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relying on a global network of hundreds of spotters, working hard to deliver
inspiration and pangs of anxiety to business professionals in 120+ countries worldwide.
More information at www.trendwatching.com
September 2009 | What's still one of the most important consumer trends out there? Transpar-
ency. Of prices, of opinions, of standards. So let’s look at what’s new, happening, upcoming and
important, including the inevitable countertrend. There’s no hiding ;-)
Think 'transparency' is an established, maturing theme? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Sure, we’ve
been harping on forever about the many ways consumers can research, compare and review their
way to a more powerful position, but every month brings us smart new examples of consumers
and brands intent on making opinions, quality standards and prices even more transparent.
So, it's time for a fresh look at the latest and greatest in the transparency arena*, where savvy con-
sumers (as well as on-trend brands) can score triumph after triumph. We’ll look at how reviews are
set for even more spectacular growth, how price comparison is getting much more sophisticated,
and how the inner-workings of companies will be exposed in pragmatic new ways. We then end
this brieﬁng with a countertrend, OPENLY OPAQUE, that raises the bar even higher.
*Please note that this Trend Brieﬁng limits itself to consumers’ desire for ﬁnding the best, the
cheapest and/or the most ethical, as opposed to enjoying transparency of all information and
knowledge, from government (in)action to the boom in personal proﬁles. Somehow, we think you
will ﬁnd the below lengthy enough as it is ;-)
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In short, businesses have to understand and accept that con-
sumers’ decision making processes, which ultimately come down
to whether they will buy from you or from someone else, have
truly shifted to a new, powerful peer-to-peer arena.
So if that’s the current playing ﬁeld, let’s look at the latest devel-
opments in the booming world of reviews:
1.6 billion online… and now get ready for the next billion, courtesy
The fortress of one-way communications from a non-trusted
of the mobile web
source (aka advertising) is crumbling!
While hundreds of millions of consumer reviews are already zip-
Some telling ﬁndings from the latest twice-yearly Nielsen Global
ping around cyberspace, prepare for a deluge of truly biblical
Online Consumer Survey of over 25,000 online consumers from
proportions. And a deluge of review innovations, too. Some num-
"Recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions
• 1.6 billion consumers are now online, and the majority
posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of adver-
of them have been online for years. They're skilled bar-
tising globally. The Nielsen survey shows that 90% of online con-
gain seekers and ‘best of the best’ hunters, they're avid
sumers worldwide trust recommendations from people they know,
online networkers, and they're opinionated reviewers
while 70% trust consumer opinions posted online."
There are many more research studies, ﬁndings, dissertations,
• On top of that, many more consumers in emerging
and so on that conﬁrm the same fact: reviewing is the new ad-
markets are eager to jump into cyberspace with two
vertising. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: just as with other
thumbs: according to a UN report, there are now more
trends, what’s unfolding now is a ‘forever need’ among consum-
than four billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide,
ers, one that's now being satisﬁed in a superior and previously
unattainable fashion. In this case, the need is for trusted advice two-thirds of which are in developing countries. Even if
only a third of those phones get online access in the
and recommendations—for feeling in control, for knowing the
future, the next billion online users are on the horizon.
facts, for avoiding mistakes and disappointments—in order to
make that perfect purchase. Which has become even more
• And for future contributors and viewers, especially those
pressing as choice-overload continues: never before was there so
that are born to the web, for whom contributing and
much to choose from, in mature consumer societies, and thus
sharing is a given, reviewing will be a way of life forever.
such a need for reviews.
It's a need that is met online by having access to millions of other
consumers and their experiences and opinions, from giant review
portals to real-time channels such as Twitter.
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• Bazaarvoice recently signed a deal with UK retailers
Debenhams and Asda to include customer reviews on
• Google’s new Rich Snippets program allows the search
engine to now display product rating, review count, and
actual review text direct in Google search results.
In fact, expect this to be the biggest ‘(R)Evolution’: uni-
versal search for products, brands, services and any-
thing else consumers are interested in will turn up ag-
gregated, relevant reviews almost by default, tagged and
non-tagged, pulled from review sites (niche and mas-
Google Rich Snippets and Netﬂix: aggregation and syndication sive), from blogs, from Twitter, from Facebook, from
galore. YouTube, and so on.
