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It’s all about choice and convenience when you go shopping on the internet. Or, it’s supposed to be, at least. That was the theory behind sites like Amazon.com; giving consumers the ability to shop at home, saving them the hassle of going to the store, and giving them the power to make the very best choice possible, with a full array of choices available to them.

But like so many other theories, the one behind internet shopping just doesn’t work properly – or rather, perhaps, works a little too well. The convenience part they’ve got down pat: A couple of clicks, a virtual swipe of the credit card, and your stuff (as they term it at Amazon) is on its way to you. Certainly beats standing on line waiting for service from a surly cashier!

The choice part of the theory is where the problem lies. Choice abounds for almost every type of product. But how do you know you’re getting a truly quality product? In truth, the problem of choice is limited to certain classes of products. When it comes to clothing, for example, most people know what they’re looking for, and what brand, if any, they prefer. Breakfast cereal, books and CDs, even furniture – most people know what they like, and order based on their previous experience with a product or style.

But other items – such as consumer electronics, cell phones, cameras, and many others – are not as easy to purchase. Most of these product lines change very rapidly, so unless a product is truly distinguished, with consumers knowing a lot about it because of extensive media and website coverage (one reason why Apple products are consistently big sellers, I believe), they are going to get swamped by what are for many meaningless details. Camera A has X features and costs Y amount, while Camera B has W features and costs Z amount. But despite the differences, the products seem, at least on paper (or rather, on screen), to be very much alike. How do you distinguish between them? It’s almost like those old time detergent comparisons, where today’s laundry star went up against Brand X. Is Tide better than Brand X? Maybe, but what about Brands A through F? That’s one reason why sales are so popular; people are willing to pay for quality, but if they think all products available to them are of the same quality, why not pay less?

One way web consumers figure out what brand to buy in a sea of choices is by checking the reviews – and sites like Amazon conveniently have customer reviews next to each product. Personally, I enjoy reading the reviews – some of them are very funny. There’s a lot of talent out there! But it’s often hard to rely on the reviews at many sites – after all, the people writing them are probably just as lost as you are! Another alternative is to go to an “expert” review site, like Cnet.com, which checks tens of thousands of products. But there are a lot of expert review sites. Who has time to check them all out?

Not you, says Tomer Tzach, CEO of Israeli startup ViewScore. Consumers don’t want to spend days – or even weeks – searching through reviews of dozens of products to find the best one. But they do like the idea of expert review input – and ViewScore allows them access to hundreds of review sites, with the ViewScore site’s engine ferreting through as many as 1,500 expert review sites, searching, digesting, and regurgitating each site’s score for a product, and then presenting you – the consumer – with the overall score, based on nearly all the expert reviews available on the type of product you’re seeking.

“Many sites offer consumers the ability to post reviews, and some sites, like Amazon, generate large volumes of response,” says Zach. “But even though many knowledgeable people post reviews at Amazon, it’s impossible to base a purchase solely on the reviews, because many of them are not necessarily about the product, but about issues like service, delivery, etc. And, many of the reviewers don’t even necessarily own the product,” he says.

Consumers can rely on expert reviews – but, says Zach, there are too many such reviews out there. “Our search engine, built on natural language technology, parses as many as 1,500 expert review sites, depending on the product, looking for phrases, adjectives, and other indications of the reviewer’s opinion of a product, based on the criteria that a consumer considers important. We analyze each site and quantify each review with a score – and then present the consumer with a grand total score. Instead of spending days or weeks reading reviews, ViewScore reads the reviews for the consumer  – and presents the information in an elegant, concise format,” he says. ViewScore has patented its engine, the only one around, says Zach, that does such  automatic objective review analysis.

Consumers have taken to ViewScore’s system – and so, perhaps surprisingly, have manufacturers and online retail stores, which have partnered with Zach to set up a white-label version of the engine at their own sites. “For retailers, it’s a great program, because they get to retain their customer base on site by providing all the information consumers need to make a decision ‘in-house.’” A number of retail sites have already installed the ViewScore product – as has Korean giant LG, which put a version of the engine on its cell phone information site.

While ViewScore seems to be one of those “how come they didn’t think of that before” ideas, Zach says that it takes effort to look at the “big picture” – and that sometimes, the big idea only comes to you through a “revelation” you receive. In ViewScore’s case, the breakthrough came when one of the principals of the company needed to find a particular item to help him with a health issue; the man trawled professional and personal reviews on the web for two weeks before throwing up his hands in frustration, telling himself there must be a better way. And now, says Zach, “thanks to ViewScore, there is.”

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Category: gaming

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