The story of PriceGrabber part 3: Small ball

This post is part 3 of a series about the early days of shopping comparison site You may want to read part 1 and part 2 before continuing.

Babe Ruth

We’ve all seen the overconfident hitter come to the plate, take three home run swings, and look back at the catchers mitt every time he fails to connect. Given a small team with limited resources I prefer the BIlly Beane approach of playing small ball to bring in the wins. Landing small business development deals in succession can establish a small player and bring in the revenue needed to swing for the fences.

PriceGrabber took a few risks that brought in thousands of new users by delivering a targeted experience to their platform of choice. Marketing partnerships, mobile search, Spanish and Portuguese language options, and personalization drove many new users to the site and became the service people used when first introduced to the online shopping comparison industry.

Partnerships have to scale well or you get caught up building one-offs for each partner and never getting any work done on the underlying service. We learned this the hard way by customizing for a few deals and our partner pipeline ground to a halt while the two people responsible for the custom templates were overwhelmed. We redesigned the site with cobranding and partner landing pages in mind, and adding new partners took only a few hours. When you are in a land grab with competition, being able to rollout a quick and easy revenue add-on to existing brands is a win-win for everyone involved. Popular brands such as Macworld and even Ask Jeeves became cobranded PriceGrabber sites driving thousands of daily visitors each.

Opera search box

New and emerging technologies can be green fields for integration and partnership. In the late 90s phone and web browser integration were two unexplored areas that ended up being big markets. PriceGrabber partnered with Opera Software and received a special “Price Comparison” search field in the Opera browser’s address bar. This integration happened before Sherlock and Mycroft popularized the idea of search plugins for the browser. The Opera shopping comparison feature was very popular, especially among geeks seeking the latest technology gear. PriceGrabber also spent months developing a mobile version of the site in WAP for use on all phones across all domestic carriers. The mobile development efforts of one engineer eventually led to a partnership with AT&T Wireless on their default start page and created a way for people to comparison shop online while they were at a brick and mortar retailer.

PrecioMania is a Spanish and Portuguese language version of the PriceGrabber website. Online commerce was booming but it seemed like the Latino population was being left behind while the industry focused only on English-speaking users. PriceGrabbber brought on a small team to build a version of the site in their own language with features targeting that specific market. PrecioMania was run as its own small company within PriceGrabber. Its differences and the challenges it faced helped redesign the company’s API and template systems, creating an infrastructure for growth and scalability.

Little things can add up and set a foundation for future growth. You don’t have to hit a home run to round the bases and score.

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