The reviewing masses will increasingly be enticed to review (and
share): • Let’s not forget about more compelling formats for re-
views: a revealing video says more than a 1,000 photos,
• Product ratings and reviews provider Bazaarvoice’s and thus the proliferation of videocam phones, including
ShoutIT app enables reviewers to have their reviews Apple's new iPhone 3G S which includes video func-
effortlessly appear on their Facebook, Digg or Delicious tionality, geo tagging, and direct upload facilities for
pages as well, while Netﬂix has hooked up with Face- YouTube and Mobile, will be yet another push for video-
book to allow users' reviews to be shared on their proﬁle reviews to take off.
• Members that post a review on Epinions are rewarded
with so called Eroyalties credits, which are in turn are
based on an ‘Income Share’ program. The Income Share
pool is a portion of Epinions' income, and is split among
all authors based on how often their reviews were used
in making a decision (whether or not the reader actually
made a purchase). Reviewers then can redeem their
Eroyalties credits in US dollars.
Meanwhile, big players in the review arena are aggregating, white
labeling and syndicating like crazy, causing existing reviews to
pop-up in multiple places. A snapshot:
• TripAdvisor, which boasts close to 25 million reviews
and opinions on more than 490,000 hotels and attrac-
tions, while attracting 25 million+ monthly visitors, earlier
this year signed syndication deals with VisitBritain.com, • Reviews are also making their way to the 'real world':
easyJet Holidays and its sister site Hotels.com. aforementioned Bazaarvoice now works with UK retail-
Meanwhile, travel site Raveable now provides a com- ers Argos and Halfords to feature customer reviews in
prehensive view of hotels across the United States by paper catalogs (Argos alone reaches 17 million UK
aggregating and summarizing more than 35 million re- households with its catalogs).
views of some 55,000 US hotels.
• UK based comparison shopping service Shopzilla just
teamed up with PowerReviews.com, a provider of cus-
tomer reviews, to add product reviews to its product and
price comparison service.
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Images courtesy of TechCrunch and Mashable.
Yes, that’s one gross pic, but hey, anything to get your attention!
More ‘real world’ developments (with a virtual twist): expect
plenty of augmented reality-meets-reviews examples to pop-up Important side-effect of the above is that the deluge in postings
soon. Here are two to get you started: will also unmask, outnumber and thus neutralize fake reviews
posted by malicious consumers or desperate brands. Which will
• Local review site Yelp boasts the ﬁrst iPhone app with lead to an even greater trust of recommendations and reviews. In
augmented reality. Users can put their iPhone camera in the near future, consider the discussion on whether to trust re-
front of a restaurant, with Yelp’s reviews then overlaying views to be over.
their real-world views. (Source: Mashable).
Meanwhile, GrafﬁtiGeo, a mobile service that allows
users to share brief reviews of restaurants, is working on
a similar iPhone app. More info at TechCrunch.
Scale is one thing. Scope is another. No B2C sector is immune to
the review virus. Expect every industry, every sector, every prod-
uct to eventually succumb to reviews, Tripadvisor style. Exam-
• Health | Vimo, a comparison-shopping site for health
care, offers rate-my-doctor and rate-my-dentist func-
tionalities. A similar review service is offered by ZocDoc.
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• Beauty | On Makeupalley.com members give reviews
on everything beauty-related, from makeup and skincare
to hair dryers and perfume. The site includes detailed
information about each user’s skin tone, hair color, skin
type and eye color at the top of the review so that read-
ers can gauge how well the advice will ﬁt their own
• Law & education | Avvo proﬁles legal professionals,
including their experience, areas of practice, and ratings
from clients. Ratemyteachers does the same for teach-
ers. Also check out Yollege.
• Airports | Sleeping In Airports has over 6,300 reviews
of how airports around the world rate for sleeping in
• Tech | Fixya is a popular post-sale tech support site,
These days, hotel room reviews are posted from the room, not
where 15 million members help each other with product
upon return home.
support questions on 1 million products. It has now
added product recommendations to its website.
Deluge and connectivity will lead to real-time reviewing of prod-
ucts and services:
• Recruitment | Glassdoor aims to provide an insider's
look at what it's really like to work at a company, both
• First of all, as more people are contributing, the sheer
ﬁnancially and otherwise. The site gathers real-time re-
mass of reviews will in effect lead to daily if not hourly
views, ratings and salary details about speciﬁc jobs in
reviews on any topic imaginable. Which means more
28,000+ companies. Also check out Australian LiveSal- timely and accurate information.
