May 2005

Become.com Raises $7.2M Series B Funding

"With proceeds from the round, Become.com will unveil its price comparison shopping service this summer. Become.com will also expand and improve its shopping index which currently includes more than 3 billion pages of shopping related information."

Also in the press release, conference schedules for co-founders Michael Yang and Yeogirl Yun.

Become.com Raises $7.2M Series B Funding
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 31, 2005 at 3:34 PM
Archived at Become.com

Under The Radar Event: May 31, 2005 (Tomorrow!)

A one-day conference featuring early-stage companies in consumer technology.
May 31, 2005 | 8:00 am - 5:00 pm | Microsoft, Building 1 | Mountain View, CA
Schedule | About

Fatlens, Become.com, Realtime Enterprises, more...

Also, for those of us not in Silicon Valley, the Under The Radar blog.

Under The Radar Event: May 31, 2005 (Tomorrow!)
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 30, 2005 at 9:22 AM
Archived at Conferences

Next Week

Getting ready for a long weekend in Chicago, so no more posts this week. Next week, I want to collect my thoughts on two related topics:

* Sub-Ratings and Sub-Reviews

* Remixing Reviews: Why & How

Does public posting of a To Do list get things done faster? We'll see.

Next Week
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 25, 2005 at 12:53 PM
Archived at

SDForum Vertical Search Event: June 28, 2005

Vertical LEAP - overview, agenda, speakers, location, registration

Agenda (as of May 23)
8:30-9:00am Registration / Continental Breakfast
9:00-9:45am Keynote
10:00-10:45am Investing in Vertical Search
11:00-11:45am Local Search
12:00-1:00pm Lunch Provided
1:00-1:45pm Shopping Search
2:00-2:45pm Travel Search
3:00-3:45pm Classifieds / Job Search
4:00-4:45pm Emerging Categories in Vertical Search
5:00-5:45pm News / Blog Search

Looks like an essential event for many people who read this site.

I'm still 50/50 at this time. I'll post later if I'm able to swing it.

SDForum Vertical Search Event: June 28, 2005
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 23, 2005 at 3:05 PM
Archived at Conferences

NexTag: RedHerring Top 100 Private Company

Congratulations to the fine folks at NexTag on making this list for the second straight year.

An interesting claim from the press release:

"Based on NexTag's analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Labor, the company provides comparison shopping search coverage for 62 percent of the average U.S. consumers' annual expenditures by category, significantly more than any other comparison shopping website."

NexTag: RedHerring Top 100 Private Company
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 19, 2005 at 9:48 PM
Archived at NexTag

New Blog on Comparison Engines

Sweet! Another blog about online comparison engines:

www.comparisonengines.com

Only a week old and four posts, but it looks promising.

New Blog on Comparison Engines
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 19, 2005 at 1:17 AM
Archived at

Enuri: Korean Shopping Engine

noted: http://www.enuri.com/

Interesting interface features.

(note: if trying to translate with Babelfish, will need to start with a deep URL, will not work with the frameset URL.)

Enuri: Korean Shopping Engine
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 18, 2005 at 8:09 AM
Archived at Korea

BuscaPĂ©: Latin America Shopping Engine

markets: Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile

BuscaPĂ©: Latin America Shopping Engine
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 18, 2005 at 7:59 AM
Archived at Latin America

Attribute-Based Shopping Search Shootout

Attribute-Based Search

For better or worse, we have more product choices than ever before. A recent search of a shopping comparison site returned over a thousand results for digital cameras. How do we narrow a universe of over a thousand products to one best product?

At this point, we come to a fork in the road:

We could use an expert review to narrow the choices, but (1) the recommendations might not meet our requirements (2) the how do we know what the reviewer knows? Sometimes, Top "X" Lists come in more than one flavor, i.e. budget conscious vs. power users, but these tools are still crude as they cannot account for our individuality.

