Dubbed CompareNet (www.compare.net), the site offers consumers a free way to research and compare big-ticket products including automotive, consumer electronics, home office equipment, appliances and discount stock brokerages.
CompareNet, born out of a business school project by company President Trevor Traina, has 15 employees who independently research and compile databases on all makes and models of products in several categories. The company soon plans to expand to other industries including baby products and sports equipment.
Users can search the database for goods within a certain price range or that include specific features, and CompareNet will generate a listing of all the manufacturers and models with the requested specs.
CompareNet claims it signed up 80,000 registered users during a test period plus an additional 120,000 who have used the site in the past month. It carries the tagline "CompareNet, the crucial stop before you shop."
CompareNet is selling sponsorship packages that include preferential positioning in the database, direct marketing capabilities and access to proprietary research.
Marketers will be able to link to their own Web sites and to the sites of their dealers and deliver coupons and other marketing messages as consumers are reading about competitors' products.
Thomson Consumer Electronics is expected to sign as the site's first sponsor as early as this week.
"As a manufacturer, we try to use the Net to reach new audiences," said Mike Harmon, Thomson's manager of interactive marketing. "CompareNet has created an environment that allows for very clever marketing strategies."
Although specific pricing isn't disclosed, Mr. Traina said marketers will sign yearlong contracts and pay up to several thousand dollars per month to participate.
Prices vary depending on the industry; a program for an automotive marketer will cost more than one for a marketer of microwaves.
"We know what features consumers want most and we know they're ready to make a purchase," said Mr. Traina. "That information is insurmountably valuable to marketers."
CompareNet isn't the only company to envision riches in online comparison shopping. A few years ago, a company called ProductView Interactive had a similar idea but never got off the ground.
Comparative data for cars and computer products also pop up in automotive Web sites like Auto-By-Tel and technology sites including ZD Net, as well as Web shopping services.
PAYING TO REACH PURCHASERS
"It's almost a sure thing that manufacturers will pay for CompareNet's market research and for access to consumers who are in the purchase mode," said Mary Doyle, an analyst with IBC*Link. "It's encouraging to see a startup that isn't so dependent on ad revenue."
To increase traffic, CompareNet has done some online advertising on Yahoo! and Netscape and has placed print ads in Internet Shopper and NetGuide.The company is considering hiring an agency to handle its consumer marketing initiatives.
CompareNet also may seek a rep firm to sell banner advertising on its site. U S West Dex is the site's first advertiser. Rates range from $25 per thousand impressions to $55, depending on targeting.