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ShopGuide.com directs consumers to retail sites

A new shopping search engine aims to help online merchants stand out in the increasingly crowded e-commerce arena.

ShopGuide.com, New York, is a shopping-specific search engine that directs

consumers to retailers from its site, www.shopguide.com, by using search categories and key-word searches.

Launched last month, ShopGuide.com has attracted 9,100 listings. According to marketing director Jane Quigley, it is one of the most specific shopping search engines on the Web.

“We have 16 main categories on the site right now,” she said. “Within each category, there are a number of subcategories. Under those, there are item categories directing consumers to a listing of retailers that will have a range of Fortune 500 companies to small mom-and-pop stores. Sometimes, we have as many as 48 pages of listed retailers.”

The most popular category so far has been apparel and accessories, she said.

ShopGuide.com plans to raise the total number of main categories to 20 within the next 60 to 90 days and to lower the number of retailers listed within the item categories to 50, Quigley said. Company research has shown that many online consumers do not go past the first page of listings during a search.

“We think by focusing the information in a tighter fashion, it will make it easier and more appealing, as well as making the listings more exclusive,” she said.

Retailers can choose from two membership plans. The gold plan costs $96 a year and offers a basic one-line listing in one of the 16 categories.

“This is mainly for the people who just want to be seen on the Internet,” Quigley said.

The platinum plan, which costs $1,020 a year, offers retailers a priority listing that makes them one of the top 10 companies listed on a page “that they believe is of most importance to them.” Along with the priority listing, the platinum plan offers four other listings in less critical categories.

Retailers can purchase key words for $4,000 each. There is no limit to the number of key words a company can buy, and they can appear in all the categories into which they fit.

ShopGuide.com is running banner ads on a number of its customers' home pages and has cross-promotional deals with Lycos and MSN. Print ads will begin appearing in magazines within the next three months. Quigley said she still is unsure as to the size of that campaign. Revenue-sharing plans also are available and they differ case by case.

Maria LaTour Kadison, senior analyst at research firm Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, MA, said that for ShopGuide.com to be successful it must have special offers not found on the other search engines.

“Engines like Lycos and Yahoo do a fine job at directing consumers to shopping sites,” Kadison said. “These new sites are going to have to provide some type of extra value that these others do not in order to create traffic. It's going to be hard to convince them to come and even harder to convince advertisers if they don't have the eyeballs.”

According to Melissa Bane, senior analyst at research firm The Yankee Group, Boston, 40 percent of online homes say the biggest obstacle to shopping on the Internet is that they don't know where to find products.

“With a large part of the people still not knowing where to go to find what they want, any shopping guide or product search right now at this stage of the game is pretty important, ” Bane said. “These types of shopping sites can be useful and make a lot of sense. Niche product sales see at least 80 percent of their traffic as a result of these search engines.”

“I think this is just another example of how shopping is being accepted by the Internet,” said Vincent Schiavone, president of 4Internet Network, an e-commerce company that aggregates retailers in stand-alone niche sites. “Two of the biggest problems that exist for the Net are consumers finding what they need and retailers getting found. I think retailers are looking for ways to come together and create something for those consumers to see.”

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