Not Your Typical Price Comparison Engine

I have briefly touched the subject of comparison shopping in my earlier post when I listed the popular price comparison sites. Now I will try to summarise what I know about how comparison engines work, what business model they use, and will review a few new web sites that don’t follow the traditional approach.

SprenzySprenzy was launched in August this year by Chuck Lai and Peter Koonts. Before starting Sprenzy Chuck was in charge of product development at MySimon (a division of CNet) and is well familiar with API which Sprenzy utilizes. In a way Sprenzy is similar to the traditional comparison engines because it uses the legacy revenue model: Pay Per Click. What does it mean?

To get to the’s (and therefore Sprenzy’s) database the merchant needs to sign an agreement which requires them to pay each time a user clicks at the link to their product (very similar to Google AdWords). Sprenzy then gets a slice of that money. What happens if a merchant doesn’t sign the agreement? You guessed it right! Their products are not listed. This basically excludes any low margin and wholesale resellers – those who are more likely to sell at lower price.

So why am I even reviewing them? Sprenzy has taken a very innovative approach as far as the user interface is concerned. They actively use AJAX and javascript to improve your shopping experience. In addition they built in Epinions product reviews conveniently available as you shop. The feature I like the most is ability to add items to My List for side-to-side comparison.

MpireIf you are a bargain hunter freak deep to the bone (like myself) then you will like Mpire. Mpire has differentiated itself from the rest by bringing together listings of new and used items from eBay, uBid, Yahoo! Auctions, Overstock, and a number of regular online stores and by adding analytics on top of it to help you figure out what you should be paying for the item. You can see the average price, a historical price range, and a 30 day price trend – they call it Mpire Price Check. This should give you plenty of information to spend a night shopping. I have had a very nice impression from the web site overall. Those thumbnail pictures getting bigger in size as you hover the mouse look very cool.

Some of the neat tools worth looking at are the eBay search tag cloud and pricing guidelines for some of the products. Additional functionality opens up when you sign up for a free account. You will be able to save your searches, create watch lists and set up price alerts.

JellyFishJellyfish made a lot of buzz when it launched back in June this year. Unlike traditional merchants advertising through the Pay Per Click system, merchants pay Jellyfish a referral fee, at least 50% of which is passed onto the consumer as a cash back. This is very similar to what eBates and FatWallet have been doing for quite a while except that Jellyfish have added some neat search features (ability to refine the results by price range, store or manufacturer) and added AJAX to improve the overall user experience. As I was browsing the web site the one thing I was really missing was those product reviews I could read at Sprenzy.

I really don’t see what is so revolutionary about paying cash back to the user that Jellyfish is doing. Especially since this comes at the price of reducing the list of available items (only affiliated merchants list their products in the database). One thing they have done right compared to Ebates is they don’t require you to sign up to make the purchase. Lame – Ebates!

SortPircesSortPrice while somewhat less user friendly yet is a very nice and simple to use comparison shopping engine. You can search by keyword or by category. You can drag and drop your selections to a list for comparison.
Lack of detailed item descriptions is a real drawback. User reviews for the product and the store would not hurt either. I understand the limitations come from the completely different revenue model that the company employs.

Sortprice lists a small subset of the merchant products for free and then, as opposed to charging on a click basis, they have an Enhanced Listing Program where merchants pay a flat monthly rate to get the rest of their items in. Taking into account recent click fraud developments this can be a very attractive alternative for the merchants. As for us bargain hunters… the model still punishes unaffiliated merchants and hence reduces the number of offerings.

ShopWiki ShopWiki launched earlier this year and TheFind launched in beta just yesterday could be the ultimate solution to the problem of excluding products from the search… that is if it works. These web sites don’t charge merchants for inclusion of their products and instead crawl the web as opposed to working through merchants’ API and feeds.

This on one side increases the number of offered items but on the other side it noticeably lowers the quality of presented information. Product categories, reviews and feature comparison are non-existent among these web sites. I would rather consider them “smart” or “enhanced” search engines than comparison shopping tools.

How do they make money? They monetize the service very similar to the way regular search engines do it – by offering promoted or sponsored search results and by listing featured stores on the search results page.

Since we are down to the search engine level let me mention these two web sites as well: Retreve and Givemebackmygoogle. Both are aiming at improving the results returned by plain vanilla search engines when you are looking for consumer products. The last one is especially remarkable due to its simplicity. It is more like a hack than a web site. I could probably build one like it overnight. Maybe I should? ;-)

See also:

11 Responses to “Not Your Typical Price Comparison Engine”

  1. 1 Ebates Customer Care Oct 24th, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Cool article! Since Ebates has been sending out checks and Paypal payments to folks for over 6 years, we do need shoppers to sign-up so that we know where to send the money.

    We keep track of your lifetime savings and making sure that your cash-back is correctly credited to your account by asking for your email address and a password. You don’t have to provide any personal information until you want us to send you money.

    Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

    Here is a link to our Customer Care page:


    Ebates Customer Care

  2. 2 Interesting... Oct 28th, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Nice article… Are you planning to put together a list of all the shopping comparison engine later on?

    Hopefully we’ll officially launched by then. :)


  3. 3 probargainhunter Oct 28th, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    Here is the first draft of that list:
    I do plan to keep maintaining it so check back for a revision in a few days.

  4. 4 probargainhunter Nov 5th, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    Another shopping comparison engine has just announced beta:
    As with many new web sites this one is a long way to perfection. Yet, will keep an eye on them.

  5. 5 Matt Nov 8th, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    You should check out It led the charge on being the most comprehensive product search engine (which TheFind and others are attempting to replicate). Much smoother UI than the newer ones.

  6. 6 probargainhunter Nov 9th, 2006 at 12:50 am

    Thanks for the tip. It looks like a very neat search engine. I will make sure to take a closer look at it when I do the next search engine round-up at the end of the month.

  7. 7 Robert Mar 14th, 2007 at 7:20 pm

    There seems to continue to be a place for a variety of shopping engines with different stengths–some focusing on price comparison and others on product research. I think that’s a good thing. Do we really want one player (like Google) to completely dominiate all aspects of this market?

    Personally, I AWAYS use multiple engines when shopping, and for that reason, I recommend, which is a meta comparison shopping and product research site that makes it easy to query multiple shopping engines.

  8. 8 Fred Mar 20th, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Hi there –

    Any chance you’d consider adding to you analysis of price comparison sites??

    Thanks a million!

  9. 9 Lloyd Mar 25th, 2007 at 1:03 pm


    Good article on these type of sits. How about a review on sites that update deals using humans like to your analysis of price comparison sites??


  10. 10 Chris Lindgren Mar 29th, 2007 at 7:49 am

    All is well and good but check the accuracy of the prices especially in highly turn over categories like books. Most comparison engines do a sub par job of providing accurate pricing. Accurate pricing is exactly what we are trying to get better at.. try it and let us know what you think


  11. 11 Haggle Point Apr 4th, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Please consider reviewing as we have positioned ourselves in both the U.S. and German markets.

    We offer a list of the top viewed products, newest products and most reviewed items.

    Kind regards,
    Haggle Point

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