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Microsoft to shut down Bing Cashback

Microsoft has just announced on their blog that they will be closing their popular rewards program, Bing Cashback. It is a dark day for all the bargain hunters in the US and a celebration for all the smaller rival businesses.

The explanation given is that the revenue Microsoft was pouring back at the shoppers didn’t result into new search traffic acquisition, and keeping the program as a business of itself (which it once was) apparently hasn’t been in Microsoft’s plans.

Is it another evidence that “money cannot buy happiness” as Techcrunch puts it, or am I just being sarcastic here? Which ever way it is, my strongest sentiment is a feeling of sadness about all the great technology wasted by the company in an attempt to salvage a fairly unrelated business.

Alice, you broke my heart!

Alice.com logoNot often these days a new shopping startup comes around that gets me excited. Modista looked cool but was not very useful. ShopSavvy was useful but I only used it so much - my shopping is mostly online. BeatThat had a cool idea but implementation fell short - too few products. All these services offered something novel but they all lacked the scale.

Alice.com is a new startup launched by the same folks who sold Jellyfish to Microsoft in 2007 and pocketed $50 mln, and it really promises to be something big. On the outside Alice is a neatly built shopping site to buy household essentials with thousands of names in stock and free shipping on everything. On the inside, Alice is an open platform for manufacturers to sell the kind of products they want at the prices they set, the first of a kind from what I know.

How Alice helps consumers

The shopping part of the site is very clean. Products are presented in a nice grid view, each one is provided with an image, details, and even price comparison. Some items come in several packaging sizes and if they do you can easily cross reference them. The overall interface reminded me of Endless.com, the shoe store by Amazon. It is very clean and very nicely organized.

As you add items to your cart you can also add them to your list of things to buy regularly and select the refill frequency. Alice will then send you a reminder when you are about to run out of toilet paper, toothpaste, or whatever else you added to your list. As I already mentioned, shipping is free on all orders, something a bargain hunter will certainly appreciate.

The closest competitor to Alice is probably Amazon, and I have to admit Alice stands favorably so far. Even though Amazon offers a greater variety of brands, Alice has the most popular ones covered and the package size assortment is much better. Amazon typically forces you to buy large amounts while with Alice you get same package size you will typically find in your local grocery store.

One more complain I have about Amazon is the third party and “soon to be in stock” offers which flood search results and really degrade your shopping experience. I wish there was a way to filter them out on demand. Alice on the other hand only lists in-stock products and all of them qualify for free shipping (did I already mention it? ;-) )

On top of the typical shopping functionality Alice offers some bells and whistles like Budgeting (these are in essence your monthly expense stats by product category) and Neighborhood (a basic set of social tools like friends, profiles, chat, walls, etc). There is not much going on yet in the Neighborhood except for the chat area which is dominated by the former JellyFish members some of whom have ported their screen names to Alice.

How Alice helps manufacturers

However it is not the bargain hunter and online shopper in me who was more excited by the Alice’s launch. It was me - the entrepreneur. What Alice is doing in the CPG market now is what Zecco have tried to do with online stock trading. This article explains a lot of details about why this is different from what has been done so far. In the words of Brian Wiegand (Alice.com CEO) himself:

We’ve created a platform that allows the major CPG manufacturers to actually become the retailer and sell directly to the consumer,” Mr. Wiegand said. “Retailers increasingly have become manufacturers. So the next logical step is for manufacturers to become retailers.

I am eager to see if the idea stands and if Alice grows enough to successfully compete with the traditional players and to become profitable. According to this Reuters post, the startup makes money off of manufacturers “by giving the companies spending data, advertising space and distributing samples for them to targeted customers”. My understanding is that with the traditional model the store makes money via price markup and so the revenue comes from the consumers.

Will this new model bring shoppers lower prices and better service? It is hard to say. Initially the answer is definite yes since everyone including the manufacturers is vested into the success of this enterprise and are willing to sacrifice some of the revenue in exchange for great initial impression. What will drive prices down later on? It could be the transparency that Alice built into the platform, or it could be the volume (if the site really takes off). Whether Alice.com is successful or not, I already feel it is promising to be a very interesting experiment!

Microsoft closes Jellyfish Smack Shopping

Jellyfish is a price comparission site that launched with an twist. [Almost] every product you bought via the Jellyfish links had cashback and they paid at least 50% of whatever Jellyfish itself was making (as the team claimed).

