Price comparison service
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On the internet, a price comparison service (also known as comparison shopping, shopping comparison, or price engine) allows individuals to see different lists of prices for specific products. Most price comparison services do not sell products themselves, but source prices from retailers from whom users can buy. In the UK, these services made between £120m and £140m in revenue in 2005[dated info].
The internet boom of the late 1990s made price comparison profitable. Price comparison services were initially implemented as client-side add-ins to the Netscape and Internet explorer browsers, and required that additional software be downloaded and installed. After these initial efforts, comparison shopping migrated to the server so that the service would be accessible to anyone with a browser. Services which are now offered by websites dedicated to price comparison and by major portals.
In the late 1990s, as more people gained access to the internet, a range of shopping portals were built that listed retailers for specific product genres. Retailers listed paid the website a fixed fee for appearing. These were little more than an online version of the Yellow Pages. As technology has improved, a newer "breed" of shopping Web portals is being created that are changing both the business model and the features and functionality offered. These sites do not "aggregate" data-feeds provided from the retailers, they search and retrieve the data directly from each retailer site. That allows for a much more comprehensive list of retailers and the ability to update the data in real time.
Generic portals and search engines launched similar services and companies that stood to benefit from increased internet shopping (especially credit card and delivery firms) launched similar sites. Many of these services have since closed.
Through 1998 and 1999, various firms developed technology that searched retailers websites for prices and stored them in a central database. Users could then search for a product, and see a list of retailers and prices for that product. Advertisers did not pay to be listed, but paid for every click on a price. Streetprices, founded in 1997, has been a very early company in this space; it invented price graphs and email alerts in 1998. These useful services let users see the high and low price of any product graphed over time, and request email alerts when a product's price drops to the price the user wants. Other price search engines have also evolved to provide consumers sophisticated price-tracking tools, such as price drop alerts and price history tracking.
Consolidations and acquisitions
- Inktomi acquired C2B Technologies for common stock worth about $160M.
- Kelkoo merged with Dondecomprar and ShopGenie. Later that year Kelkoo and Zoomit finalized their £100 million merger with ZoomIt. Kelkoo's investors owned about two thirds of the merged company
- CNet acquired mySimon for common stock worth approximately $700M
- ShopSmart relaunched under Barclays ownership
- UK Power Ltd launches ukpower.co.uk the fifth Ofgem approved online gas and electricity price comparison service. Approved by Ofgem in November 2001.
- Barclays announced that they were to close ShopSmart, with all traffic redirected to Kelkoo.
- eBay acquired Shopping.com for $620m
- E.W. Scripps acquired Shopzilla $525m
- Experian acquires PriceGrabber for $485m
- In March, Google acquired Dulance, Inc., a Long Tail price comparison engine, based in Moscow, Russia.
- In July, Idealo was taken over by the majority from the media company Axel Springer which purchased 74.9% of Idealo Internet GmbH for an undisclosed sum.
- In October, LAN Services, LLC bought SmarterDeals.com for an undisclosed sum. The website provides price comparison on computer hardware, software, and portable electronics.
- MeziMedia (owner of Smarter.com) acquired by ValueClick for up to $352m 
- In June, private equity firm Providence Equity Partners bought two-thirds of NexTag.
- In August, the Hearst Corporation bought Kaboodle for about $30 million.
- In October, Microsoft bought Jellyfish.com for $50m.
- Greenfield Online (owner of Ciao) acquired by Microsoft for up to $486m 
- Affiliate Window Released their CPA based shopping API system ShopWindow which is used by over 250 UK shopping related websites.
- 2010-03-11: Yahoo Shopping USA closes down and becomes powered by Price Grabber 
- 2010-07-13: eBay Launches Korean Price Comparison Website, about.co.kr 
- 2010-07-15: Kelkoo announce the launch of the Kelkoo.com USA price comparison website.
- 2010-07-30: Bing USA cashback program (cashback.com) was discontinued and is now transformed to a classic price comparison engine.
- 2010-08-20: Google acquired Like.com, a visual shopping engine 
- 2010-09-06: News Digital Media (AU) announced that they had acquired 100% of Australian shopping comparison website GetPrice.com.au.
- 2010-11-09: NexTag announces the acquisition of nextcoupons.com
- 2010-12-15: Market America acquires shop.com
- 2011-03-07: Google acquires UK financial comparison site Beatthatquote.com for US$61.5M.
- 2011-04-29: Shopzilla sold to Symphony Technology Group for $165M 
Price comparison sites can collect data directly from merchants. Retailers who want to list their products on the website then supply their own lists of products and prices, and these are matched against the original database. This is done by a mixture of information extraction, fuzzy logic and human labour.
Comparison sites can also collect data through a data feed file. Merchants provide information electronically in a set format. This data is then imported by the comparison website. Some third party businesses are providing consolidation of data feeds so that comparison sites do not have to import from many different merchants. Affiliate networks such as LinkShare, Commission Junction, Affiliate Window & TradeDoubler aggregate data feeds from many merchants and provide them to the price comparison sites. This enables price comparison sites to monetize the products contained in the feeds by earning commissions on click through traffic.
In recent years, many off the shelf software solutions have been developed that allow website owner to take price comparison websites' inventory data to place retailer prices (context adverts) on their blog or content only website. In return the content website owners receive a small share of the revenue earned by the price comparison website. This is often referred to as the revenue share business model.
Another approach is to crawl the web for prices. This means the comparison service scans retail web pages to retrieve the prices, instead of relying on the retailers to supply them. This method is also sometimes called 'scraping' information. Some, mostly smaller, independent sites solely use this method, to get prices directly from the websites that it is using for the comparison.
