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What's New in Shopping Search

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It's been a busy year for the shopping search and product comparison services. Here's a look at what's new at the major players in the online shopping space.

Shopping.com

Although eBay is the largest merchant on the web, Shopping.com has the largest number of unique visitors of all of the sites that focus exclusively on product comparison and shopping referrals. The site, formerly known as DealTime, acquired consumer product review site Epinions in April. The combination created the fifth largest shopping site in the US at the time, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

The company also enhanced its services for merchants. In May, the company launched its new Epinions Merchant Surveys, and in June, lowered the minimum bids across all product and service categories and offered SKU volume discounts. July saw the launch of DealTime ROI Tracker to help merchants measure the success of their direct customer acquisition campaigns on the DealTime Network.

In September, the company officially changed its name to Shopping.com, offering more than one million consumer reviews with five million products from over three thousand stores. And last month, bucking the trend among dotcom firms, Shopping.com launched a television advertising campaign.

Shopping.com features more than 5 million products from over 3,000 merchants. More information on Shopping.com's Merchant program is available here.

BizRate

BizRate is the second most popular online shopping service, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. The company began life as an online business ratings company providing a business reputation system to buyers, according to Farhad Mohit, BizRate.com's Chairman and Chief Product Officer. While that's still a cornerstone of the service, BizRate offers many more features, as well.

About 18 months ago, the company decided to rebuild the service from the ground up, focusing on organized breadth, relevance and speed. Mohit says that any two of those features are easy to provide, but successfully pulling together all three is a technological nightmare.

Nonetheless, BizRate rolled out it's upgraded search engine last month. Compared to other shopping search engines, BizRate's scope is huge: more than 26 million products from 38,000 stores. Mohit says that the company's goal is to eventually include the more than 500 million online stores they've identified.

Taking a cue from Google, BizRate has developed an algorithm that goes beyond simple product or category keyword matching. "ShopRank" looks at a number of relevance measures, including pricing, merchant reputation, product popularity, and product availability to determine how results are presented.

BizRate also has a unique feature that lets you browse for similar products based on visual characteristics. For example, if you are looking for a bouquet of flowers and see one that's close but not exactly what you are looking for, clicking on a "similar products" icon shows only products that resemble the one you clicked on.

It's a neat feature, and Mohit says that BizRate is working on a feature that will let you cut and paste a picture from any source, or submit a picture from a cell phone as your query.

More information on BizRate's Merchant Listings is available here.

NexTag

Until this year, NexTag was known primarily as a search site focusing on consumer electronics and tech related products. Beginning in January, the company expanded its focus to include all consumer goods.

NexTag pioneered the concept of calculating total price by using a zip code to compute tax and shipping charges, in addition to the product price. This year, the company introduced what it calls "true price" which differs from most other shopping search services, according to NexTag co-founder and vice president of marketing Rafael Ortiz. The site's true price is not just estimated as it is elsewhere, but is calculated in real-time by taking information directly from shipping tables or formulas provided by retailers.

NexTag also offers a unique price history graph for tech-related products, showing fluctuations in average price over time. This makes it easier to decide whether to wait, or perhaps buy immediately if a recent price drop has made a product more attractive. The company also offers free price change alerts via email.

Merchants can pay for traffic from NexTag in three ways. For those who lack time or budget to manage a campaign, NexTag offers a single CPC rate for all products. For more control, bids can be managed at a category level, and for merchants concerned about tracking ROI for specific products, bids can be made down to the SKU level. NexTag also accommodates merchants that don't have an online store front, providing an email address as vehicle for qualified buyers.

Also unlike other shopping search services, which include both paid and unpaid listings, all of NexTag's 2,000-plus merchants pay for listings. Ortiz says that this serves as a quality control mechanism. "If you have to worry about letting anyone in, what can consumers expect?"

More information on NexTag's Seller Programs is available here.

Pricegrabber

Pricegrabber has also expanded its product offerings in the past year. New categories include jewelry, apparel, babies & kids, and home & garden.

Also new is a shopping list feature that let's you compare a basket of products among stores. This makes it easy to see the difference in total cost if you were to buy a number of different products from a single merchant or from separate merchants.

Like NexTag, Pricegrabber allows you to set up product trackers and get email alerts whenever prices change for products you're interested in.

Merchants will appreciate the Market Reporter feature that offers a rich source of near real time information on more than 40,000 actively traded products. This lets you follow traffic patterns, pricing trends and customer buying habits -- great information for fine-tuning your pricing and marketing strategies.

Market Reporter is an online tool with a variety of reports and charts available, but you can also download data to an Excel spreadsheet to conduct your own extensive analytics.

More information on PriceGrabber's seller programs is available here. PriceGrabber also offers storefronts to merchants who may not have an online presence.

Shopping at the Search Engines

Ask Jeeves, Google, Lycos, Dogpile, Metacrawler and Yahoo also offer shopping search options. We took a close look at Yahoo's new product search enhancements in a SearchDay review last September. Here's a roundup of what's available at the other services.

Ask Jeeves features a "Products Search" as both an icon on the home page, and as a radio button on search results pages. Product search is powered by PriceGrabber, though for some products (especially consumer electronics), Ask Jeeves has enabled its "smart search" results to provide detailed product information gleaned from a variety of sources. See the SearchDay article Going Shopping? Ask Jeeves for Advice for more information.

Nearly a year ago, Google launched Froogle, a service that the company claimed was "the most comprehensive product search engine available on the web." While Google added several enhancements to Froogle in September, it lacks many features offered by shopping search leaders, and doesn't appear to be as popular as the company's other services.

Lycos shopping is powered by its partner, BizRate, and takes advantage of many of the new upgrades BizRate has introduced this year, according to Tom Wilde, general manager of search services for Lycos. Lycos also recently enhanced its Sidesearch comparison tool to work in conjunction with the major shopping portals to offer a "second opinion" set of search results. See the SearchDay article Lycos Offers "Second Opinion" Search Results for more information.

Two InfoSpace meta search engines also offer shopping search powered by partner PriceGrabber, though they work differently. Dogpile Shopping is available via a radio button near the search form. Pricegrabber results are displayed in the framework of the Dogpile search options. By contrast, Metacrawler shopping results redirects your browser directly into the PriceGrabber site.

Tomorrow: A look at how search is playing an increasingly important role at the major online retailers.

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