Especially in today's economic climate, netpreneurs are always looking for creative ways to find new customers. Many have found success by joining price-comparison sites such as BizRate.com, DealTime.com, Epinions.com, mySimon.com and PriceGrabber.com.
Most of these sites use e-commerce robots, or bots, to scour a myriad of Web sites in order to list price comparisons on everything from books to digital cameras. They also allow merchants to sign up and pay for their listings. In general, paid listings usually get better placement.
Some sites offer even more than just price comparisons. Many also help shoppers determine the best merchant for a product or service based on reputation, product availability and service. Some also aggregate customer feedback to generate merchant ratings based on quality, delivery and other customer service metrics.
Comparison sites are free and easy for shoppers to use, and they operate much like search services. The sites don't sell anything; instead, they simply link shoppers to the places that do. The best part is, consumers are visiting these sites in droves. According to a 2001 Jupiter Media Metrix holiday consumer survey, 30 percent of respondents said they expected to visit a comparison-shopping site during the holiday season.
The more than 10,000 Americans conned by Net scams lost a collective
SOURCE: Gartner Inc.
"These sites are widely used, and traffic to these sites has been growing fairly dramatically over the past two years," says Ken Cassar, a senior analyst at Jupiter Media Metrix. "They're easy to use, [they] put a lot of information in one place, and [they] make it easy for people to comparison-shop." In fact, the most popular comparison-shopping sites say millions of consumers visit them regularly every month. As a result, analysts say these sites are perfect customer-acquisition tools for netpreneurs.
"Comparison sites are ideal for small companies that can ship products nationally and that are trying to acquire market share," says Cassar. "[These sites] regularly expose them to millions of pre-qualified, ready-to-buy shoppers. There is really nothing but an upside."
Sites to Behold
One company that uses comparison sites is Zappos.com, an online shoe store with more than 120 well-known footwear brands. Co-founded in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn, the San Francisco company raked in $10 million in 2001 and expects sales to reach $30 million this year.
According to Swinmurn, 29, Zappos.com gained a competitive advantage by joining Bizrate.com and MySimon.com in 2000 and DealTime.com in 2001. "The sites make Zappos.com visible to the shoppers using them and ensure we are visible to comparison-shoppers," he says.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.