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Last week the news was filled with stories (and press releases) about the new TM-killer auction site that was going to steal away the incumbent's customers by offering better prices.
Well Wheedle launched on Monday and the result was -- less than underwhelming -- a lot less.
After being knocked about by high traffic levels (who'd have expected that?), several security issues were discovered and eventually the whole thing was shut down for "an audit".
What a giant stuff-up!
As the old saying goes -- you only get one chance to make a first-impression and Wheedle blew it -- totally!
So why did things go so very, very wrong? caught out by TM's price hikes. one chance for a first impression
Well obviously the site wasn't properly tested. It's been a while since I did a site audit but over they years I've done hundreds -- and I strongly doubt they had external testing done before the launch. Every experienced systems analyst and project manager knows that the people who design and write the code are *not* the people who should be testing it prior to release.
So why wasn't it properly tested?
Well I'm going to be charitable and say that Wheedle was trying very hard to capitalise on the recent TM fee increases.
What better time to launch a competitor to TM than when it has just slammed customers with yet another price hike?
I can imagine that the marketing team (or person) was pushing like hell to get the site up and running ASAP once TM announced its new prices and knowing how these things tend to go, any protests from the development team would have been quickly silenced by management.
"This is too good an opportunity to miss -- we can fix any problems as they arise" would have been the response from those eying the money.
Well it was a gamble -- but it didn't pay off.
Now Wheedle has a huge number of people who will be more than a little gun-shy about returning to trust Wheedle with their information and business.
And let's face it -- some of the systems-design decisions have to be highly questionable...
Sending passwords out by email in plaintext?
Even the fact that the site was overloaded during the pre-launch period when all it had to do was serve up a static webpage ought to have been adequate warning that something was very wrong with Wheedle.
I also wonder how much of the problem was down to communications between NZ management and the Indian development team. As programmers, Indians can be damned good at their job but it's been my experience that there are often some huge communication issues when trying to liaise with such teams. Was Wheedle a victim of this?
Whatever the cause, the effect is that Wheedle's brand has been badly tarnished, before it even got off the ground. Heads should roll!
Perhaps the more important question now is -- what now for Wheedle?
Well if I were managing this project, I'd go back to the drawing board.
Dump the Wheedle name (which as I pointed out in a previous column was an awful bit of branding anyway). Go back to the drawing board and re-design the system from the ground up, with the objective of coming up with some exciting, innovative, valuable and distinctive features when compared to TradeMe.
Playing "also ran" will not do more than give you a tiny fraction of the online auction market.
To "own" the online auction marketplace you have to redesign that marketplace. You have to come up with something so distinctive that TradeMe will be left completely on the back-foot and playing catch-up.
You need a point of distinction so powerful and unique that people will flock to *your* service because it's the only game in town where they can find that killer-feature.
Don't play the price-game Wheedle -- it's one you can't win and this isn't 1999 when making a profit from your online venture wasn't important.
So long as your only point of distinction is price, TradeMe can turn around in 10 seconds and blow you away by dropping its own prices and TM has a whole lot more cash to play with than even Graham has. In a war of attrition based on maintaining the lowest price, TM will win hands-down. It's a game that Wheedle is guaranteed to lose so why even play *that* game?
Personally, I'm appalled at the lack of innovation being shown by TM's would-be competitors -- just as I'm appalled by TM's own stagnation.
As I've said so often before, if *I* had the money and the time, I'm pretty sure I'd blow TM right out of the water and create new markets that I would *own* right from day one.
Remember -- when it comes to businesses -- the bigger they are the slower they move and the harder they fall. I'm sure Wheedle was thinking this -- just before it tripped on its own shoelaces, smashed its skull onto the pavement and passed away after a death-dance lasting less than two days.
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