This review features a web site that I myself use excessively and which every Japanese knows of: Kakaku.com (the whole site is Japanese only). Kakaku (価格) roughly means “price”, so what may sound cool to Westerners sounds kind of bland to Japanese ears. It is one of the most famous shopping sites in the country.
Kakaku is nothing less but Japan’s biggest web site for price comparison. However, it is not a mere directory -which would be useful enough, given the tremendous amount of items listed- but a social shopping site. And every product listed on Kakaku can be rated and discussed by registered users: Very useful!
I will briefly review the site in the following order:
I) Starting Page
II) Product search
III) Web 2.0/Community aspects
IV) Business Modell
I) STARTING PAGE
The starting page is HUGE (typically Japanese). It is actually full of ads and looks like this (parts A-D):
Here you can find: A search box, different categories, new products, company news, rankings etc. Please notice my FF plug-in blocks some of the spaces used for ads (I didn’t turn it off).
The categories feature every consumer product you can think of: Food, electronics, sports etc. However, restaurants, appartment buildings (mainly in Tokyo), funeral services (!), schools (!) etc. are included as well.
In the community box, you can find featured discussion topics from Kakaku users as well as selected reviews.
The box on the bottom left features “news” from participating companies and shops. However, those companies (in a more subtle way) advertise their products here.
Kakaku research is a side product. The company uses its site to conduct surveys and compile reports about different product related topics. The newest research report for example centers on Japan’s mobile market. 2,404 users contributed to the survey which lead to that report. The aim of this section is to find popular products and concepts in a certain field.
Campaign is actually another way of advertising. For example, if you subscribe to a mail magazine, chances are you receive a coupon from Amazon (through a sweepstakes).
Starting page (part D):
Kakaku.com magazine is a bimonthly online, well, magazine. Actually, it is just another way of advertising and then selling stuff. The value of the information given is not really high.
News from Akihabara is for the nerds. In the “Cosplay” section for example, users can inform themselves about how the girls at the Tokyo Game Show booths were dressed this year.
II) PRODUCT SEARCH
Now, if you click on one the first entry (music instruments/gakki: 楽器) in the “hobbies” -category (highlighted in starting page, part A above), you will see the following page:
Some of the latest comments in the section for musical instruments are displayed , along with some reviews. Kakaku itself adds news articles which fit the category here.
The discussion forums are particularly popular. The featured ranking on screen B is on electric pianos/denchi piano: 電子ピアノ. Kakaku does NOT decide which pianos appear on the ranking. Only the users do: Web 2.0, there you go.
After clicking on the No. 1 product (the Privia piano), the following page appears.
In part A, the diagram in the rating box features details of the product like design, usability etc. The maximum amount of stars users can distribute to each of these factors is 5.
The box highlighted in red in part B has the following contents: price in Yen, shipping fees, availability, shop ranking, shop name, location and date of entry/comments.
III) WEB 2.0 / COMMUNITY ASPECT
Kakaku would lose much of its appeal without user contribution. Important community aspects on the site include:
– Users are welcome to write reviews on the site.
– Users can rate every product offered by Kakaku partner shops. It is also possible to rate other people’s reviews.
– The shops themselves register their products to the site.
– Users can introduce themselves to the community with personal profiles. Reviewers can be subscribed to.
– Kakaku also offers a BBS for its users which is heavily used.
IV) BUSINESS MODEL
The business model is quite simple: ads, ads, ads and even more ads. They simply put ads mainly in banner form and “disguised” as news/information/campaigns ALL over the place!
There is not a single page on Kakaku without ads. However, they do not seem to be too annoying since they are partly product-related. And one maybe subconsciously expects a lot of this stuff on a product comparison site.
The company also runs a lot of side businesses!
For example, Kakaku offers a loan comparison service. That means not only do they offer price information but users can also apply for loans, credit cards etc. via the web site. You can actually search for the offer which fulfills your needs best. So Kakaku applies their principal method of price research for consumer products and more or less taps into Japan’s multi billion dollar loan market. Smart move and they really mean it. The loan section is quite comprehensive and detailed.
They also collaborate with a travel web site, a movie portal and a hotel reservation site amongst others. Also, they are also engaged in real estate!
The business model alone would be worth 2 blog posts!
In my opinion, Kakaku is not perfect but the site comes close. It is a very useful Web 2.0-product which just makes sense from a user’s and business point of view. A great mash-up of shopping, social network, discussion forum and information.
What impresses me most is the site’s usability even though there are hundreds of thousands of products listed in dozens of categories. No hassle, no frustration in finding the information you look for. I can accept the ad load for that.
The site was heavily revamped (and improved!) just today, October 1st, 2007. By the way, in the top left you can see that Kakaku became 10 years old this year (Kakaku.com 10 歳).