The Co.Labs and Target Retail Accelerator challenged entrants to design and build an app that would extend the Target customer experience into new areas, leveraging mobile software--native or web-based--to produce new and pro-social effects in their community, family, school, or social network. Our celebrity judges have selected their finalists, who each received $10,000 seed money and a Target mentor for the next stage--competing for a $75,000 buyout grand prize. Here we're breaking down each of the finalists: The goal of their apps, the use cases, the clever twists, the potential roadblocks, and (of course) the reasons they advanced to the next round. Keep your fingers crossed for the entrants, who get judged this week; we'll announce the grand prize winner on June 27th.
The problem that this app, A/B, solves is a subtle one: How do you quickly get friends' opinions on your purchases, and aggregate their feedback in some way that helps you make an informed buying decision? And more importantly, how do you delimit your friends' feedback to only the items you're considering? Collecting opinions from friends is one of the most valuable ways to make informed decisions, but limiting the scope of the conversation can be difficult. Let's say you email a friend asking them for an opinion on a new bike; you're likely to get a reply that contains not just an opinion on the bike ("that bike is great, but...") but also a bunch of other second-guesses and suggestions--have you seen the new public transit line that just opened? Have you considered a cruiser? Do you really need that many speeds? How about a fixed gear? The conversation needs limits.
A/B seeks to rein in the scope of these purchase-decision discussions to a simple binary choice and keeps a record of the feedback in an easy-to-navigate way. The point here is two-fold: First, it makes requesting opinions on products easier by giving the user the complete Target inventory inside the app, searchable by commodity product type (such as "tea kettle"). Secondly, it takes the work out of contributing feedback to a friend who is shopping. If it succeeds, A/B should make it frictionless to survey your friends on buying decisions, and therefore much more economical for your social capital. (The easier the process is, the more often you can ping friends for opinions.)
Here we can crib from the walkthrough video that came with this submission. The user needs a new tea kettle. He or she selects two (hence the "A/B" moniker) and a side-by-side comparison is published into your feed, where friends who are connected through the app can see your comparison and vote on which purchase they think you should make. Voting is optional for friends, but if they do vote, they can add a comment explaining their reasoning.
What's ingenious about A/B is how useful it is for two particularly elusive genres of goods: Clothing and big-ticket items that require expertise to comparison shop, such as electronics. This is how people make big-ticket purchases--they ask their most knowledgeable friends. In this case, the work is shifted from the user (who would otherwise need to go out and solicit reactions) and into the app, where friends can (in a de facto way) self-select as experts in certain product areas and give feedback. This allows you to source the people who actually have something to say about the decision, and who volunteer--not just the people who you bother to ask.
The judges were overwhelmingly enthused about this one, with nary a criticism. Well thought out, well spec'd, and complete with a full walkthrough, the idea was well communicated and the problem it attempts to solve is clear. The minimal design fits with Target's aesthetic, and the effective use of the API (as seen in the autocomplete product search feature, visible in the video) also scored this entry points. Most appealing of all, perhaps, is the simplicity of the concept, which belies its utility for big purchases. Another nice twist--this is a less ostentatious way of sharing big purchases with friends than say, celebrating your new big-screen TV with a Facebook post. A nice design note: The use of a Path-like "create" button in the lower left corner of the screen.
The obvious one: People don't need another feed in their lives. But since most of us aren't beleaguered by a buying decision on a daily basis, a notification-based feed could work well. If you have friends who are constantly buying stuff (or too insecure about their taste) they may not make great A/B friends. Even so, there are ways to manage activity and notifications to make these annoyances more palatable.
[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]