• Secondly, as universal online access meets netbooks,
• Restaurants | Dishola eschews general restaurant re- laptops, and phones, virtually all equipped with (video)
views in favor of dish-speciﬁc (!) advice and information.
cameras and audio capture, we're already seeing an
Members can read smart reviews by Dishola editors,
increase in on-the-spot reviews, from text to full-blown
industry professionals and other members, as well as
videos. Remember, someone going through an annoying
post reviews and photos of their own favorite dishes.
or pleasant experience, but lacking online access, has to
postpone his or her review, which often results to not
• Printing | Printer.com provides information on a wide
posting at all.
range of printers and cartridges; the site currently fea-
tures more than 4,500 printers and over 1,950 car- In fact, Twitter has established itself as the real-time*
tridges. snapshot of what people are thinking/feeling/
experiencing and yes, reviewing, around the world. Ex-
Note: a fun entrepreneurial opportunity is to start a review portal
pect numerous services to capitalize on this burgeoning
(reviewcircus.com?) that lets consumers quickly ﬁnd the right
‘global brain'. One example: SkinniPopcorn provides
niche review site for their query. Just a page listing the various
Twitter feeds of users' real time comments about newly
B2C categories, and links to related niche review sites. Should
released ﬁlms and the current US box ofﬁce top ten, as
take you less than a week to get live, and could be a great adver-
well as the ten movies that are currently mentioned most
tising cash cow ;-)
* As promised last June, when we highlighted FOR-
EVERISM, we will dedicate next month's Trend Brieﬁng
to NOWISM, covering all the business opportunities re-
lated to the emerging real-time economy. Will land in
your inbox or feed early October.
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now) been reserved for premium Hilton club members
who use Hilton's eCheck-in.
• Wagaboo's restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona let
prospective visitors select the restaurant, date and time
they're interested in online, then presenting them with a
seating map with available (and suggested) tables.
• Still going strong, SeatGuru helps passengers select
airplane seating, in-ﬂight amenities and airline informa-
• And yes, reading reviews on the spot will become uber- tion based upon the airline and type of aircraft they’re
popular too, of course! More on this in 'Price Pandemo- ﬂying. The site now features 25,000+ user comments,
nium', below. and offers more than 650 airline seat maps covering 90+
airlines. The service has now also been incorporated into
its parent site, Expedia.
• TripKick tackles an equally important aspect of travel:
hotel rooms. Coverage of each hotel includes detailed
information on which rooms to request—which rooms
are oversized (rooms ending in 03 and 04, for example),
which have great bathrooms or are quieter than others.
TripKick also points out which ﬂoors are better, and
which to avoid. Guests are encouraged to add their own
Yet another way reviews can be made more attractive and useful, reviews and upload photos of rooms they've stayed in.
and thus more powerful: combine them with MAPMANIA. Check
out the following location-based review sites that let you ﬁnd the BTW, we're planning to do a Trend Brieﬁng on MAPMANIA in the
best hotel room, restaurant table, playground or, yes, airline seat. near future, incorporating the latest in augmented reality, so
please do stay tuned.
• The KaBOOM! Playspace Finder is a user-generated
online directory that lets anyone enter, search for and
rate play spaces. Users can add photos and comments
for each play space, as well as detailed descriptions
including available playground equipment or amenities.
Some 16,000 play areas across the USA and Canada are
now listed on the Google Maps-based site.
• Homewoodsuites by Hilton Hotels offers guests the
option of picking their hotel room. Guests can view hotel
ﬂoor plans and book speciﬁc suite types based on their
location, photographs and descriptions. Adding a touch
of PERKONOMICS, The suite selection tool has (for
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and/or admire (Twitter followers/following, or Facebook
friends) and then turn to their ‘audience’ for advice/
• Professionals | Oyster Hotel Reviews employs 13 pro-
fessional reporters who independently review hotels,
paying for their own stays. Once a review of a particular
hotel has been posted online, Oyster invites other travel-
ers who've visited the same hotel to add their comments
and reviews. The site also recently began requiring con-
sumers to use Facebook Connect if they want to rant or
rave about a hotel. Says Oyster: "The way we see it, if
you’re willing to attach your identity to your commentary,
you’re willing to stand behind what you say. No anony-
mous mudslinging; no PR propaganda."
Expect a host of new ventures to spring up and monetize collabo-
rative ﬁltering and proﬁle matching in the next 12 months, most
likely by partnering with the Twitters, Facebooks and LinkedIns of
this world, who are already proﬁle-driven. One for you?
