Capitalizing on Comparing Values

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The nation’s faltering economy is helping to fuel the growth of comparison-shopping sites as consumers, increasingly price-sensitive, go online to do research and find the lowest prices on select products. Among those capitalizing on the trend is Monterey, Calif.-based

SHOP.COM , founded in 2004, pulls millions of products from hundreds of specialty and top-tier retailers, ranging from Macy’s to Lucky Brand Jeans to Harry and David, and its merchant list continues to grow. The one-stop shopping site has attracted interest from such diverse investors as Bill Gates, Yahoo! and venture-capital firm Oak Investment Partners. Equally important, the site has also captured the attention of time-starved, deal-seeking female shoppers.

The man at the helm of SHOP.COM is CEO and chairman Ken Goldstein, who is determined to achieve the company’s mission of being a market leader amid its toughest competitors, which include Amazon.com , eBay.com and Buy.com . Formerly the executive VP and managing director of Disney Online, the business unit of the Walt Disney Internet Group, Goldstein spoke with Chain Store Age Web editor/associate editor Samantha Murphy about the state of online comparative shopping and how the company is positioned for even more growth in the course of a downwardly spiraling economy.

What is your target demographic? 

Our target demographic and core customer is a busy mom, usually between the ages of 30 and 55, with a household income of about $75,000. She’s brand-conscious, seeks value, and likes to share new purchases and favorite stores with friends. She sees shopping as a necessity, but also as a form of fun and entertainment. Our goal is to offer one-stop shopping that saves her time, money and sanity, especially during hectic periods.

What are the basic challenges when it comes to comparative shopping by genders? 

It is no secret that women make most of the purchasing decisions for their family. In fact, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women influence 95% (and make 85%) of all consumer-buying decisions. The busy, modern woman with a family and career is strapped for time and needs tools to help her complete her shopping quickly, efficiently and economically.

What changes hasSHOP.COM implemented over the past year?

Over the past year, we have migrated our business from a purely transactional e-commerce site to an online media company. We have expanded our media platform with the launch of a direct CPC (cost-per-click) program, which provides merchants with the ability to have product listings integrated into SHOP.COM ’s search engine and gain access to millions of qualified and targeted shoppers each month.

SHOP.COM helps online retailers achieve heightened brand exposure, and our flexible media model offers an efficient way to connect our products to consumers on the Web, while capturing maximum online demand. With this in mind, we are well-positioned to capture meaningful market share.

How hasSHOP.COM been affected by the slowing economy?

The current economy actually makes our value proposition even more attractive to consumers who are eager to find the best product at the lowest price. In a down economy, families are in need of more comparison shopping, value, discounts and coupons, so the company’s strategic position has never been stronger. Our weekly revenue is up 30% compared to a year ago.

We keep this in mind when launching new features, as well. For example, earlier this year we launched “Save Green, Live Green” a site-wide campaign that highlights everyday realistic ways consumers can save money while helping the environment at the same time. Consumers appreciate this sort of information, and it keeps them coming back to the site.

How else do you drive repeat business? 

Comparison-shopping sites need to be engaging. To do that, you have to offer a place to compare, learn, share and shop. We provide editorial and “advertorial” content aimed at assuring customers they are buying the right product for their needs, the right style for their tastes, and getting the best value for their money. It’s all about engagement, and SHOP.COM users have come to expect an engaging experience that is enhanced by blogs, games, sweepstakes and user-generated content.

How has online comparative shopping grown? 

Comparison-shopping sites are gaining momentum as more price-sensitive shoppers do their homework. In fact, with more online shoppers discovering and using comparison-shopping sites, $300 million of growth is projected in the consumer search engine space this year.

What’s your take on this year’s holiday selling season? 

There is no question holiday shoppers this season will be in search of savings, convenience and selection. Overall, we believe taxed, stressed-out shoppers will be issuing a “holiday SOS” of varying kinds—getting through a dauntingly long checklist of gifts, stretching a budget, or needing inspiration for original gift ideas. We are in a good spot to meet these needs, and have been for a while.

What are you doing to stand out in a crowded marketplace? 

SHOP.COM goes that extra step to help customers save time and money by offering unique features and tools, such as buying guides and coupons. In addition, our patented OneCart allows customers to shop across selected stores and check out only once, directly on the SHOP.COM site.

How will the site evolve moving forward? 

We are looking to add enhancements such as personalization tools where customers can set up shopping preferences and get product recommendations that specifically meet their needs.

We are also seeing a greater interest in the sharing of information amongst consumers. That said, we want our shoppers to be able to share product favorites and deals with their peers. SHOP.COM ’s new “Blog Your Deal” section allows customers to post and share deals, coupons and sales. We will be looking to add more of these types of interactive features in the future.

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