Bestie simplifies shopping with a Pinterest-esque approach

Bestie Search Screen

Bestie is a shopping app that provides a Pinterest-esque approach to shopping and sharing. Bestie is a free app, which requires iOS 6 or later and is compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and is optimized for iPhone 5. At its heart is the concept of curated collection of goods. You can use the app to shop a wide variety of online retailers and add their products to lists you manage. You can follow lists created by other people (and retailers) and they can follow yours. You can also add products to lists that are based on web searches or even photographs you take yourself.

There is an appeal to this kind of social shopping. As we all know, often the best finds are those we get from friends: "Where did you get that? I had no idea that even existed!" And Bestie is interesting in that it somewhat obscures the line between recommendations (or at least, "Hey, I thought this was cool looking") from friends and promoted products from retailers actively curating their own collections. As you wander through the products, you can save any item you like to one or more lists you wish to maintain.

You are given a "Gifts I want" list by default. Each product lists the number of times it has been saved by others. If you are a Pinterest user, think of "Save" as "Pin It" and you will understand what it does. On the downside, in order to get more detailed information about a product, you have to tap the "Buy Now" button, which takes you to the original website for that product. That is counter-intuitive and a button that indicated that it could be used for "More Info" as well as "Buying" would be a lot more helpful.

When first run, you are given the option to create an account but this is not a requirement to browse around and read other peoples' comments on various products. Once you get into creating or following lists, connecting with friends, or buying, you will need to create an account. This comes with agreeing to get on a mailing list (that you can unsubscribe from later if you choose) so if that kind of thing bothers you, you can decide not to join.

Bestie Product Screen

The App provides five main sections accessed via a tab bar at the bottom of the screen. The main screen, "Home", is simply a scrolling list of the latest additions posted by the people or companies you follow. As I write this, Amazon seems to heavily promoting wall decals of cute sayings that you put on your walls (someone will need to explain the appeal of that to me). Shop, indicated, cryptically, by an icon that denotes trending instead of, say, an icon the denotes shopping, is a matrix view of pictures that can be filtered and sorted in many different ways.

The center tab sports a Bestie icon with a plus and is, as you might guess, where you can add products from online stores or through a combination of a photograph you take and providing a URL to the product (useful for someone who runs their own store, for example). Next is a search function that lets you search by arbitrary text (I rather like the steampunk cuff links available on Etsy). Finally, the last tab gives you access to your own profile and your own lists.

At the top of every one of these sections is access to notifications (if, for example, you requested to be notified when someone "saves" a product you added) and a screen to follow top users, and friends on Facebook who are or are not using Bestie.

Bestie list of Merchants

I did notice a few quirks along the way. For example, websites that do not render properly on an iPhone screen are virtually useless as I was not able to scroll sideways or pinch to zoom out. So, I was unable to add to any of my lists the cool LEGO Steampunk set. The Search section has a back arrow at the far upper left, even after you have gone as far back as you can. Since the app remembers your scroll position from when you left that first screen, I could not see the search box that is at the very top and was momentarily confused until I thought to scroll up.

I am left with one big question: What's the point? What is Bestie providing that doesn't already exist? Wish Lists (both social and private) are available on many sites and Amazon's allows you to add items they don't even sell. Pinterest does much of what Bestie does and already has an established and enormous user base. This is where my wife, a power shopper if ever there was one, ended up after she played with it for awhile. She felt that the app was so simplistic as to hold no real value for her. Especially since it duplicates features she already uses on other sites that are well established. One could argue that it is the all-in-one-place presentation of the content and they may have a point.

Most of the shoppers I know (especially my wife) is not looking for something to make the process simpler or to speed it up. In many cases, the journey is the reward and greatly simplifying that journey is not that interesting to them. The other argument in favor of it that I find more compelling is the social aspect. Bestie's ability to share and comment and be part of a communal experience is powerful, but it does have a chicken and egg problem: you need people to use the app to get that value but people may not use the app until it has that particular value.