Is Walmart’s Shopycat Worth Copying?
When Walmart announced last week that it had debuted its Shopycat social gift recommendation app, I was excited to see how it worked.
The app, for those not familiar, makes gift suggestions based on areas of interest gleaned from Facebook activity. If a friend follows a particular music group, for example, you can expect to see that artist or similar artists pop-up in the Shopycat recommendations.
“As human beings, we are inherently social and shopping is one of the most social activities we engage in. Our vision is to delight consumers and Shopycat is a first step in that direction with social and shopping coming together on the scale of Walmart,” Venky Harinarayan, senior vice president of Walmart Global eCommerce and co-founder of @WalmartLabs, said in a press release. “We plan to continue experimenting with products as we build new social apps over the coming year.”
Reading Mr. Harinarayan’s comments was a relief because the first few attempts using the app were underwhelming. Before getting into observations about Shopycat, let me say that having worked long enough in the online space, I’m well aware that pretty much everything continues to be a work in progress. That is no more true than in the area of recommendations, whether they come from online purchasing behavior (a la Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc.) or through your “likes” or other activity on social media sites. One of the interesting aspects of social recommendations is that, in theory, they would enable merchants to go beyond the surface and discover selling opportunities based on individual aspirations and other factors.
As to Shopycat in practice, I came across a few issues, as did some friends I asked to test the app.
The two most comical included a recommendation for haircare products for a bald relative and barbells for the resident video gamer who, while needing exercise, restricts such activity to getting in and out of his swivel chair.
Gift suggestions, that may have been generally relevant, were sometimes a bit too obvious to be all that helpful, for example a set of Star Wars DVDs for a lifelong sci-fi fan. There were also some technical glitches, which I assume will be quickly resolved. Accessing the app via Facebook in Firefox returned only a frustrating “sorry, something’s wrong” message, and in Google Chrome, the browser locked up when trying to load the page.
Nevertheless, in the final analysis, I’m giving Walmart a thumbs-up for this first step. I look forward to what comes next.
Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential of social recommendation apps? Do you see an app that creates recommendations based on a combination of purchasing behavior and social media activity as the ultimate goal? Is anyone in the market close to doing this effectively now?