Enter attribute-based search, the powertool of the do-it-yourself online shopper.
(note: I also use the term "feature finder" in reference to attribute-based search.)

Attribute-based search is inclusive and individual. It is also based on a better bias; that of the shopper, instead of a reviewer. It lets us make an honest evaluation of our requirements, then go searching for products, instead of retrofitting our requirements to a short list of products.

In summary, attribute-based search has a hammer-to-nail relationship with the problem of product narrowing, and we can gain much from a division of labor between feature finders and product reviews. But which sites offer the most comprehensive attribute-based search?

Behind The Shootout...

I counted the number of attributes at six top comparison shopping engines for two types of products: tech-related and home-related. For this mini-shootout, the number of attributes was the only metric, nothing to do with which attributes were included, or how well they were covered. More in-depth measures will likely find their way into a future shootout.

note:
Price range was included as an attribute, so all sites got one "freebie" point, but additional price-related attributes (free shipping, specials, etc.) were not counted. The focus here is on the product. I will look at price feautres in detail for the upcoming Price Comparison Week.

note:
Epinions was used instead of Shopping.com. Epinions has a logical interface and now contains all attributes. Shopping.com has a confusing menu that sometimes hides additional attributes.

Example: Digital Cameras

The table below shows the differences that can exist for attribute-based search on different comparison shopping engines.

 


Attributes (#) 14 6 17 8 7 5
Price ($)
Brand
Stores/Sellers        
Camera, Type    
Color, Exterior          
Flash, Type          
Focus, Type          
Image Format, Type          
Image Sensor, Type          
Interchangeable Lens, With/Without          
Interface/Connectors, Type        
LCD Panel, Y/N          
LCD Panel, Size      
Memory/Media, Installed      
Memory/Media, Type  
Product Line          
Resolution, Megapixels
Video Format, Type          
Video Resolution        
Zoom, Digital          
Zoom, Optical  
Viewfinder Type        
Weight, oz.          

Legend

Select (Single)

Sort

Fixed Range

Input Range

A few attributes are common to all of the sites (price, brand, megapixels). More attributes, such as optical zoom and media format, are on almost all of the sites. Yet, a fair amount of attributes, such as weight and flash type, are unique to one of these sites.

No shopping comparison site in this study contains every attribute. Also, sites can cover the same attributes, but display the options in very different ways. This is especially common for numeric-based attributes, i.e. single values vs. narrow ranges vs. broad ranges vs. sorting.

Tech-Related Products


The top comparison shopping engines had more attributes for tech-related products than home-related products. In this limited sample, Technology had more attributes than Home by a 2 to 1 ratio.

Shopzilla looks like they have made the decision to go very deep on popular categories.

PriceGrabber, which has roots on the tech side, is only a little above-average in this area.


 
 
Digital
Cameras
17 14 8 7 6 5
Camcorders 20 14 9 8 6 5
Laptops 27 14 11 8 7 5
Desktops 24 12 9 6 8 5
MP3 Players 17 10 7 7 5 5
Scanners 12 10 5 6 6 5
PDAs 13 12 7 9 8 5
TOTAL 130 86 56 51 46 35
AVERAGE 18.6 12.3 8.0 7.3 6.6 5.0
PERCENT 100% 66.1% 43.0% 39.2% 35.4% 26.9%

Home-Related Products


Epinions, solid on the Tech side, shines on the Home side. They do not offer the option to refine by merchant, so the gap in the number of stricly product related attributes is larger than what is displayed here, by a full point.

Here, Yahoo Shopping and NexTag are able to surpass Shopzilla and PriceGrabber... The Tortoise And The Hare?