Do you know just whose recommendations and ratings you’re
blindly lapping up?
Here’s what is probably one of the current reviewosphere’s big-
gest hurdles (and thus one of it's biggest opportunities), and no,
it's not trust, it's relevance. Who are these people whose reviews
determine what you read, where you stay, what you drive, where
you eat, what you watch, where you get operated on…? Which is
why, for years, we’ve brought up TWINSUMERS: consumers
whose lifestyles mirror yours, who think, live, act, consume alike,
and whose reviews therefore have real relevance. Basically, the
onslaught of recommendations needs some transparency of its
For those of you who have already worked out and executed a
review strategy: please focus on making reviews relevant for your
visitors and customers by providing proﬁles, backgrounds, con-
text. A nice win for 2010? Some examples of what’s (slowly)
building in this ﬁeld:
Do not let bad reviews go unanswered!
Surprisingly, so far the Review (R)Evolution has been pretty much
one-way. Quite a few brands still seem to believe that they’ve
been granted an eternal ‘grace period’ when it comes to dealing
• Proﬁles | booking.com and TripAdvisor do offer trav- with all of the above. While brands are no longer unaware of re-
eler proﬁles, and they will at least give you information views, they (to a large degree) still choose to listen, not talk
about the reviewer’s age, gender, travel styles, location, back, trying to ‘learn’ from the for-all-to-see Review (R)Evolution.
travel experience, personal circumstances and so on, Which is surprising, to say the least, since a quick and honest
but there’s obviously plenty of room for more extensive reply or solution can defuse even the most damaging complaint.
proﬁles, if not collaborative ﬁltering. Parallel to this, ex-
pect more people to ﬁrst ‘collect’ the people they trust
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In fact, there’s no standing on the sideline when it comes to
TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH, and the least any brand should
want or demand is the right of reply: to get their side of the story
in front of the mass audiences that now scan reviews. Expect
smart companies to increasingly post their apologies and solu-
tions, preferably directly alongside reviews from unhappy cus-
tomers. And yes, that should include the occasional candid rebut-
tal by a company that feels (and can prove) that a particular re-
view is unfair or inaccurate.
To see the future for Right of Reply, check out:
• Tripadvisor’s Management Response feature allows
representatives of hotels, restaurants and attractions to
respond to reviews written about their properties.
• Local business review site Yelp allows business owners
to manage their own page with detailed information,
and lets them respond privately to reviewers. The latter Replying to angry mobs is the second best solution.
is also offered by Bazaarvoice, which allows owners
direct contact with posters of negative reviews. May we humbly remind you that bad reviews are not the problem,
HomeAway, the vacation rentals marketplace, has an but a symptom? Not listening to (dissatisﬁed) customers is
owner-response feature, too. often at the root of the problem. Consumers don’t post their
bad experiences straightaway. Most will notify you or one of your
• Swedish Fairshopping allows consumers to post public colleagues ﬁrst. It’s mismanagement of complaints and con-
complaints about companies they have done business ﬂicts that invokes postings. Whether it’s someone at your help-
with. The companies mentioned are then given the desk, someone in your stores, or an account manager; there’s
chance to reply on the site. Other users can chime in on virtually always an opportunity to settle an issue before it goes
the conversation, agreeing or disagreeing with the initial public. And if you really screw up, beat customers to the punch
complaint. by being the ﬁrst to report failures. Let customers know how you
ﬁx problems. Eventually, this will free up resources and energy to
There’s also a self-organized ‘right of reply’ for B2C brands: al- actively focus on enabling happy customers to post positive re-
lowing for reviews on their own site. All they have to do is to ask views. Now that's TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH ;-)
their customers and they're in business. Biggest advantage: a
guaranteed opportunity to publicly react to bad reviews that
would otherwise pop up in less accessible spots. And favorable
reviews will of course bring the beneﬁt of instant endorsements of
whatever it is you're hawking. Just one example: American Ap-
parel’s on-site reviews.
Who knows, one day, well-performing ‘direct brands’ may actu-
ally desire and encourage this kind of feedback, which in turn will
further add to the deluge.
Last but not least, check out services that monitor the mood out
there, aggregating online comments, reviews and bits of feed-
back from consumers about your products or brands.
