Confessions of a Mobile Shopaholic: A Conversation With Big in Japan

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Today I had the chance to talk to Big in Japan cofounder Alex Muse. The company is behind the popular ShopSavvy mobile application that scans bar codes to offer consumers product info.

This includes pricing, specs, online availability and other info that is continually building into the product. Recently, for example, the company partnered with Krillion to pull in its local inventory data. This localizes it by allowing users to see who has what products nearby and how much they cost.

ShopSavvy gets most of its use from the Android platform, as it’s not yet available on iPhone (coming soon). It was one of the winners of the Android developers’ challenge for mobile apps about a year ago and now has about 3 million users.

“On a slow day we’ll get 600,000 scans per day, and on a good day we’ll get closer to 1 million,” said Muse. “We look forward to ‘Black Friday.’ ”

Evolving the Product

Next up, according to Muse, could be a “quick pay” button that lets users preprogram in their PayPal, Google checkout or other payment accounts so they can order things quickly. This “one button” payment takes the friction out of online ordering and could be particularly useful on the mobile device where the name of the game is minimizing input requirements for the user.

The scenario basically is that you can scan items in stores, see if there are cheaper options online and then quickly order them. I guess it would have to be significantly cheaper to recoup shipping costs, rather than just pick up the item you’re standing in front of, but I can see this being valuable for expensive items that have wide price variances.

Next up could also be some user-generated content features such as letting users indicate items or prices that may not already be in its system. It’s also working on a “wish list” feature for the holiday season. This will let people scan items in stores and create a kind of registry that can be shared with friends via Facebook or other social channels.

A few other things are on the horizon that I can’t talk about yet, but they are exciting. We’ll also get to see much more of the ShopSavvy app as Android will start to power many more devices throughout the remainder of this year and into 2010. There is also an iPhone app being submitted for Apple approval, which Muse hopes will be launched by next month.

Overall, the transparency allowed by ShopSavvy is one of the things that’s made it so popular. Unlike the majority of the apps out there, it’s also built for and around the unique aspects of the mobile device; it’s not just a Web site on a small screen. It gets points for utility and “cool factor,” and could gain more recognition as Google educates the marketplace through its own similar mobile shopping product recently released.

Speaking of Google

Meanwhile, ShopSavvy is shooting for affiliate revenues through finished transactions that come through its system. It also has an auction model built around the SKUs — the basic units of its product searches (compared with keywords on Google). Muse cited  Forrester data that clicks on Google average about 5 cents to 6 cents per click, while a mobile bar code scan is valued at about 15 cents.

“They are worth more, but the challenge is that there are relatively few of them now,” he said. “The numbers aren’t as attractive for Google. But for a company like us, on the lower end, if I get 15 cents for 600,000 scans per day, that’s not so bad.”

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