 
 
Washers 11 5 7 3 3 2
Dryers 7 6 7 3 3 2
Vacuums 9 6 3 4 3 2
Refrigerators 6 6 6 4 3 3
Microwaves 5 6 6 5 3 3
Toasters 5 5 3 4 3 2
Air Conditioners 6 6 5 4 3 2
TOTAL 49 40 37 27 21 16
AVERAGE 7.0 5.7 5.3 3.9 3.0 2.3
PERCENT 100% 81.6% 75.5% 55.1% 42.9% 32.7%

Summary, by Service

Epinions/Shopping.com
Pro - the "long-tailer" of attributes, unique attributes for a wide range of products.
Con - Shopping.com's way of displaying additional attributes is counter-intuitive.

Shopzilla
Pro - strong in tech categories such as computers/electronics.
Con - inelegant pop-up menu for browing additional attributes.

Nextag
Pro - relatively decent number of attributes on less competetive categories.
Con - relatively small number of attributes on more competetive categories.

PriceGrabber
Pro - recently changed from drop-down boxes to drill-down links.
Con - very weak in non-technical areas such as Home & Garden.

Yahoo Shopping
Pro - relatively decent number of attributes on less competetive categories.
Con - relatively small number of attributes on more competetive categories.

MSN Shopping (beta)
Pro - it is beta, the final attribute-based search could be completely different.
Con - low cap on the number of attributes per product, ranges are not useful.

Overall
Pro - everyone is showing the number of products that match each attribute.
Con - widespread use of narrow ranges where sorting is more appropriate.*

* for example...when searching for a computer, why should I ever need to choose 512 or 768 or 1024 megs of RAM? If I only need 512, but would like more, the most logical solution is an option to search for greater than or equal to 512. Otherwise, I have to choose between one of two unnecessary limitations. If I choose low (512), I could miss products in the same price range, only with more RAM. If I choose high (1024), I could miss product that meet my need, yet satisfy more of my other wants.

Summary, for Shoppers

If you are shopping for tech-related products, most comparison shopping engines have the basic features, and Shopzilla and Epinions look like good sites for advanced features. (Or, if available, a niche product portal, such as dpreviews.com.) If you are looking for "non-geek" products, Epinions is the most reliable starting point, and NexTag and Yahoo Shopping are also competitve. But this brings us to an important point, the integration of attribute-based search and the rest of the buying process. One of these sites is not like the other...

Perhaps the most powerful one-two punch in comparison shopping is the transition from attribute-based search to sorted product reviews. After going to all the trouble to refine your results with a precise process, why settle for a list of results that is unordered or undefined?

Here is a summary of shopping engines and their ability to sort by the highest-rated products:
Sort by Reviews, Yes - Epinions/Shopping.com, Shopzilla, PriceGrabber, MSN Shopping
Sort by Reviews, No - NexTag, Yahoo Shopping

Overall, if I had to name a winner in terms of attribute-based search, it would be Epinions (Shopping.com). But no site covers every feature, so if a less popular feature is a must-have, you will need to find a shopping engine with the right attribute-based search for your needs.

p.s. - if you know any niche product portals with great attribute-based search, let me know.

+ + +

upcoming shootout: Price Comparison Week

Attribute-Based Shopping Search Shootout comments(3)
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 17, 2005 at 7:38 AM
Archived at Feature Finders

Do-It-Yourselfers vs. Take-Your-Word-Forits

Monday ramblings before reading The Paradox of Choice.

I talk to a lot of people about how they shop, and I am always amazed at how many ways we can go about the same task. Yet, I think there is a distinction to be made for two groups of shoppers; the do-it-yourselfers and take-your-word-forits. The latter searches for a product that meets their requirements, the former searches for the product that meets their requirements, and then some.

extreme description:
do-it-yourself - reads buying guides, forms detailed requirements, scours the product universe, tests all of the contenders, shops for the best price, buys.
take-your-word - buys solely on a friend's recommendation, no research on product features, no research on competing products, no research on price.

