IMshopping Opens Twitter And Human Powered Shopping Search Engine To Retailers

IMshopping, a human- powered shopping search site and Twitter shopping service, is rolling out a new feature, Merchant Answers, that lets consumers ask shopping questions directly on retailers’ sites via an embeddable chat widget. We reviewed IMshopping’s May launch here. IMshopping’s site is a shopping 411 service in which human guides on call respond to product questions and provide personalized recommendations for users about what product best suits their needs.

IMshopping’s Merchant Answer’s feature is similar in functionality, except it is branded and specialized for a particular retailer’s site. As a consumer is shopping on an e-commerce site, he or she will see a “get assistance” or similarly worded button on the site. When consumers click on this, they will be led to a window where they can ask a shopping question specific to that site. The question is routed to human shopping guides for an answer. Guides can be employees of the retailer or can be from IMshopping’s community of trained shopping guides. Answers are given back to the consumer with links to the product in question. Shoppers are also shown recent questions asked by other users on the retailers page.

Merchants can also use Twitter to help answer consumer questions. The merchant can link their Twitter account to their IMshopping account and once that is done, any Twitter user can send a message to the retailer’s account and the Tweet will automatically be answered by a shopping guide, with the answer sent back as a direct message.

IMshopping hopes to fill the gap of personalized, detail-oriented service that e-commerce sites don’t have, since these sites are focused less on answering technical questions about a product and more on price and reviews. IMshopping’s standalone site also leverages Twitter, so that users can directly ask questions by messaging @imshopping on Twitter and receive a direct message with the answer and product details.

So how is IMshopping making money from this new venture? The site has implemented a monthly subscription pricing model based on the volume of questions asked. For $300 per month, a retailer can get 300 questions answered, which includes the payment for IMshopping’s guides. For $1000 per month, a retailer can have 2500 questions answered, with additional guides included.

Twenty online retailers including BargainCell, AMB Furniture and Rainbow Appliance have already created shopping communities powered by IMshopping on their sites.

Since the startup’s launch in May, the site has delivered 52,000 human recommendations via Twitter and web. But as we’ve said in the past, human search hasn’t been to successful in the past; as evidenced by ChaCha’s former business model. While human assistance is definitely a powerful part of the shopping experience, many online retailer have online chat assistance to help with the process. IMshopping’s tool may resonate with smaller sites which have trouble doing this in-house but many major retailers already have this functionality.