Sramana: In 1998, when you were ready to start your company, what did you do to start it? What were your strategy and offering?
Mercia Tapping: What I wanted to do is not very original now, but it was in 1998. I wanted to offer people a place where they could buy a product from an e-commerce store and be given an honest answer about the pluses and minuses of that product by the retailer. I wanted to recreate the expertise of a shop owner who can make recommendations among products.
I had found that when I went on the Internet, everybody talked only about how wonderful each product was. I wanted to help consumers distinguish between good and outstanding. I never wanted to sell a poor product. The reason the venture capitalist pulled out was because of that model. They said it would never work. The only models they believed would work were selling a product or reviewing a product. You could not possibly sell something that was a three-star product because people would not buy it, and manufacturers would not like it.
Sramana: If I were a consumer and I went on your website, what would I experience?
Mercia Tapping: Let’s say I was selling a purifier. We bring in a purifier from a manufacturer and we put it through its paces. We make a list of all of the pluses of the product. We also identify the minuses that we find. We give people an honest appraisal.
Sramana: So, it is not a user-generated review, it is a review you are providing yourself?
Mercia Tapping: Correct. We still follow that model today under expert review sections. I realize that Amazon and others use customer-generated reviews, but I feel that our company has real expertise in this area. We give people a heads-up about value for money and quality, or if a product was groundbreaking and the best in its category.
In the beginning, there were manufacturers that did not appreciate that we were pointing out flaws in their products. They tried to twist our arms to eliminate the negative comments. As time went on, we became so respected that manufacturers brought us the product prototypes for us to look over. They will bring us a product first because they know if it passes our muster, it will be a volume seller.