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What's New in Shopping Search 2005

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The second installment of Shopping Search Week 2005 features a rundown of key changes and new services offered by the major players in the comparison and shopping search arenas. Part one of the series is Shopping Search Week 2005.

AOL InStore Shopping
http://www.instore.com/

AOL got into shopping search in a big way in September 2004 when it debuted its InStore Shopping service. InStore combines the shopping technology developed by AOL, with sophisticated filtering, alert, and shopping list features with the extensive index of product offers from Shopzilla, which also features strong price, popularity and product availability features.

AOL introduced a comprehensive mobile search offering in July, offering shopping as one of the options. For mobile search, results offer a fair amount of information, including price range, product descriptions and ratings. You can access AOL shopping either on your web-enabled phone or via a browser using this link.

In November, the company rolled out the a feature allowing you to search AOL shopping via AOL instant messenger, using a "Shopping Buddy" robot. To access this service, you need to have the AIM instant messenger client installed.

AOL works directly with just 75 merchants. To get included in InStore shopping results, see the link for merchant information for Shopzilla, below.

Froogle
http://froogle.google.com

Not much changed with Google's shopping service Froogle this year. In August, the company introduced an enhanced version of Froogle Mobile, and also launched Froogle in the U.K.

In April, Google introduced a new Google Group for Froogle Merchants to discuss issues related to the service.

Also in April, Google sued rival shopping search engine Froogles.com, charging company with trademark infringement and asking the court to shut down the company and transfer the Froogles.com domain name to Google. Google went ahead with its suit despite having lost an ICANN arbitration complaint the previous year.

The company is also testing a "local shopping" service to local merchants in the U.S. that have products you're looking for. Simply enter a product name and a zip code or city and state. Results are displayed in a split-screen, with a list of merchants that have items in stock displayed on the left side of the screen, and a map on the right.

An additional search form at the top of the page is also displayed, allowing you to change either the product name or location to run a new search. The data comes from a third-party inventory database that Google won't name.

To get listed in Froogle, see Google's Information for Merchants.

MSN Shopping
http://shopping.msn.com

MSN Shopping went through a complete overhaul this year, morphing from essentially a large, online mall with a couple-hundred well-known merchants participating to a full-scale comparison shopping service with millions of product offerings from thousands of merchants.

MSN accomplished this by completely revamping its own internal technology and by entering into agreements with partners to provide pieces the company opted not to develop on its own.

From a user standpoint, the MSN shopping looks and feels completely different, with a cleaner, speedier interface. It's easy to either search or browse for products by categories, and the presentation of products, refinement tools and other information changes depending on what you're doing. "The goal should be not to have a compelling [user interface” but to allow content to come to forefront," said Scott Austin, director of consumer programming for MSN Shopping.

MSN Shopping now uses product feeds from eBay, PriceGrabber and Shopping.com in addition to the feeds it has always used from major merchants. The result is more than 27 million product offers from over 7,000 stores. But MSN goes beyond simply aggregating product offerings.

MSN Shopping has a team of category managers who specialize in particular areas, such as consumer electronics and jewelry, and tailor the search/browse experience to meet the needs of consumers shopping for those types of products. The company also aggressively "cleans" data from product feeds to avoid duplicate offerings.

The new MSN Shopping, rolled out in the U.S. in August, also powers MSN shopping in Australia, and will soon be rolled out in Canada and Japan. Austin says that the platform will be extended to other countries through the course of next year.

MSN Shopping doesn't have direct relationships with merchants beyond the couple of hundred large merchants with existing relationships. To get your products included in MSN Shopping, make sure you're participating in the merchant programs offered by PriceGrabber and Shopping.com.

MSN Shopping also rolled out a new MSN Shopping Insider blog focusing on the ongoing developments and updates at the service.

NexTag
http://www.nextag.com

NexTag spent the year primarily strengthening its existing service, according to Stephen Imbler, NexTag's vice president and CFO. The company doubled its number of product offerings and "substantially increased" the number of merchants using its services.

For shoppers, NexTag rolled out two features: A toolbar for Internet Explorer, which searches both product and travel offerings, and RSS feeds in all category and search result pages. Of the two features, RSS feeds are the most interesting and useful, because they provide near real-time updates for price changes, user ratings and other information for products you're interested in buying. Look for the orange RSS icon at the bottom of result pages to take advantage of this feature.

For merchants, NexTag deployed a new ROI optimizer that helps improve conversions. The company also upgraded its seller dashboard with real-time information, offering day to day reporting and tracking of user behavior. See Become a NexTag Seller for more information about NexTag's merchant programs.

PriceGrabber
http://www.PriceGrabber.com

PriceGrabber had a busy year, rolling out a number of new services and increasing both the number of merchants and product offerings available in its comparison shopping service.

During the first part of the year, PriceGrabber announced deals to power shopping search for Consumer Guide, Tom's Hardware Guide and MSN Shopping, significantly increasing the reach offered to merchants using PriceGrabber's merchant program.

In October, the company launched a cell phone, plans and accessories channel, allow shoppers to find and compare cell phones and plans from multiple carriers and different resellers based on preferences, such as monthly minutes, monthly cost and available phones.

In November, the company introduced a travel service, allowing users to search for offers from "dozens" of air travel and hotel operators, and get FlightStats comparative on-time flight ratings.

Internationally, PriceGrabber expanded its UK presence, adding more product categories and features. The company also launched a Canadian shopping and price comparison service focusing on local Canadian merchants.

More information about PriceGrabber's merchant and advertiser programs is available via this link.

Shopping.com
http://www.shopping.com

The big event this year for Shopping.com was its acquisition by eBay for $21 per share in cash for a total purchase price of $634 million. The company continues to operate as a standalone operation.

Shopping.com also continued its international expansion, launching in France in March and Germany in November. The company also expanded into services, offering a mortgage comparison service in May.

Like PriceGrabber, Shopping.com also put together a strategic alliance with MSN in August.

Information about Shopping.com's advertising and merchant programs is available via this link.

Shopzilla
http://www.shopzilla.com

Like Shopping.com, Shopzilla was acquired by a much larger company this year. In June, media giant E.W. Scripps agreed to pay $525 million in cash for Shopzilla. Like Shopping.com, Shopzilla also continues to be run as a standalone company.

In June, Shopzilla announced zLabs, a technology preview site. The first offering on the site was Robozilla, an experimental, massive shopping search service with access to more than 40 million product offerings.

Yahoo Shopping
http://shopping.yahoo.com

Yahoo Shopping continued to expand and improve this year, expanding to nearly 100 million product offerings and adding a number of new features, including "social shopping search" with what it calls the "shoposphere." The shoposphere adds bloglike features to the shopping experience, allowing users to create "pick lists" of favorite products to share with others.

Yahoo also made mobile shopping much more accessible and robust this year, and as it has with so many of its services, opened up Shopping search to developers through a set of APIs that tap into the same technology that powers Yahoo shopping.

I wrote about many of these new features in detail a few weeks ago in Yahoo Personalizes Shopping, Adds Community Features.

Yahoo Shopping has two options for merchants. You can build your own online store, hosted by Yahoo, or you can participate in the Yahoo product submit program.

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