After about 18 months of development, a new version AOL's shopping product is online today.
The In-Store.com/PinpointShopping.com database listings are powered by the BizRate database. The Pinpoint Search technology itself was developed in-house at AOL.
In-Store.com offers more browsing options and a few more features as when compared to the PinpointShopping.com site. Otherwise, both sites offer the same products from approximately 48,000 merchants.
You can browse at In-Store.com by departments/categories (Auto Parts & Care, Beauty & Health, Books, and nine other top-level categories).
In-Store.com/PinpointShopping.com's greatest strength is its ability to focus, refine, and sort result sets using a variety of options available throughout the search process.
In-Store is using the BizRate controlled vocabulary of product categories to help the searcher create better searches even BEFORE clicking the search button using AOL's "Smart Box" feature.
When I entered "Treo" into the search box a "Smart Box" appeared asking if I was searching for a "handspring treo in PDA & Handheld Computers." I was then able to click the hyperlink and run the search or add more search terms into the search box. Again, all of this happens prior to clicking the search button. A useful idea but it might get missed because people will simply enter their search terms and immediately click search.
Here's another search example. A search for "IPod" returns over 2800 hits. A box appears that reads:
"Whew - You have a lot of matches! Instead, try one of these departments."
The box contains a list of categories along with the total amount of "hits" in each category. A search for "IPod" returns 10 categories.
You'll also notice that directly below the list of categories a box with two "sponsored links" from Google. The box is shaded and labeled "sponsored links". However, there is no link for the searcher to click and find what "sponsored links" means. Not a big problem to fix. Actually, I'm not sure placing sponsored links into the search process is a good idea. An explanation of "sponsored links" can be found elsewhere on the site where these types of links also appear. Of course, I could also decide to close this box and begin browsing all 2800 hits.
Ok, I'll select the MP3 players category. This narrows my results down to 21 hits.
If I want to focus my results even more I can "shorten" them by using up to six refinements (brand, price range, etc.) available using pull-down menus. These refinement options change based on the product and product category.
Now, let's look at my 21 results.
You can click each entry for more detailed info/larger image along with selecting up to twelve products at a time to compare 12 items side-by-side.
It's also possible to sort the list of by price, store ratings, etc.
Finally, after selecting a specific product, I click the desired items link and find pricing info, more sponsored links, and more shopping suggestions.
If/when it's time to buy an item, you'll need to click again and go directly to the merchant's web site where you enter credit card and shipping info.
In-Store.com and PinpointShopping.com allow you to save your search results and product comparison pages for use at a later time. The feature is called "Remember It". This feature is only working at PinpointShopping.com as of today. You'll need to have an AOL sign-on to "remember" products.
A shop along with a friend feature (using AOL Instant Messenger) and a list of all 48,000 merchants is also available at In-Store.com.
Later this week AOL plans to roll out a price alert service. Shoppers will be notified if a product falls below a price threshold from a specific merchant. Alerts will be delivered via email, IM, or mobile device. The service will be available to anyone with an AOL sign-on.
Lots to check out here. I'm very impressed with how easy AOL has made refining large result sets. However, the more I used these tools I began asking myself if the novice or average searcher will be intimidated by the many search options.
As potentially useful as the Pinpoint technology is I still think Yahoo Shopping's Smart Sort sliders (available for just a few product categories) are easier and more intuitive to use for the average searcher than the pull-down menus. I just wished Yahoo offered this technology for more products. "Sliders" will also be part of Kayak, a soon to launch travel site.
In-Store.com and PinpointShopping.com are tools that you'll want to check out to see if either fit your searching style.
Nice work AOL!
More info in this news release.