Comparison Shoppers Get New Tools

Online shopping is supposed to be worth $211 billion in the U.S. alone this year, according to Forrester. At this point everyone from the big guys, the established names, on down, has a shopping comparison site, helping people find their way to hundreds of thousands of web-based stores and often taking a cut of consequent sales.

We’ve come across a couple of stealthy startups, TheFind and Ugenie, that promise to polish up online comparison-shopping. Both swear off paid placement in their business models, choosing alternatives like advertising and affiliate fees that don’t affect search results. And both have taken nice chunks of venture money to play out their experiments.

Branding is going to be really important for these vertical search engines, from the “shopcasting” of companies like ThisNext, to review aggregation from ViewScore and others, to bookmarking tools like Kaboodle — not even counting all the shopping, auction, and bazaar sites themselves — there are just too many names in this space. Pretty soon we’re going to need a comparison shopping engine for comparison shopping engines.

The first new site, TheFind, is the second coming of FatLens, the ticket search engine. We’d been told more than once that FatLens is a proof-of-concept; now the company has taken the password protection off the real concept: a product index generated by a shopping-optimized web crawler. The Mountain View-based company claims 500,000 stores and 150 million products are currently loaded up.

TheFind’s most interesting features are monitoring demand and supply to find the most popular products among retailers and bring them higher in results, registering price changes to flag sales, and saving marked items in a tray that’s anchored to the bottom of your screen no matter where you navigate.

The company, which has 27 employees and is based in Mountain View, has taken $8 million in first-round funding from Redpoint Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Cambrian Ventures, and is closing a Series B round now.

Another new startup in the space, Ugenie, which plans to launch in beta next week, is singularly focused on price comparison. The company adds two nice features to online shopping: first, computing taxes, shipping, discounts, and coupons (even finding coupon codes for you) to compare the actual “credit card damage”; and second, taking your multiple-item shopping list and finding the best way to bundle products across sites to minimize shipping charges and maximize discounts.

Ugenie also does its own crawling and extraction but for now it is manually limited to about 40 sites and the categories of books, music, movies, and games. The company says it hopes to get more involved with merchants in order to bundle products on the merchant side as well and to do online/offline price comparison.

The company was founded last May by two Amazon alums, Krishna Motukuri and Harish Abbot. It has raised $5 million in funding from BlueRun Ventures and Sierra Ventures and now has 15 employees.

Elsewhere in online comparison shopping, Mpire added features similar to both TheFind and Ugenie: increased support for coupons, pricing information, and trends, this week. Become.com added color search.

C’mon now. Isn’t the point of comparison-shopping to save us from going to a whole bunch of sites? We think TheFind and Ugenie make nice incremental improvements on what’s out there; let us know if it’s enough to draw you in.

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