More accurately, these are two extremes of a shopping-activity spectrum, and we all lean to one side or the other in varying degrees. The difference is how much and at what point in the buying process we use outside opinions.

practical description:
do-it-yourself - searches for all products that meet their requirements, reads reviews for the remaining canidates (forward-moving, more inclusive).
take-your-word - reads top picks from expert sources, compares top picks against their product requirements (backwards-moving, less inclusive).

...to be continued after reading The Paradox of Choice.

Do-It-Yourselfers vs. Take-Your-Word-Forits
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 16, 2005 at 11:12 AM
Archived at

Reputation Management and Pricing Power

cool stat:

"Looking at matched pairs of lots... buyers were willing to pay a STRONG-reputation seller 8.1% more on average than a NEW seller."

source: The Value of Reputation on eBay: A Controlled Experiment (.pdf)

Reputation Management and Pricing Power
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 15, 2005 at 3:12 PM
Archived at Merchant Ratings

LEAP: The Lightweight Employment Access Protocol

www.leaprss.org

"(LEAP) is an extension of RSS 2.0 that adds job meta-data to RSS to create a lightweight, bandwidth efficient and standards based method for bulk job syndication. This website is the home of the working draft of LEAP version 1.0."

...from the founders of workzoo.com

Not shopping-related per se, but an interesting development. First, everyone and their grandma is starting a vertical search engine. Now, everyone and their great-uncle is proposing some kind of microformat.

Will these microformats entice new entrants into vertical search?

Or will microformats only serve to strengthen the current players?

-added-

May 14, 2005 @ 3PM EST - I searched for "Lightweight Employment Access Protocol" at Google, Yahoo and MSN:

Google: No soup for you! 0 results
Yahoo: No soup for you! 0 results
MSN: Yesss! 1 result, leaprss.org

I (heart) fresh search results...

LEAP: The Lightweight Employment Access Protocol
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 14, 2005 at 12:24 PM
Archived at Jobs

Shopping.com International Expansion

In an interview with TheStreet.com, Dan Ciporin said he would be surprised if their international revenue did not surpass their domestic revenue within five years.

also:
France: signed 90% of France's top 50 merchants.
Germany: plans to launch by the end of the year.
Asia: extremely important long-term opportunity.

More details at the the article and the interview (runtime = 16:28).

The interview also covered topics such as stock price, marketing expenses, revenue per lead, and leadership transition.

Shopping.com International Expansion
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 14, 2005 at 10:39 AM
Archived at Shopping.com

In Orlando

In Orlando, working on a new shopping tool with a developer friend. Presented screenshots, explained functionality, answered questions. Now he is doing the coder thing. Looks like a good time to work on the "To Blog" list that has been building for the last two months...

In Orlando
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 14, 2005 at 9:43 AM
Archived at

hReview: The Review Microformat

Potentially big news in the world of product reviews, the hReview microformat.

What is hReview? (What is a Microformat?)

microformat - "a set of simple open data format standards that many... are actively developing and implementing for more/better structured blogging and web microcontent publishing in general."

hReview, introduced late last month as a draft specification, outlines a standard review format, useful for distribution and aggregation (format, examples). As stated in the scope, " Reviews consistently share several common fields. Where possible hReview has been based on this minimal common subset."

Who Is Behind hReview?

Authors come from Technorati, Yahoo, Microsoft, America Online, CommerceNet Labs and Six Apart.

Emphasis on companies with large amounts of user-created content:

Six Apart Movable Type, TypePad, LiveJournal
AOL Hometown
Microsoft Spaces
Yahoo 360

Note the lack of pure-play comparison shopping companies...

User-Review Dynamics

Interestingly, the authors of hReview are primarily from companies that are not in the business of product reviews, or companies that are relatively weak in this area. The hReview format allows these companies to form a powerful partnership with other people who are not in the business of product reviews, their users.

Together, voila!, they are in the business of product reviews.

Disruptive technology at its finest.

But wait... why would people make their reviews freely available in such a format?