The idea was great but it wasn’t until late 2006 when the team really hit the jackpot with their daily reverse price auctions called Smack Shopping. The auctions attracted a lot of attention in the media and brought new audience to the site. It was a smart idea and a very creative way to promote the main business.

In October 2007 the startup was bought by Microsoft and the corporation used it to spice up their Live.com offering with Cash Back to better compete with Google Product Search. For about a year Smack Shopping was all that’s left of Jellyfish at the original domain. The auctions will cease to exist on February 16, 2009 according to the email Microsoft sent out to the members today.

Dear SmackShopping User,

Thank you for using SmackShopping and participating in the SmackShopping community over the past few years. Regrettably, we are closing down the site effective February 16, 2009. SmackShows, chats and other interactive SmackShopping services will be discontinued at this point. However, you will be able to redeem any coins you have accrued for 90 days (until May 15, 2009). At the end of 90 days the site will be brought down completely.

Please do not reply to this email, but if you have any questions, please contact us at questions@smackshopping.com.

Sincerely,
SmackShopping Team

Why are they doing it?

My guess is that it made little sense to keep the auctions without the money making part of the business attached to it. I think they are great at stirring the news and promoting other products but they are a terrible money maker by itself. Why do you think they chose to close the show? Please share your own opinion in the comments.

Also read: Smack Shopping Lands Bellyup In The Deadpool at TechCrunch

Popular price comparison sites – September 2008

This is September 2008 revision of the Popular Price Comparison web sites list. You can find the last month revision of the list here.

The change in rating shows the difference compared to August results. The list has a total of 34 web sites which is the same number as last month. There are 17 more sites in my database that don’t meet Alexa Rank < 100,000 requirement.

One website is probably going to be out of the list very soon, jellyfish.com (-50.87%) which is the worst performer this month and currently stand at the last position. After Microsoft integrated cash back part of the site into Live Search, JellyFish is technically no longer a price comparison site. Smack shopping is all that is left of it.

The best gainer this month is bottomdollar.com (54.74%) which had a terrific month according to Alexa. If anyone has an explanation to this phenomena - speak out! ;-)

#Web SiteAlexa RankPage RankOnline Since
1shopping.yahoo.com 1 (*) 8 18-Jan-1995
2froogle.google.com 2 (*) 7 (-1)11-Sep-2001
3shopping.msn.com 6 (*) 7 10-Nov-1994
4shopping.aol.com 21 (*) (-5%)7 22-Jun-1995
5shopper.cnet.com (info) 144 (*) (-9.92%)7 05-Jul-1996
6shopping.com 519 (-10.66%)6 (-1)03-Jul-1997
7nextag.com 536 (-1.13%)6 (-1)15-Oct-1998
8bizrate.com 609 (3.79%)7 24-Apr-1996
9 (1)shoplocal.com 910 (-7.82%)7 24-Sep-1998
10 (1)pricegrabber.com (info) 1183 (-11.39%)8 10-Mar-1999
11 (1)shopzilla.com 1263 (-0.4%)6 (-1)04-Jul-2002
12 (1)pronto.com 1276 (13.49%)8 (1)01-Jan-2006
13 (4)dealtime.com 1313 (-87.04%)6 07-Oct-1998
14epinions.com 1663 (-9.62%)7 12-Feb-1999
15smarter.com 1866 (8.35%)5 (-1)28-Apr-1998
16 (2)thefind.com (info) 3284 (21.1%)6 19-Oct-2006
17 (1)become.com 3591 (-8.56%)6 20-Jan-2004
18 (1)pricerunner.com 3603 (-3.45%)6 19-May-1999
19like.com 4473 (9.32%)6 22-Feb-1995
20calibex.com 7249 (-22.86%)4 02-Oct-2000
21 (1)retrevo.com 7303 (6.32%)6 10-May-2006
22 (1)mysimon.com 7895 (-8.78%)7 (-1)15-Apr-1998
23shopwiki.com 8255 (30.67%)5 15-Dec-2004
24ebates.com 11363 (6.21%)5 (-1)29-Dec-1998
25pricewatch.com 14533 (-8%)6 26-Sep-1995
26 (1)sortprice.com 24579 (-2.43%)4 (-1)15-Jan-2004
27 (1)bestwebbuys.com 25122 (4.81%)6 06-Jan-1998
28 (2)dealighted.com (info) 25212 (-9.7%)6 09-Oct-2006
29 (2)bottomdollar.com 25216 (54.74%)0 04-Jul-1997
30 (1)pricescan.com 43207 (-8.79%)6 03-Sep-1997
31 (1)hawkee.com 51449 (**) (11.78%)5 02-Jan-1997
32 (2)mpire.com 56041 (-1.02%)5 (-1)01-Jun-2006
33 (1)streetprices.com 89874 (6.16%)5 16-Oct-1997
34 (1)jellyfish.com 98705 (-50.87%)5 26-Jun-2006

(*) Note: traffic stats for these sites is an aggregate of all traffic to the top domain (e.g. Yahoo.com or Google.com) and thus cannot be used to judge how popular this particular price comparison service is.

