Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On Web and iPhone, a Tool to Aid Careful Shopping

These days, every skin lotion and dish detergent on store shelves gloats about how green it is. How do shoppers know which are good for them and good for the earth?

Hence GoodGuide, a Web site and iPhone application that lets consumers dig past the package’s marketing spiel by entering a product’s name and discovering its health, environmental and social impacts.

“What we’re trying to do is flip the whole marketing world on its head,” said Mr. O’Rourke. “Instead of companies telling you what to believe, customers are making the statements to the marketers about what they care about.”

The next version of the iPhone will enable people to scan bar codes to get scores, rather than type in the product’s name.
I wrote about GoodGuide before and I think giving social and environmental information to people at the point of purchase (ideally by mobile phone via bar scanner) is a great idea. I have been writing about this concept since way back in April of 06 and all the posts with a Labeling label are about this concept.
Although the GoodGuide Web site, which started in September, had only 110,000 unique visitors in April, Mr. O’Rourke is encouraged that it is growing about 25 percent a month. Lately, interest in GoodGuide has begun to extend beyond techies and the Whole Foods crowd to the Wal-Mart crowd, as Mr. O’Rourke put it. One sign of that broader appeal: Apple recently featured the app in its iPhone ads.

GoodGuide’s office, in San Francisco, has 12 full-time and 12 part-time employees, half scientists and half engineers. They have scored 75,000 products with data from nearly 200 sources, including government databases, studies by nonprofits and academics, and the research by scientists on the GoodGuide staff. There are still holes in the data that GoodGuide seeks to fill.

Some companies, including Clorox and SC Johnson, have agreed in recent months to reveal more about the ingredients in their products because of gathering consumer concern. That will enable GoodGuide to fill gaps in its data. Federal law does not require makers of household products to list all ingredients.

This summer, GoodGuide will add a deeper database for users who want more detail by, for example, reading the academic studies on which ratings may be based.
It is going to take a while to catch on, and only a fraction of the population will ever use such an application, but even that will be enough to get manufacturers concerned about it and work toward higher ratings.

The more data that companies make available the better the accuracy of the ratings will be. And more detail on how scores were set would be greatly appreciated by those of us that really want to dig in and understand what the scores mean.

The article talks about how their business model is still evolving but it is run for profit and currently gets its money by linking to Amazon and in the future by charging companies like Whole Foods that want to put the ratings in their store. I am curious if maybe a non-profit model might work better here with funding from philanthropists, and much of the work done by volunteers. Or maybe a Consumer Reports model where end users pay for a subscription.

via NY Times

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