The reality is that most people already contribute their reviews for free. Whether it is to Amazon.com, a review site, or a comparison shopping engine, people contribute their reviews to the places where:
(1) their reviews have the best chance of being read (aggregation as a two-way street)
(2) they have been helped by other people's reviews (the importance of community)

Again, we go back to the different motivations of people who are not in the business of product reviews. Unlike the existing aggregators of product reviews, who must carefully consider the tradeoff of more traffic vs. losing their place in the aggregation food chain, the individual "aggregatees" have no such concerns.

Any way you slice it, the user wins.

As a shopper, they get the following:
(1) "long tail" reviews - products and services that are not covered by comparison shopping engines.
(2) unfiltered reviews - the real, naked truth, told by people who have no relationship with advertisers.

As a publisher, they get the following:
(1) control of content - edit, add, delete... it is your review.
(2) revenue potential - even micro-publishers can join the market-driven ad programs such as AdSense.

Opportunities, Threats

What is the potential long-term impact of hReview on comparison shopping engines (CSEs)?

Shopping Engines vs. Shopping Communities - shopping aggregators will need to build a richer relationship with their increasingly empowered userbase, to be worthy of user-submitted reviews. Otherwise, they risk losing the critical mass needed to maintain the read/write cycle of user reviews.

Spidering CSEs vs Non-Spidering CSEs - microformats such as hReview could deepen the divide between comparison shopping sites that have access to search spidering technology, and the have nots. Spider-enabled aggregators should be more comprehensive, by blending a primary database of in-house reviews, and a secondary database of reviews from around the Web.

The Long Road Ahead

Of course, a common format is only the first step in aggregating reviews.

Adoption by reviewers is the next step. At first, hReviews could be "all dressed up with no place to go" with no immediate user benefit. However, the supply side of the equation should be solved relatively easily via integration by a few large content management systems (CMSs).

Aggregation is the hard part. At first, when adoption is limited to a small group of tech-savvy, well-intentioned parties, aggregation will appear easy. Then, as commercial interests grow stronger, the dynamics will change. The long-term solutions will require industrial-strength reputation management.

hReview or no hReview, Technorati or no Technorati, a review microformat seems logically inevitable in the long term, so now is a good time to re-think the role of aggregators in a microformatted Web.

(authority, community...)

Word Around The Web

Niall Kennedy, "Want to get involved? Great! Check out the hReview specification, take a look at the examples, and build your own implementations for your favorite publishing tools and sites."

Om Malik, "PS: I wonder when hReview, the micro-format for reviews like this will be implemented in WordPress and other popular CMS systems like TypePad."

Jonas Luster, "You can bet your hiney there’ll be a WordPress and Drupal plugin as soon as I find the time :)"

Greg Yardley, "...any microcontent format worth its chops needs to include a clear specification of the rights granted by the original owner, and if these rights are for sale, specifies the amount and means of payment - or at least a pointer to that information."

Tantek Çelik, "Feedback is strongly encouraged."

P.S.

I think the hidden strength of this format could be the "tags" section.

hReview: The Review Microformat comments(1)
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 11, 2005 at 9:44 AM
Archived at Product Reviews

ThomasB2B.com adds Product Catalogues for Industrial Parts

"While consumer websites like Froogle.com and Shopping.com have published consumer catalog information for several years, ThomasB2B.com is the first online publisher in the business-to-business arena to begin to publish business catalogs in scale. With this service, business users will be able to rapidly identify hard-to-find industrial products across dozens of vendor catalogs."
...continue reading press release

ThomasB2B.com adds Product Catalogues for Industrial Parts
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 8, 2005 at 9:33 PM
Archived at B2B Shopping Engines

ValueClick on PriceRunner in the U.S. Market

Piper Jaffray analyst Aaron Kessler asked Jim Zarley (ValueClick CEO) how PriceRunner would be differentiated from the competition once it enters the U.S. market.

