or something.

Further, I’d love to subscribe to a store to see when new products are released or when sales happen.  John told me that they’re planning to work with retailers to allow dialogue to take place between users who like a merchant and the merchant itself.  “I could see going to my logged in homepage and seeing deals/coupons from
merchants or brands who I have said I like.  Great for the consumer and great
way for the merchant to push products and drive
loyalty.”
This could be very, very exciting.

Kudos to the Pronto team.  I’m excited to see what’s on the horizon.  This is one of the coolest developments in the e-commerce world I’ve seen lately.

Written by Scott Hurff — scott.hurff at channeladvisor dot commm