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A New Shopping Search Player

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Brilliant Shopper, a multi-faceted "shopping engine," is launching this week with the goal of unifying the often fragmented process of researching and buying products online.

Founded by veterans of Ask Jeeves, Disney and IBM, Brilliant Shopper is one of the "next generation" shopping search services that have been springing up this year. These services are attempting to go beyond traditional approaches to shopping search by plugging gaps and addressing unmet needs that frustrate users.

The first generation of shopping search engines relied largely on structured product feeds provided by merchants. In many cases, merchants also pay a premium for placement in shopping search results.

As shopping search has evolved, web crawling technology is increasingly being used to supplement feeds, with the benefit of expanding the number of products and merchants available as well as offering additional types of information relevant to the shopping experience, such as reviews, ratings, coupons and so on.

Brilliant Shopper is a meta-shopping search engine of sorts. The company likes to call itself a "shopping engine," but it's really an aggregator of shopping-related content. Both Yahoo and Froogle use similar approaches, as does newly launched Become.com.

Brilliant Shopper has been in beta, and plans its official launch on Wednesday. The new service looks promising, but has a few rough edges. For one thing, it's difficult to know where search results are coming from. The company has several partners, but other than product listings obviously provided by Shopping.com and sponsored listings served by FindWhat, there's no indication of where content comes from.

Phillip Lan, founder and CEO of Brilliant Shopper says that there's no need to disclose partner relationships, because "partners are just tools that we use to get there." The important thing, he says, is that the user gets the best possible results.

While there's no denying the importance of the user experience, credibility is also important—particularly with shopping search—and I'd rather know up-front where info is coming from and something about why it's ranked the way it is. At SEW, we hold general-purpose meta search engines to the same disclosure standards.

Brilliant Shopper generally does live up to its goal of providing comprehensive shopping information for most searches. But the sheer number of results returned and the somewhat confusing user interface requires patience to find the really useful links, in many cases.

But I'm willing to give the company a break, and watch the service as it evolves. As with most other vertical search spaces, there isn't a clear leader yet in the shopping search arena. The major players continue to improve, but none have yet dominated—certainly not to the point of providing one-stop shopping search.

Which is good news, for us. It creates opportunities for companies like Brilliant Shopper to push out new services, which in turns spurs competition among existing players. I suspect my annual round-up of shopping search services next November will feature some interesting new developments, especially from some of the new players like Brilliant Shopper.

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