What it is: Remember that "Long Tail" of the internet? The one that allows retailers to offer more products online than they could in a bricks-and-mortar store? Well, added choice can equal confused consumers. Guidester is a search tool that helps web shoppers manage the sheer number of products in the online marketplace by narrowing a list of available products in a particular category based on attributes that are important to them. Advertisers bid to place their products more prominently within the narrowed search results.
How it works: Let's say a shopper visits a Guidester-enabled online retailer (CircuitCity.com and RitzCamera.com are two) in search of digital cameras. Guidester initially lists every digital camera the site has for sale, but positioned alongside that is a list of questions that can refine the search. Shoppers who don't know specifically what they are looking for can answer questions about themselves, such as "Which statement best describes you: I prefer to buy the best technology or I am most concerned about value." Or shoppers indicate their preferred product specifications, price, brand or features. The shopper does not have to answer all questions before viewing search results and each time the shopper answers a question, Guidester automatically narrows the list to show cameras that meet the shopper's qualifications. The search can be narrowed until a manageable number of items is found.
The advertising angle: Matching Guidester search results are not presented to the shopper in a list sorted by price or brand. That means advertisers can bid to keep their matching products at the top of the list. The theory is that being prominently featured in the search results helps advertisers reach motivated consumers near the point of purchase.
Who's behind it: Guidester was founded by Joe Chin, formerly of Real Estate Online, and application developer Art Abeleda. In June, Guidester raised $3 million in its first round of venture capital financing, led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson Gotham Ventures with co-investors Milestone Venture Partners and Wheatley Partners.
Who's using it: CircuitCity, CompUSA, Buy.com, Newegg.com and other online retailers use Guidester tools. Advertisers currently paying for placement include Olympus, Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark.
Product categories: Camcorders, desktop computers, digital cameras, DVD players, home theater systems, MP3 players and printers
In the works: Guidester offers its tool free to retailers, so if it catches on with consumers it's likely to crop up on more sites. Guidester tools can be tailored to support searches in any product category and Guidesters for outdoor gear, baby products and cellphones are planned.