*DealTime Expands Revenue Opportunities

No. 1 comparison shopping site DealTime.com has made major changes to its business model. Where once the firm charged merchants only for leads, DealTime a has begun collecting undisclosed commissions on the sales it generates. The company also has introduced a customer account feature to ease transactions.

The account service allows consumers to store their password, billing, shipping, order history and credit card information in a DealTime account. Once saved, this information is automatically filled in when consumers make purchases through dealtime.com.

“We're not selling anything,” said Lance Podell, chief marketing officer at DealTime, New York. “We're not changing that. You're still buying [products] from that merchant. We're just filling out the forms on their site for you so that you don't have to.”

DealTime is one of the major shopping services online, attracting 6.7 million unique visitors in September, according to PC Data. Its crawler technology searches the Internet for bargains and price deals on products and their availability across thousands of sites.

Besides eliminating the need for consumers to repeatedly enter information each time they transact, the DealTime account also is aimed at improving DealTime's bottom line. The company currently gets paid a referral fee for leads to retailers, for pushing traffic to manufacturers' preferred merchants and via advertising.

The DealTime account tab is placed prominently next to partnering retailers' products on the “Where to buy” page. Consumers can either buy it by clicking through to the merchant's product page at the DealTime site or by clicking on the “Buy it with the DealTime account” tab.

Forty-three merchants accept transactions via the DealTime account, including denmans.com, MicroWarehouse, Perfumania, Zany Brainy, BrandsMall, flower.com and egghead.com.

“The merchant still owns you as a customer because you actually bought directly from the merchant at the end of the day,” Podell said. “What we say is, we've facilitated the transaction. You stay on the DealTime site but a window comes up that looks like the merchant's page where you're going to buy the product. So, we mirror that merchant's page so that you know you're buying exactly what you think you're buying from the merchant.”

DealTime negotiated separate deals with each merchant. To ensure privacy, consumer information will only be shared with the pertinent retailer.

Consumers who use the DealTime account through Nov. 12 will receive a flip calculator as a gift for their first purchase.

Among other initiatives, DealTime will later this week launch DealTime Peace of Mind, a fee-based service that guarantees price, delivery, online fraud protection and replacement of goods damaged in transit.

Also, in a new deal that goes live next month, users who buy via DealTime on a wireless telephone using a Visa card automatically have their purchases upgraded to be sent via overnight shipping.

DealTime's expansion beyond referral fees for simple searches to being an actual facilitator of transactions was done after extensive scrutiny of merchants.

“One of the reasons we used a referral model in the first place [last year] is because we couldn't account for the quality of the site you would go to and whether they could actually close the deal,” Podell said.

“So we would be paid-based on the click-out — we were sending a qualified lead,” he said. “As a merchant you could make that into a wonderful experience or a lousy one and we couldn't control that.”

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