"Click for the quote at the InternetStockBlog.com"

ValueClick on PriceRunner in the U.S. Market
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 6, 2005 at 11:50 AM
Archived at PriceRunner

Interview with Phillip Lan, CEO of Brilliant Shopper

Last week, I got to talk to Phillip Lan, CEO and Co-Founder of Brilliant Shopper, a metasearch comparison shopping site.

Metasearch engines, which aggregate multiple search sources, have been around for years in the area of general web search. Currently, the Open Directory Project lists 49 metasearch sites and 36 multi-search sites, while the Yahoo Directory has 96 all-in-one search listings. But in the area of shopping comparison, this is a new development.

Like many people in shopping comparison, Phillip cited "opportunity from frustration" as motivation for starting his company. They key to making shopping easy, he said, is to focus on an intuitive interface. (Disclaimer: I agree.) He added that comparison shopping engines need to find a way to scale better, to leverage crawling technology better. So far, so good.

Now, for all the philisophical agreement during the interview, honestly, the week before the interview, I did not know what to think of this site. At the time, it appeared to be a straightforward integration of two feeds, with no hint of the evolution of shopping. But since that time, Brilliant Shopper has added several feeds, including Coupons, Product Reviews and Product Forums. Now that is what I'm talking about!

As for its its overall effectiveness as a shopping tool, I think it is much too early to evaluate. The point is they appear to be moving in the right direction, towards an integration of diverse shopping sources. That, coupled with an explosion of syndication technology, could make Brilliant Shopper a site to watch. "The site comes along every hour," Phillip says.

+ + +

Question & Answer

Q: What do you say to arguments that this is not a sustainable business model... that is would be easy to duplicate?

A: (bulleted summary)
(1) focus on the user experience
(2) a combination of external feeds and proprietary algorithm
(3) a partner list that is expanding as we speak
(4) this is beta, proprietary developments will be expanding

Q: Do you plan to support browsers like Firefox, post-beta?

A: Yes, definitely, it is in the works.

Q: When do you plan to leave beta?

A: Q3

+ + +

see also:
Products | Services | Coupons | Gift Ideas | About

coverage:
MarketingShift | Search Engine Watch | SearchViews | SiliconBeat

Interview with Phillip Lan, CEO of Brilliant Shopper
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 5, 2005 at 8:50 AM
Archived at Brilliant Shopper

Gift Finders

Ever since Yahoo announced their partnership with ChoiceStream, I've been meaning to take a deeper look at the various gift-finding tools. Unfortunately, this month is not the best time for "shootout"-depth analysis. Luckily, Danny Sullivan provided a gift-finder overview at Search Engine Watch. Now, David Beach (product manager at Yahoo! Shopping) shares his thoughts on their new tool.

For anyone who wants to dig deeper into the gift-finding engines, here are deep links to Mother's Day gift ideas at the major sites:

* Yahoo! Shopping Gift Finder: Mother's Day

* Gifts.com: Mother's Day

* Surprise.com: Mother's Day

* FindGift.com: Mother's Day

Gift Finders
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 4, 2005 at 7:20 AM
Archived at Yahoo! Shopping

New! Mortgage Comparison Shopping from Shopping.com

Shopping.com Debuts Services Category With Beta Launch in Mortgages (investor.shopping.com)

"Shopping.com Mortgages allows consumers to shop for mortgages with the same detailed level of associated attributes; customized search; and structured, intuitive presentation previously available only in consumer products and unprecedented in financial services."

Most sites use a "black box" model for financial services, but Shopping.com looks to be going 180 degress in the other direction. Very interesting.

New! Mortgage Comparison Shopping from Shopping.com
Posted by Sean O'Rourke on May 3, 2005 at 8:34 AM
Archived at Shopping.com



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Attribute-Based Shopping Search Shootout
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What if Popular Products had 1000+ Reviews?
Product Portals - How Big Are They?
Why I Don't Use Shopping Comparison Sites
How Many Shopping Engines Do We Need?
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