Shopping with a sense of humor? woot!

June 16, 2006

Not many shopping Web sites will call you a "poor, naive, deluded little fool" to your face. But then again, not many shopping Web sites are as irreverent as woot.com.

"For someone who writes marketing copy, I hate the way most of it is done," Jason Toon, the guy who just called you a fool, told UPI.

"I feel that my intelligence is being insulted, and that's something we never want to do at woot," Toon, Woot's self-described "communications dude," continued.

The concept behind the site is simple: Woot sells one product per day, every day. Usually the product on offer is a gadget, though not anything new or on the cutting edge of technology. For instance, wireless keyboards seem to be a popular woot.

"Woot," or "w00t," by the way, is a computer geek's exclamation of joy. Like, "I just found $100 on the sidewalk! w00t!"

Its origins are disputed -- some believe it is an acronym from computer war games, while others attribute it to the Simpsons. The shopping site has made it into a noun (a woot is the day's online sale) and a verb (the site exists to woot) as well.

The woots may not be top-of-the-line technology, but because the company's founder and Chief Executive Officer Matt Rutledge has 10 years of wholesale experience under his belt, they are usually fairly cheap.

"Because we have low prices, (the products) are still appealing to some people," Toon said.

This is also one of the reasons for the stinging, cynical product descriptions, Toon said.

"Our (tech-savvy) audience within minutes can find out a product's pros and cons, so there's no point in sugar coating," Toon said.

For instance: "'Why would I want to buy an Xbox Live headset?' you fulminate, spraying Ho-Ho crumbs all over your July issue of EGM. 'I got one free when I subscribed. What a rip-off -- or should I say Woot a rip-off.' Zing! You are absolutely right. That flimsy plastic headset is all you'll ever need," the site says of a video-game headset for sale one day several weeks ago.

The blog entry goes on to describe some of the headset's advantages "now that those losers (who complained of a rip-off left the site and) aren't listening."

But sometimes the site offers products that are almost impossible to promote. One recent woot was a desktop bundle -- keyboard, speakers and mouse -- all made to look like frogs.

"Submitted for your disapproval: the Frog Family Desktop Bundle. It's perfect for anyone who's ever said 'I could get a lot more work done if my peripherals were bright green and staring at me.'

"Let's get the specs out of the way, as if they matter: both the 107-key keyboard and the three-button mouse connect via PS/2, while the speakers use a standard 3.5mm audio plug. Oh, and they all have oversized, terrifying eyes that never blink, or look away, or betray a single moment's compassion," the site quipped.

"This is the only job where your boss says that what you write is too positive," Toon laughed. He added that the product manufacturers are not always thrilled about the light in which the woots are portrayed but usually come around when they see high sales figures.

Woot's marketing strategy, wittingly or unwittingly, incorporates a lot of what Internet analysts are calling Web 2.0, the second wave of the Internet revolution.

Technology research firm Gartner characterizes Web 2.0 as a very social experience, full of blogs and online communities, podcasts and social networks. Woot's blog draws hundreds of comments a day, and the site also has a daily podcast with an original song about the product on offer that day, Toon said.

This way, even when people don't want to buy that day's product, it gives them a reason to come back to the site, Toon explained.

The company employs about 30 people in 2 offices: one near Dallas and one in St. Louis. It does very little advertising.

"We want to make people go, 'What the hell?' To startle and totally surprise them," Toon said.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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