When most people go to buy a product online, they type it into Google, or a price comparison site, and assume the results will show them the best price for that item.
But that’s not what actually happens, according to Sam Dean, founder of UK startup, Pricesearcher, who says he has developed the first ever truly unbiased and comprehensive shopping search platform.
Google appealed against the fine this week but, whatever the outcome of that case, online consumers deserve better, says Dean. For a start, many products simply aren’t indexed.
Lots of retailers only index their higher margin products in their online search results or on price comparison sites because of the amount they have to spend on advertising and click-throughs, says Dean, who has worked in e-commerce for 15 years.
He is aiming to index all of the products and prices from every retailer in the UK by January. “No one has ever done this before. When you tell people they are amazed,” the entrepreneur says.
His company’s software has currently indexed around 500 million prices and he thinks there are about 1 billion out there. Then he will take on the globe. And Google.
It’s certainly a David versus Goliath battle but Dean has the passion for it.
“What drives me nuts,” he says, “is that we’re in an age of drones, spaceships and AI but you can’t definitively tell me where to get the best price for a particular item. It’s madness.”
He’s clearly passionate about the cause. “We’re preaching a message, not pitching a sale,” he says.
He sees himself as a web “purist” and believes it should be a fundamental tenet of the online world that everything is available in one place, but – when it comes to shopping—remarkably this is still not the case.
So can a tiny UK company of 15 people, working out of a small office in Farringdon, really start a revolution?
Well, Pricesearcher recently signed up a little-known retailer called Amazon to the cause, indexing all 80 million of the company’s products. It was the largest feed they had ever given to anyone, Dean says.
Pricesearcher believes it has mastered this art of categorising products and integrating with retailers’ websites by developing sophisticated machine learning which, Dean claims, impressed even Amazon’s tech team.
This kind of massive integration has traditionally been the stumbling block toward creating a truly egalitarian shopping experience.
Categorising all of the products and prices so that accurate like-for-like comparisons are made can be a slow and painful process, meaning that not all companies sign up and ultimately no comparison site is comprehensive. These difficulties have left retailers stuck with Google or paying for click-throughs from price comparison sites.
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Amazon, like many other retailers, doesn’t want to rely on Google but is compelled to, Dean says. “Companies are hooked on the drug of Google [pay-per-click] advertising and we are offering them rehab,” he says. “Companies spend more on their PPC budget than they do on making a better product.”
“The message we need to get across is that another way is possible”, says Dean.
The main problem he has had is retailers understandably asking “what’s the catch?” But the company says it has two tricks up its sleeve: Pricesearcher is easy and it’s free.
The day I spoke to Dean, online fashion retailer Asos had just agreed to put its products on Pricesearcher. All of their products would be live by that evening, he said. Curry’s, PC World, Argos and Ikea’s products are all indexed on the system already too.
The company is also working on a photo search function so that consumers can take a picture of any product in the UK and find out instantly where they can buy it and where the true best price is.
Seemingly unperturbed by the enormous amount of work he has ahead of him, Dean also wants to index all of the product reviews from every site, pooling them together to allow users to make the most informed choice possible.
The site is currently in Beta testing and is processing about a million searches per month – chicken feed by Google standards. Pricesearcher won’t launch fully until Dean is happy it’s completely ready, which should happen in about March next year.
Then to the tricky but fundamental question for any…