Although established players continue to dominate the shopping and comparison search space, a number of new companies have launched promising alternatives that offer even more features for searchers and merchants. Part one of the series is Shopping Search Week 2005, and part two is What's New in Shopping Search 2005.
Of all the new players in shopping and comparison search, Become.com has impressed me the most with its approach and differentiation from other services. You can see the difference right away when you first visit the service—the search form offers two options allowing you to "research" or "shop."
In addition to offering the usual product and price comparison capabilities, Become.com has created its own index of shopping-related content found on the web. So if you're just starting to research a product, using the "research" button on the search form brings up results from the web including manufacturer product information, reviews, forums where the product is being discussed by customers and so on.
Once you've gathered enough information, you can switch to "shop" mode which offers familiar comparison shopping results from various online vendors.
Become also offers a number of search refinement and suggestion tools that makes it easy to wade your way through the often complex morass of model numbers, SKUs and other cryptic product naming conventions.
I first wrote about Become.com in April when the service launched, and again in July when the company integrated its product research and comparison shopping capabilities. In October, the company announced move into Japan in a joint venture with Transcosmos Corporation.
Information about Become.com's program for merchants is available at the company's Merchant Dashboard.
Brilliant Shopper, a multi-faceted "shopping engine," launched in April 2005 with the goal of unifying the often fragmented process of researching and buying products online. Unlike most of the other shopping and product comparison services I've written about here, Brilliant Shopper is more of a meta-shopping search engine, aggregating product offers, coupons and other content from other sources.
For more on Brilliant Shopper, see A New Shopping Search Player, my overview of the service when it was first launched.
BuySafe is a company that has offered bonded shopping for eBay and other merchants for several years. What's bonded shopping? Essentially, it's an insurance policy that protects consumers from certain online transaction risks such as fraud, misrepresentation, refund failure and seller default.
In August, BuySafe launched its own comparison shopping service, BuySafeShopping.com, with listings exclusively from bonded sellers. BuySafeShopping.com currently features approximately 1.5 million Bonded Items, and transactions are guaranteed up to $25,000 per listing.
More information on how to become a bonded seller through BuySafe is available via this link.
Smarter.com actually launched in July 2004, but didn't really gain traction until this year. The company, founded by a group of ex-Overture employees, launched as a comparison shopping engine for computers and consumer electronics. The company has expanded the number of product categories it covers, and also added coupons and a nifty SMS service that sends the lowest price found for a product directly to your cell phone.
In September, Smarter.com announced that it would power shopping comparison on Snap.com. And in November, the company launched comparison shopping sites in Japan and China, claiming to be the first U.S. based comparison service launching in both of those countries.
Information about Smarter.com's program for advertisers is available here.
ViewScoreUnlike most product comparison services that focus on "how much" and "where to buy," ViewScore starts earlier in the shopping process, focusing on the "what to buy?" question. ViewScore crawls and indexes reviews and user testimonials from hundreds of sources on the web, and analyzes this information to come up with a numerical score that reflects a review's positive or negative opinion of a product.
A Trend to Watch: Shop Online, Buy Offline
Despite the popularity and success of online retail, the vast majority of purchases continue to be made at brick and mortar stores. Most people continue to use shopping search and comparison tools to research products that they end up buying from their local merchants. People buying and selling from their neighbors accounts for much of the reason Craig's List is one of Hitwise's top ranked sites in its shopping and retail category.
A relatively new breed of shopping services are capitalizing on that tendency, serving as online tools that specifically help you locate products and deals in your own neighborhood, bypassing online merchants altogether. Two of the most popular of these services are Cairo and ShopLocal.
Both sites use local advertising to find products, sales and other promotions offered by stores in your neighborhood. While the value of these types of sites is obvious for large, bulky items that are hard to buy online (think refrigerator), I've also found that they surface dual merchant/manufacturer rebates that I don't always find online, making it compelling to buy even things like electronic equipment from local retailers.
And just last week Google got into the game, introducing a local shopping feature that shows local merchants with products in stock next to a map of your local area in the U.S.
New Comparison Shopping Blogs
With shopping becoming one of the most popular vertical search categories, it was virtually inevitable that someone would start a blog focusing on the space. In fact, two well-written blogs appeared this year, and both are worth adding to your RSS feeds if you're particularly interested in following the space.
Organized Shopping actually appeared in December 2004, but really came into its own during the past year. Penned by Sean O'Rourke, the blog is a companion to Sean's comprehensive Organized Shopping Project, a directory of just about everything related to online retail.
In his blog, Sean notes and comments on a wide range of shopping and comparison search news, research reports and other related sources of information. Entries are categorized by topic, and links to each category are available on the right side of every post, making it easy to keep up with developments in all of the major players in comparison shopping.
Comparison Engines is a blog penned by Brian Smith, who launched with little fanfare last May. Brian does a great job of following news in the shopping and comparison search space, providing links to articles as well as his own comments and insights on various topics.
He also has good contacts with key players in the industry, so his posts often feature comments from key executives from the major services. From time-to-time, he also runs lengthy interviews.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.