And yes, here too, Twitter is an amazing example of how easy it
has become to do some quick checks on what the verdict is on
any kind of new product, service and everything else worth re-
viewing by millions of twitterers. Two examples: ScoutsLabs and
You have no excuse for not knowing, and you have no excuse for
not replying, either ;-)
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First, like with reviews, when there’s mass, there’s going to be
niche. Expect plenty of dedicated, one-category only price
comparison sites to up the ante. Fun examples:
How low can / should you go?
• Liftopia lets ski resorts sell discounted lift tickets online.
What else can we say about online price comparison than that full Visitors simply choose dates and regions where they
price transparency seems near? Show us one consumer who want to ski, and then scroll through a list of budget-
does not spend hours hunting down the lowest fare for her priced lift tickets.
Sydney-Perth trip, the best price for that Philips television, the
cheapest copy of Murakami’s latest novel? Needless to say that • Medication comparison engine Medtipster ﬁnds its us-
the dire state of the economy is making consumers ﬂock to price ers the best prices on prescriptions, with the pricing
comparison sites in greater numbers than ever before. given for speciﬁc pharmacies in one’s neighborhood.
So yes, the Shopzillas, Pricegrabbers, Shopping.coms, Kelk- • mySupermarket is a free shopping and comparison
oos, Google Product Searches, Bechnas and Roboshoppers website for supermarket shoppers that links the online
of this world will instantly ﬁnd consumers what has become portals of the UK's four main supermarket chains (Tesco,
known as the ‘Internet Price’. Next? More niche and more sophis- ASDA, Sainsbury's and Ocado) and compares prices on
tication: the ﬂy. Also check out Grocio, which claims 18,000+
registered shoppers (as of August, 2009).
• OpenCarPrice.com, TrueCar, RealCarTips.com and
PriceHub offer reader-submitted information about what
previous buyers paid and tips on how future shoppers
can get the best deals by negotiating.
• BusJunction combs through discount fares on a dozen
of the big bus lines that ply the major routes between
Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Bos-
ton (as well as further west in hubs like Cleveland, Buf-
• OurParents is a free eldercare matching service, fo-
cused on assisting children with aging parents. The serv-
ice offers descriptions, services, photos, quality ratings,
price info, etc for over 65,000 care providers and allows
consumers to ﬁlter search results by location, cost, qual-
ity, distance and special requirements.
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• Treatment Abroad, the leading online medical tourism unique objects of desire and impulse buys may escape the
portal, has launched a ratings and reviews system for "feel it - see it - try it ofﬂine - then buy it cheaper online" routine.
medical tourists to share and rate their experiences of Which in return means more direct sellers feeling compelled to
travelling overseas for medical treatment. match the lowest prices found on price comparison sites. For
your own brand, you'll have to ﬁgure out if that’s going to be a
• lensprice.com compares eight large online contact lens race to the bottom, or a clear signal you need to start delivering
retailers for the best prices for over 15 of the contact products and experiences that are hard to price, if not priceless…
lens brands. Findcontactlenses.com does the same, In the meantime, keep an eye on:
comparing the prices for 26 brands among 10 online
retailers. • Shopsavvy, an Android app, allows the user to scan
almost any barcode using the phone’s camera, and it will
Next? Niche price comparison meets analysis. While extensive then search over 20,000 online and local retailers to ﬁnd
price advice based on personal proﬁles, assets, preferences the best price. Once the best deal has been found, users
etc.is already widespread (just think insurance and mortgages), can either purchase online, or use the phone’s built-in
expect to see more services really digging into consumers' usage Google Maps feature to ﬁnd their way to the store.
patterns, then ﬁnding the best price. Which means that even impulse buys aren’t ‘safe’ any-
Just one example: Validas' mybillaudit.com, which lets consum- more: this may entice even the most buy-ready, real-
ers upload their actual cell phone bills, generating a detailed re- world shoppers to postpone their purchase for a few
port (based on usage patterns) on what plan (and which carrier) minutes ;-) Shopshavvy won the 2008 Google Android
would save them the most money. Developers contest and has been launched in the US,
UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland and the
Czech Republic. A version for the iPhone is in the
• Californian SnapTell says half a million iPhone and An-
droid users have downloaded its application (which,
unlike Shopsavvy, allows users to photograph a product
using cameras in their handsets, and then upload it to
the website for reviews, recommendations and best
prices), resulting in more than 1.5 million image queries
so far. More than one in three buyers click through to an
online retailer, earning SnapTell commissions.
