The first time a pregnant Allyson Downey walked into a Babies “R” Us, the trip ended in tears. “I was completely unprepared to make a decision about the 45 car seats I saw in front of me,” she recalled. “It just gave me this overwhelming sense of panic.”
When she got home, she emailed a few parent friends for product recommendations, and to her amazement, they sent back Excel spreadsheets and Word docs bursting with notes. A light turned on for the Columbia business school grad. “Anytime someone’s using an Excel document to manage their life, you know that’s an area that’s ripe for disruption,” Allyson says.
From there, weeSpring — the first social review site for baby products — was born. Think short, to-the-point reviews from people you actually know. Since its start early this year, weeSpring has amassed more than 50,000 product ratings. For individual products, it gets more reviews than BuyBuyBaby and Diapers.com combined, and is poised to surpass Amazon in the number of baby product reviews within six months. We spoke to Allyson about what’s ahead.
Let’s say you log in and are looking for car seats. Instead of seeing 380,000 results on Amazon, which is what I saw the last time I looked, you see first the two that your friends love most. So I see that my former coworker Sarah says, “This is the easiest installation of any car seat.” It’s a really short comment, and that’s where we see the power in this — you don’t have to sit through all the information that’s irrelevant; all I need to know is that it’s easy to install, and that someone I know says so. That’s it. My friend Katherine from study abroad says, “Suck it up, spend the money and just get the seat.” Again, all I need to know.
You can also see who among your friends “love” it, who “regrets” it and who has it but is just neutral on it. You can also click through and see a friend’s entire list of all the products that she’s rated on weeSpring.
How are you able to get so many reviews?
First and foremost, we are a community, so people are coming on to engage in conversation. People don’t necessarily go to Amazon or BuyBuyBaby or other e-commerce sites to share their opinions; they’re going on to make purchases. So we’ve built this environment that is all about sharing your opinions. We also have an interface that’s simple and easy, and we tried to lower the barrier as far as we can on making it painless and actually fun to leave a product review.
Comments are capped at 250 characters, which means we don’t have the essays you see on Amazon. What we hear from our users is that when they see these very short, pithy, to-the-point comments, they feel that it’s something they can and have time to contribute to. There’s an intimidation factor when you’re looking at reviews on Yelp or Amazon or TripAdvisor, and they’re like a dissertation.
Expecting and new parents make $5,000 of purchases on average in year one alone, and they are products they’ve never used before, from brands they’ve never heard of. So that was the perfect audience for us to start with because not only are they looking to collect a lot of information about these purchases, but once they’ve spent a few months figuring things out, they’re really eager to share what they learn.
Today, weeSpring is a destination site but our vision, and we’re in conversations with a number of partners about this, is to syndicate our reviews out for display in other places. So when you are looking on Diapers.com, for instance, for a car seat or sunscreen, you see immediately the products your friends love and recommend. Amazon tried to do this a few years ago in conjunction with Facebook, and it blew up because people didn’t want their purchases displayed on Facebook, which is completely understandable.
That’s our philosophy too. I had all these questions, but I didn’t want to post them on my Facebook wall either. So we joke that we’re taking the conversations about diaper cream off your Facebook page. And we’re very conscientious that we’re not posting anything back to your Facebook feed without your explicit permission every single time.
We’re also in conversations with a couple of different retail partners about powering our distribution so that we can get a gift registries up and running within the site.
How does the site make money?
It’s through brand partnerships. The baby industry is very special in that there’s a long tail of companies that are doing between $5 million and $50 million in revenue, often started by parents who wanted to solve their own problem. But they don’t have their own P&G-like marketing machine to take and collect all these consumer insights or measure them. So because we have so much data, we can deliver a lot of valuable perspective on who their consumer base is, what they care about, what they’re looking for and also amplify the word-of-mouth recommendations that are happening on the site.
When I was first thinking about weeSpring, I was immediately aware that these Excel spreadsheets were a goldmine of user-generated content for all these brands. People were proselytizing about these products they love, but it was happening in an arena where the brand can’t capture it or measure it or amplify it in any way. So now when I say that the Nosefrida (a nasal aspirator for babies) is a product that my husband once drove 100 miles for when we were on vacation because we had forgotten ours, instead of saying that in an email to my friends, I’m saying that on my weeSpring page. That’s getting viewed by my whole social graph and also by the broader weeSpring community.
We want to emphasize though that it is so important to us to maintain the integrity of the reviews, and that is really front and center in any conversations we are having with brands about working with them. So even though we are monetizing by going after brand dollars and marketing dollars, we are not for sale to brands.