Fanciful and unrealistic was, in 2008 and until 2012, a brand new incentives programme that rewarded consumers who wanted to buy a bit greener and more ethical, but who didn’t have time for fundamental product research or to check out a retailer or a brand’s ethical credentials. also invited active participation of its users, with a simple ratings slider that would augment the information base gathered by research. A green comparison engine that didn’t try to make money from user data as all other affiliate based incentive schemes were doing – often without the user’s realising – was new. Other green comparison products existed but were relying on user ignorance of their underying business model, or less than generous incentives (Tesco Green Club Card points – equivalent to offering a free biodegradeable shopper having just spent over £100). With the current crop of affiliate schemes, purveyors would make money regardless but customers perhaps didn’t care, as long as they got what “they” wanted.

Research just published by the Co-op bank, claimed at the time that the overall ethical market in the UK  (2006) was now worth £32.3 billion a year, up nine per cent in the previous 12 months and growing.  But for most of people ethical spending was still a very part time occupation, with only £600 per household being spent in line with those values.  The average household spend on green energy was a mere £6 a year, far less than it spent on Fair Trade bananas (most bananas were already claiming they were ethical).

By using incentives Ecomonkey was proposing to “mainstream” ethical consumerism rather than create another niche, by making it easier to choose green by modulating the incentive.  

The scheme made available a very wide range of products & lines, from the conventional and not so green, through to the very green, and set the incentives accordingly with many familiar and not so familar shopping channels on the books.

It offered a range of rewards in exchange for the points accumulated. The idea was to be able to get points through shopping initially and to offer the points based approach to the retailers themselves, once the idea had gained traction.

With greater choice consumers could green up their act at a pace which suited their needs, time and budget.

The target audiences were ABs and C1s, more likely literate internet users, motivated not just by the reward programme’s objectives and ethos, and the incentives themselves, but as busy pragmatists they wanted to save time and hassle. Maybe this group would be more likely to change their behaviour if they could buy with ease from familiar mainstream shops & suppliers using our green comparison engine i.e. didn’t have to track down well-hidden niche suppliers. The latter would still get the best incentives if they were genuinely greener but be visible alongside the more familiar outlets. But you could still buy the greenest fridge, from the cheapest retailer even if they were not be the greenest on the planet. Everyone wins.

Ecomonkey’s ratings were based on assessments and synthesis of information published by independent bodies and organisations that certify products and companies.  Ecomonkey would take on board and accept a wide range of opinions and views, including those of its users, campaigning organisations, and the retailers and brands themselves.

The site, which launched very quickly and positively in beta and to a fair bit of organic traction, failed to atttract new users economically. The marketing budget was drained quickly and without a fresh pile of cash to burn, it was relying entirely on passers-by (though these seemed to be happy enough with the referral links offered with no incentive). But before too long the scheme had to be closed to new users, the maintenance of the prodigious inventory was very time consuming, even with the automation tools that were built in. Eventually the database was closed to new products and the site left up as a demo. The maintenance of the software was another issue, which eventally led us to pull the plug.

In conclusion it was unrealistic and fanciful to setup a fully working beta with no budget for marketing or further development.

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