• SnapTell is owned by Amazon.com, who last month also
released its own, free, Android mobile application,
which allows users to take photos of an item on their
phone, or scan a barcode, and then have Amazon
search for the same product online, enabling immediate
comparison with the physical-retail price. If the price is
right, users can purchase the item securely from their
Point & know
Could the iPhone (and Android, and others) mean the ﬁnal break-
through for on-the-spot price comparison in the ‘real’ world?
While mobile price comparison has forever been the promised
killer app in a retail world that is still dominated by physical
stores, it took an iPhone (read: a mobile device that ﬁnally makes
it possible to surf the web on the go, without a clunky interface or
dial-up speeds that bring back memories of 1995) to unleash this
In short, expect consumers to start treating real-world stores as
showrooms and try-out centers, while ﬁnding the lowest online
price via their web-enabled cell phones. Only hard-to-ﬁnd and
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The lowest (fuel) price ﬁnding you
Combine devices that know where you are and what you might
be looking for with an alert functionality, and you will end up with
the best price ﬁnding you.
• The TomTom Fuel Price Service: for a yearly subscrip-
tion fee of EUR 14.95, users select whether to list gas
stations by location or price on their device, and can
request the lowest gas prices on their route within a
user-selected radius. Travelers can also choose which
type of gas they would like tracked: regular, mid-grade,
premium or diesel. The service is available in the United
Kingdom, The Netherlands and France.
• Apnoti watches Amazon for price drops. You can use it
either by dropping in the Amazon product link and your
e-mail address, or by installing a tool bar that adds the
option to watch a price to Amazon.com. Similar services
are offered by ZingSale, Ookong, WishRadar, Price-
Drop. More pricing fun: if you’re in a business with volatile, non-
transparent and ever-changing pricing, expect price-forecasting
• While sites like Liligo, Expedia and Ctrip all provide fare services to hungrily eye your space. A few examples:
alerts to help travelers track tickets and hotels that
match their preferences and alerts them by email when • Farecast offers airfare predictions from over 75 US de-
prices drop, Yapta goes the extra mile: if the price of an parture cities to major domestic destinations, as well as
airline ticket drops below what someone has paid, Yapta for 200 international routes. Users can check if fares are
will alert them when they are eligible for a refund from increasing or dropping, and are provided with recom-
the airline. Since launching its initial airfare tracking serv- mendations on when to buy. The website makes its pre-
ice in May 2007, Yapta claims it has alerted over dictions primarily by searching for patterns in ticket
600,000 travelers to more than USD 170 million in poten- prices on airline and travel agent websites and claims a
tial savings (an average of USD 306 per Yapta user). 74.5% accuracy. Farecast also offers rate indicators for
hotels in 30 destinations. Each of the 5,000 hotels on
the site has its own "Hotel Rate Key" with a chart show-
ing what they've charged in the past and what they will
(probably) charge over the next 90 days. The site capital-
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izes on vast amounts of data that have been accumu-
lated over the last decade. Farecast is part of Micro-
soft's Bing search engine. Expect Google to be all over
these kinds of services in the very near future, too…
• FareCompare.com offers historical prices for trips in
77,000 markets in the US and Canada. It seeks out fares
and destinations at a billion combinations per query,
while keeping track of 500 airlines serving more than
270,000 markets around the globe.
Those consumers who care, will now ﬁnd out
Corporate transparency doesn’t stop at product reviews or price
comparison. In fact, it’s going to be crucial for companies to un-
derstand that because individuals/consumers are opening up
in many ways, if not becoming ‘transparent’, especially online,
they will expect companies to be more transparent, too (read: to
become more human).
And while we will save for another Trend Brieﬁng the many ways
in which corporations can now be exposed whenever their be-
havior is dismal, if not downright despicable, we do want to
brieﬂy point out how transparency of everything from production
processes to ingredients, to labor conditions, will increasingly
inﬂuence performance and pricing reviews. The ‘whole’ picture
will matter to those consumers who, when looking for the best of
the best, take into account not just price or superior quality, but
eco, health, social and ethical concerns, too.
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• GoodGuide is an information clearinghouse for green
consumers, integrating hundreds of databases that
evaluate the life cycles of over 70,000 products, such as
food, personal care, cleaning products and toys. An
iPhone application is available, too.
• Project Label strives to produce people-powered social
nutrition labels. Think food nutrition labels, but instead of
showing the health impact, labels will show a company's
social and environmental impact.