Yet another approach is to collect data is through crowdsourcing techniques. This allow the price comparison engine to collect data from almost any source without the complexities of building a crawler or the logistics of setting up data feeds at the expense of lower coverage comprehensiveness. Sites that use this method would allow visitors to contribute pricing data. Unlike discussion forums which also collect visitor input, price comparison sites that utilize this method would collaborated the data with related inputs and add it to the main database though collaborative filtering, artificial intelligence, or human labor. Data contributors may be rewarded for the effort through prizes, cash or other social incentives. Wishabi, a Canadian based price comparison site, is one example that employs this technique in addition to the others mentioned earlier.
However, some combination of these two approaches is most frequently used. Some search engines are starting to blend information from standard feeds with information from sites where product stock-keeping units (SKUs) are unavailable.
Similar to search engine technology, price comparison sites are now spawning "comparison site optimisation" specialists, who attempt to increase prominence on the comparison sites by optimising titles, prices and content. However, this does not always have the same effect, due to the differing business models in price comparison.
Mobile comparison shopping is a growing subset of comparison sites/applications. Due to the nuances of mobile application development, different product strategies have been pursued. SMS-based products allow users to find product prices using SMS-based interaction (example: TextBuyIt by Amazon), mobile web applications allow users to browse mobile optimized websites (Example: Google Product Search Mobile), and at the heavier end - native client applications installed on the device which offer features such as bar code scanning (Example: Barnes & Noble iPhone app).
Price comparison sites typically do not charge users anything to use the site. Instead, they are monetized through payments from retailers who are listed on the site. Depending on the particular business model of the comparison shopping site, retailers will either pay a flat fee to be included on the site or pay a fee each time a user clicks through to the retailer web site or pay every time a user completes a specified action - for example, when they buy something or register with their e-mail address. Comparison shopping sites obtain large product data feeds covering many different retailers from affiliate networks such as LinkShare and Commission Junction. There are also companies that specialize in data feed consolidation for the purpose of price comparison and that charge users for accessing this data. When products from these feeds are displayed on their sites they earn money each time a visitor clicks through to the merchant's site and buys something. Search results may be sorted by the amount of payment received from the merchants listed on the website.
- ^ Shopping Comparison Engines market worth £120m-£140m in 2005, says E-consultancy
- ^  archive.org
- ^ Web sites offer smart consumers valuable tools to save a bundle MSNBC.com
- ^ Excite to buy NetBot. CNET, 1997-10-16. retrieved 2011-2-28"
- ^ Inktomi to buy C2B. CNET"
- ^ Kelkoo merges with Zoomit
- ^ Why Pre-IPO Startups Consider Selling Out Forbes.com, 2000-03-15. Retrieved 2006-11-07.
- ^ Barclaycard relaunches ShopSmart shopping portal
- ^ Barclaycard to shut ShopSmart
- ^ Dealtime Signs Definitive Agreement To Acquire Epinions[dead link]
- ^ Yahoo spends half a billion in Kelkoo swoop[dead link]
- ^ ValueClick to acquire Pricerunner.com: Interactive Marketing Leader to Expand into Comparison Shopping
- ^ eBay to buy Shopping.com for $620 million
- ^ Antone Gonsalves, E.W. Scripps Nabs Shopzilla For $525 Million Informationweek.com, 2005-06-07. Retrieved 2006-11-07.
- ^ Sean Michael Kerner, PriceGrabber.com Grabbed by Experian . Internetnews.com. 2005-12-14. Retrieved 2006-11-07.
- ^ Google Buys Dulance
- ^ (German) Springer kauft Preissuchmaschine Idealo. Handelsblatt.com
- ^ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118459404255267516.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
- ^ "Private equity group buys stake in NexTag: report". Reuters. 2007-06-08. http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/06/08/us-nextag-idUSN0841947920070608. Retrieved 2011-08-27.
- ^ Lindsay Riddell (2007-10-04). "Garage Ventures adds personnel in ongoing hunt for big hit". American City Business Journals. http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2007/10/08/story10.html?jst=cn_cn_lk. Retrieved 2011-08-27.
- ^ Microsoft buys Jellyfish.com comparative shopping site - washingtonpost.com
- ^ Microsoft Says Hello to Ciao, Buys European Shopping Site
- ^ Affiliate Marketing – Affiliate Window – Affiliate Network
- ^ Yahoo Shopping USA to be powered by PriceGrabber 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-02-11.
- ^ Yahoo Shopping USA to be Powered by PriceGrabber 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2010-01-10.
- ^ eBay Launches Korean Price Comparison Website 2010-07-13. Retrieved 2010-08-12.
- ^ Kelkoo Launch USA Website
- ^ It’s Official: Google Acquires Like.com
- ^ News Digital Media (AU) Acquired GetPrice.com.au 2010-09-06. Retrieved 2010-09-17.
- ^ News Digital Media acquires GetPrice 2010-09-06. Retrieved 2010-09-17.
- ^ NexTag Acquires Online Coupon Provider, NextCoupons.com 2010-11-09. Retrieved 2010-12-11.
- ^ Market America to Acquire SHOP.COM Business to Create Social 2010-12-15. Retrieved 2010-12-15.
- ^ http://mashable.com/2011/03/07/google-beatthatquote
- ^ Google to Buy UK Finance Comparison Site BeatThatQuote.com
- ^ Shopzilla sold to Symphony Technology Group for $165M
- ^ Shopzilla sold to Symphony Technology Group for $165M
- ^ Shopping Price Comparison Scripts. Retrieved May 7th, 2010.
- ^ 50/50 Revenue Share. Retrieved September 3rd, 2010.
- ^ Mulrean, Jennifer. How shopping bots really work. Retrieved June 14, 2006.
- Haag, Cummings, McCubbrey, Pinsonneult, and Donovan. (2006). Information Management Systems, For The Information Age. “Buyer Agents”. McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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