The Wall Street Journal Online, November 4, 2003
Search Service Ask Jeeves Plans Online Shopping Tool

The butler now wants to do more than just answer your questions. He wants to help you shop.

Ask Jeeves plans to announce Tuesday a new shopping tool on its search engine Ask.com (www.ask.com ) designed to help users research and buy products online. Ask Jeeves is the latest search engine looking to be the starting point for online shopping trips. The new feature is also the latest in a series of search tools Ask Jeeves has added to its site in the past year, hoping to set itself apart from the competition as an easy-to-use search engine. Among search engines, it currently ranks fifth, behind Yahoo Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and America Online.

"We are not just about questions," says Daniel Read, director of product management at Ask Jeeves, of Emeryville, Calif. "We want to be the easiest to use on the Web, and there's no exception with product searches." When a user enters a search term in the home page, Ask Jeeves's new "Smart Search for Products" analyzes the language entered to try to determine whether the user is interested in finding, researching or buying a product. Depending on what the user wants, relevant information is brought up in a box on the top of the search results.

For example, if the user enters a generic product name such as "digital camera," the box includes possible result categories such as cameras or accessories that the user can browse through to view the most popular products. If a specific product name is entered, a picture of that product comes up with links to view features, reviews and buying information. Each search result also brings up below the featured box regular search results that the user can organize by product reviews, features, prices or online stores.

For now, the shopping feature is limited to consumer electronics, but consumer durables such as washing machines and apparel are expected to roll out closer to the holiday shopping period, the company said. Ask Jeeves's new service comes as online retail and comparison-shopping sites are booming. Online retail sales are expected to grow 26% in 2003 to $96 billion from $76 billion in 2002, according to a Shop.org annual study conducted by Forrester Research.

Among comparison shopping sites, Shopping.com , which changed its name in September from DealTime, had 65% more visitors in September 2003 from a year earlier, while PriceGrabber.com was up 36%, according to Nielsen/Net Ratings.

COMPARING COMPARISON SHOPPING

Site
September 2003 unique visitors
Percent growth from a year earlier

Yahoo Shopping
15.27 million
N/A

Shopping.com
11.21 million
65%

Bizrate Shopping
5.59 million
41%

NexTag
4.43 million
89%

PriceGrabber.com
3.08 million
36%

Source: Source: Nielsen//NetRatings

Bigger sites are getting into comparison shopping as well. Yahoo recently redesigned its Yahoo Shopping site (shopping.yahoo.com) to emphasize comparison shopping, and last month launched "SmartSort," a tool within Yahoo Shopping that recommends the top ten models based on a user's ranking of criteria such as price or brand.
Google last year also launched a shopping site, Froogle (froogle.google.com), which is still in public testing. Ask Jeeves itself has had a separate product search tab on its site powered by PriceGrabber.com for about a year. The new feature also uses PriceGrabber.com's content, and the two companies have a revenue-sharing deal. Typically, comparison-shopping sites make money from retailers when they generate sales.

Ask Jeeves's Mr. Read maintains the new tool is different from current comparison sites because users can start using it simply entering a word at the Ask.com home page -- rather than having to search around for a separate shopping portal. Analysts, however, say they wonder how many consumers actually begin their search for products at Ask.com.

"It seems to me that people are continuing to go to Ask Jeeves for what its valuable for -- a search engine that allows you to ask questions," says Matthew Berk, a research director at Jupiter Research. "Whether [Ask Jeeves] becomes known as a starting point for shopping search is an open question, however great the new functionality."

Separately, Ask Jeeves announced Monday that President Steve Berkowitz will become chief executive starting Jan. 1. Mr. Berkowitz succeeds A. George "Skip" Battle, who will become chairman. Current Chairman Garrett Gruener will leave that post, but will continue to be a director.

Write to Jennifer Saranow at jennifer.saranow@wsj.com
Updated November 4, 2003

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