• In July 2009, Walmart announced plans to develop a For every trend, there's a counter trend. Not every trend applies
worldwide sustainable product index during a meeting to all consumers and what's more, to those it does apply, it won’t
with 1,500 of its suppliers, associates and sustainability apply all the time. So while TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH will be a
leaders. The index will establish a single source of data reality for the majority of brands, we’ll also witness a number of
for evaluating the sustainability of products. Eventually, brands that will go for a less-than-transparent approach to busi-
the goal is to translate the product information in the ness, and will get away with hiding, with not being open, with not
index into a simple rating for consumers about the sus- having mass conversations with customers. Does this contradict
tainability of a product. everything laid out above? No.
In the end, plenty of consumers will accept (if not welcome) an
opaque brand, if that brand consistently delivers and surprises:
• A lot of people like to keep things simple. Sometimes
they just want to get it over with instead of having to
review and compare and research for hours on end. For
many, time is still the new currency.
• For some products and services, surprise / excitement /
the unexpected is part of the charm. Researching and
reviewing something to death can make a purchase or
experience too safe.
• Fatburgr puts together the nutritional facts about a vari- • Related, too much information can make one indecisive,
ety of fast-food restaurants and chains. Some 25 restau- as there’s now an unfavorable review or potential disad-
rants are currently listed on Fatburgr—including McDon- vantage to be found for everything. And as long as those
ald's, Subway and Chili's. For each of them the site lists bad reviews are from reviewers whose background is
the calories, fat, carbs and ﬁber content for each menu unknown, relying on a trustmark instead may offer peace
item. All data is available on the iPhone, too. of mind.
• Last but not least, some brands manage to offer unique-
ness (both by creating something truly special, and by
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acting as a curators), which is then less prone to stan-
dard reviews / comparisons.
Apple is an example of an opaque brand, especially for those
Apple customers who just want to be dazzled, entertained and
want to belong. So are brands such as Singapore Airlines,
Method, Four Seasons, IKEA and Virgin Atlantic: they need less
researching and reviewing, as existing and potential customers
know, expect and ultimately trust they’re going to get the best of
the best, if not something unique. Pleasant side effect: unique
offerings also greatly reduce if not eliminate price-sensitivity.
In the end, this is about being triumphant in the business arena
In business, it doesn’t get scarier and more exciting than
TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH and OPENLY OPAQUE, as both
trends at their core are about inspiring brands to deliver some-
thing superior, something that can withstand scrutiny and compe-
tition, something that gets consumers raving, preferably to other
consumers. Which in a nutshell is what business is all about, no?
It does mean that in a transparent world, for both brands and
consumers, settling for anything that's sub-par becomes a
choice, not an accident. And yet, it’s still early days for TRANS-
PARENCY TRIUMPH. Changes in behavior and in technology all
So if you wish to go OPENLY OPAQUE, make sure you’re the point towards an even more transparent marketplace in the near
best, hard to duplicate, curated, trusted, reliable and so on. And future, which in turn is taking cues from a more transparent soci-
yes, any other kind of opaqueness means you’re toast ;-) ety.
So ditch ‘discussions’ on whether this will impact your business
or not, and open up. Some tips:
• Come up with a map, a list, an overview showing who is
reviewing you, and where, and what percentage of your
sales and revenues is already inﬂuenced by them. Sites!
Top reviewers! Channels! How to ﬁgure that out? Well...
ask your customers how they found you, or why they
returned, who they listened to, what site they used to
ﬁnd the lowest price. This is ﬁeld work, but worth it.
• Actively respond to bad reviews. Either on your own site,
or through syndication. If consumers are going to post
about their experiences anyway, there's deﬁnitely merit
in presenting these reviews (all of them!) on your own
site. At least this will make exercising your right of reply
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• Promote positive reviews by enabling satisﬁed custom-
ers to share their experiences.
• And that's just a few practical things you can do: strate-
gically, you will have to ﬁgure out how to become a
transparent, human brand, or an OPENLY OPAQUE,
human brand. Which is obviously of a different magni-
tude than dealing with a deluge of reviews, or ﬁerce
price comparison: it's ultimately about character, about
ﬁnding your voice, about your behavior as a brand that,
if in tune with the current zeitgeist of 'openness' and
'generosity', automatically turns transparency into a
beneﬁt instead of a threat. Oh well, you get the picture.
No rest for the wicked, eh? Good luck scoring a few TRANSPAR-
ENCY TRIUMPHS (or going OPENLY OPAQUE) yourself.
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