Social Network Co-Op Digs For Best Consumer Deals

The money keeps rolling in to the advertising and marketing industries. WeShop reported Wednesday closing a $4.25 million Series A funding round that it plans to help support the launch of an "offer platform" for merchants later this month.

Funding came from Jonathan Miller, chairman and CEO, Digital Media Group of News Corp. and former America Online CEO; Frank Kenny of Delta Partners, a venture capital firm established in Ireland in 1994 with €230 million under management; and Abacus Direct co-founders Martin White and Carlos Sala, who sold the company to DoubleClick in 2000.

The network creates a co-op that allows consumers to gain better prices on items they might want to buy in the future. It relies on predictive analytics that factors in past purchases. Think collective bargaining in the digital age.

WeShop Founder and CEO Tony Lee describes the platform as a tool allowing consumers to "exploit" and "manage" their own data. In other words -- take control.

Consumers don't understand the value of their data. "They understand their data belongs to them and the privacy issues, but they don't understand the worth," Lee says. "The people spearheading privacy debates are brilliant because they phrase the rulings around the nature of the data, rather than the value."

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Lee says the platform can fundamentally change how consumers make purchases by showing how they can form a network and anonymously pool their shopping information to attract great offers from consumer product goods companies and retailers.

The WeShop platform allows merchants and brands to target consumers with opt-in offers on a CPA basis, which ideally translates into a more efficient and less risky campaign than traditional search engine marketing.

Consumers sign up on the WeShop site, connect through email, and the client software scans the email account for past purchases, anonymously pulling and aggregating the data. The list creates "bargaining power" as a group -- a sort of co-op, according to Lee. WeShop gives each item purchased an Internet address, a unique number, so merchants can view anonymous data to offer the consumers deals.

Purchasing data is the most predictive measurement when it comes to forecasting demand because it tells what consumers might purchase next based on what they have bought in the past.

Although the platform remains in beta, more than 100,000 members registered on the free platform. These members share information about purchases without revealing their identity. They can provide information on what, where, and how much they paid -- information previously unavailable on the Web. Merchants are not necessarily interested in the identity of the consumer, but rather what they bought and how to fulfill future purchase needs.

Members also can join specialized "shopping networks" where they can anonymously share information about the things they buy with other consumers with similar interests. The plan to create thousands of similar networks during the next several months will support everything from clothing to toiletries to toys.

The database of goods that consumers purchase becomes available for merchants to bid on. That platform, in the works for 18 months, will roll out later this month. The merchants will only see information such as "size 18 Gucci shows," Lee says.

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