Bunions throbbing after a weekend of mall hopping, millions of holiday shoppers are booting their computers instead to scour the Internet...

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Bunions throbbing after a weekend of mall hopping, millions of holiday shoppers are booting their computers instead to scour the Internet for bargains.


But with the proliferation of shopping sites, finding the perfect gift online can be just as frustrating as navigating the galleria.


Shopzilla.com and PriceGrabber.com aim to help. They are among more than a dozen comparison-shopping sites that make a buck by shepherding shoppers to deals offered by online and traditional retailers.


Such sites can help save anywhere from a few bucks on a DVD to thousands of dollars on a liquid crystal display television.


“We still love to get a bargain, and finding the lowest price is such a small victory,” said Anne Marie Luthro, a vice president at Envirosell, a market-research firm in New York. “You get to say I got a [iPod] nano, but I only paid $199 for mine as opposed to the guy who paid $229.”


A survey by Jupiter Research found comparison-shopping sites are increasingly influencing shoppers. The percentage of online consumers who view them as the most efficient way to find products and help decide on purchases rose more than a third this year, to 61 percent.



How competitors stack up


A number of shopping comparison sites are expected to help online shoppers this year. Results can vary widely, even from day to day on the same site. Here’s how four services stacked up on three items last week.


Video games


Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360)


PriceGrabber.com


Matches: 8


Price: $43.28 to $49.99


Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360)


Shopzilla.com


Matches: 14


Price: $44.95 to $67.95


Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360)


Shopping.com


Matches: 9


Price: $50 to $51


Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360)


NexTag.com


Matches: 4


Price: $44.96 to $49.95


Espresso machine


Francis Francis X1


PriceGrabber.com


Matches: 15


Price: $649.99 to $799.95


Francis Francis X1


Shopzilla.com


Matches: 13


Price: $649.99 to $849.99


Francis Francis X1


Shopping.com


Matches: 13


Price: $499 to $850


Francis Francis X1


NexTag.com


Matches: 10


Price: $649.99 to $849.99


Digital camera


Canon PowerShot G6


PriceGrabber.com


Matches: 69


Price: $457.60 to $698.50


Canon PowerShot G6


PriceGrabber.com


Matches: 119


Price: $408 to $919


Canon PowerShot G6


PriceGrabber.com


Matches: 44


Price: $429 to $699


Canon PowerShot G6


PriceGrabber.com


Matches: 43


Price: $407.95 to $699.99


Source: Los Angeles Times


“We also saw a 36 percent increase in consumers this year who said price is the most important factor when I’m figuring out what to buy,” said Patti Freeman Evans, a retail analyst at Jupiter Research. Even though price has always been important, that’s a huge increase.


Farhad Mohit, co-founder and chief product officer at Los Angeles-based Shopzilla, said his company aims to save customers time and money by sifting through thousands of retail Web sites.


“If you can’t find what you’re looking for from 64,000 stores and 30 million items [on Shopzilla], then you’re certainly not going to find it at the mall,” Mohit said.


Shopzilla’s search engine, for example, comes up with 50 retailers selling Sharp Electronics’ 37-inch Aquos liquid crystal display television, with prices of $1,660 to $5,000.


Such sites frequently offer to calculate tax and shipping based on a customer’s ZIP code. In many cases, they provide customer reviews.


They offer an additional level of selection and service you can’t get through a basic search on Yahoo!’s or Google’s Web sites, said Safa Rashtchy, an analyst at Piper Jaffray.


The word “stroller” turns up more than 3.5 million results on Google, but nets 1,100 references on Shopping.com, which can easily be sorted by price, brand and type.


It’s the paradox of choice, said Lorrie Norrington, chief executive of Shopping.com, which boasts 35 million products spread over 325 diverse categories that include such items as flowers and fax machines. You want a lot to choose from. At the same time, you want to be able to cut through the clutter.


Another challenge facing comparison sites is figuring out ways to infuse online shopping with some of the excitement that draws many consumers to the mall.


Yahoo!’s shopping site, http://shopping.yahoo.com, recently launched Shoposphere. The feature enables users to post pick lists featuring some of the 90 million products contained in Yahoo!’s database based on themes such as fish tank ornaments and poker paraphernalia.


Typically, e-commerce has been a fairly antisocial activity — meaning solitary, said Rob Solomon, vice president of Yahoo! Shopping Group. With Shoposphere, you can interact with people who have picked products.


NexTag.com‘s site offers a toolbar to make it easier to search, be it for a coffee maker, vacation or a mortgage lender.


Comparison sites are also expanding their category coverage to attract a wider audience. The grocery-saver feature on Cairo.com‘s Web site allows shoppers to compare advertised prices of leading grocery stores in their neighborhoods.


Merchant deals


Although Cairo generates revenue via ads displayed on its site, most comparison sites turn a profit by striking deals with merchants who pay so-called click-through fees based on referrals they receive from the sites.


Yahoo!’s site lists items for sale by merchants who pay the fees as well as those who don’t. Click fees vary by category, according to Solomon, with Yahoo! receiving about 20 cents for each book, music and video referral.


Shopzilla, which also includes a combination of paying and nonpaying merchants, lists results based on a formula that factors in whether the firm receives referral fees from a merchant in addition to a product’s price, availability, a merchant’s rating and brand strength.


Last month, Shopzilla topped Nielsen/NetRatings’ monthly list of online shopping directories and guides by attracting 17.5 million visitors, followed by Shopping.com, Yahoo! Shopping, NexTag and Google’s Froogle.


Results vary


Because the firms rely on separate search engines, savvy shoppers may want to visit several sites since results vary.


Froogle.com‘s site comes up with 18 listings for Elmo’s World — Dancing, Music, Books DVD, ranging from $7.11 to $12.35. PriceGrabber.com‘s Web site showed 11 merchants selling the same DVD, with prices from $6.20 to $12.99.


Although Froogle may net more results, Envirosell’s Luthro said people at her office liked PriceGrabber best. Shoppers can receive e-mails from PriceGrabber when a product they want hits a certain price, eliminating the need to hunt for bargains.


It’s not that we’re out to take the fun out of shopping, said Kamran Pourzanjani, chief executive of PriceGrabber. If anything we’re there to help educated shoppers and make sure there’s no buyer’s remorse whether they buy online or offline.