(**) Note: the web site is a portal with price comparison engine being one of the offered web services. Alexa rank cannot be used to judge how popular this price comparison engine is.

Popular price comparison sites – July 2008

This is July 2008 revision of the Popular Price Comparison web sites list. You can find the last month revision of the list here.

The change in rating shows the difference compared to June results. The list has a total of 35 web sites and there are 16 more sites in my database that don’t meet Alexa Rank < 100,000 requirement.

The best gainer this month is thefind.com (26.13%) which has been doing very nicely this year, up to #18 from #27 in December, 2007.

The worst performer is jellyfish.com (-28.48%). This is understandingly. After Microsoft integrated cash back part of the site into Live Search, smack shopping is all that is left of JellyFish.

# Web Site Alexa Rank Page Rank Online Since
1 shopping.yahoo.com 1 (*) 8 18-Jan-1995
2 froogle.google.com 2 (*) 8 11-Sep-2001
3 shopping.msn.com 6 (*) 7 (-1) 10-Nov-1994
4 shopping.aol.com 21 (*) 7 (-1) 22-Jun-1995
5 shopper.cnet.com (info) 126 (*) (1.56%) 7 05-Jul-1996
6 shopping.com 429 (-8.88%) 7 03-Jul-1997
7 dealtime.com 531 (-16.19%) 6 (-1) 07-Oct-1998
8 nextag.com 536 (1.29%) 7 15-Oct-1998
9 bizrate.com 642 (0.31%) 7 24-Apr-1996
10 shoplocal.com 823 (3.86%) 7 (-1) 24-Sep-1998
11 pricegrabber.com (info) 971 (-7.89%) 8 10-Mar-1999
12 shopzilla.com 1271 (-2.17%) 5 (-2) 04-Jul-2002
13 epinions.com 1411 (-0.64%) 7 12-Feb-1999
14 pronto.com 1640 (8.94%) 7 01-Jan-2006
15 smarter.com 2060 (-0.64%) 6 28-Apr-1998
16 become.com 3173 (-9.64%) 6 20-Jan-2004
17 pricerunner.com 3657 (14.09%) 6 (-1) 19-May-1999
18 (3) thefind.com (info) 5240 (26.13%) 6 19-Oct-2006
19 like.com 5739 (8.43%) 6 (1) 22-Feb-1995
20 (2) calibex.com 5955 (-6.7%) 4 02-Oct-2000
21 (1) mysimon.com 6903 (-3.31%) 8 15-Apr-1998
22 retrevo.com 7673 (6.48%) 6 10-May-2006
23 (1) ebates.com 12061 (0.53%) 6 29-Dec-1998
24 (1) pricewatch.com 12456 (-3.48%) 6 26-Sep-1995
25 (1) shopwiki.com 16117 (21.91%) 5 15-Dec-2004
26 (1) dealighted.com (info) 20376 (-10.91%) 6 09-Oct-2006
27 sortprice.com 22613 (-3.69%) 5 (-1) 15-Jan-2004
28 bestwebbuys.com 27518 (-0.78%) 6 (-1) 06-Jan-1998
29 pricescan.com 38530 (-1.86%) 6 03-Sep-1997
30 jellyfish.com 52167 (-30%) 5 26-Jun-2006
31 mpire.com 53733 (-8.7%) 6 01-Jun-2006
32 hawkee.com 63372 (**) (6.77%) 5 02-Jan-1997
33 bottomdollar.com 66316 (6.48%) 0 (-4) 04-Jul-1997
34 streetprices.com 92439 (-3.51%) 5 16-Oct-1997
35 salescircular.com 98028 (0.67%) 6 (1) 09-Jun-1998

(*) Note: traffic stats for these sites is an aggregate of all traffic to the top domain (e.g. Yahoo.com or Google.com) and thus cannot be used to judge how popular this particular price comparison service is.

(**) Note: the web site is a portal with price comparison engine being one of the offered web services. Alexa rank cannot be used to judge how popular this price comparison engine is.




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