The Associated Press
updated 9/23/2003 9:58:59 AM ET 2003-09-23T13:58:59

Internet media company Yahoo Inc., broadening its efforts in the red-hot search services market, on Tuesday rolled out a new search platform that lets users find products, compare prices and buy from different merchants. “(Search is) becoming the most efficient way for consumers to find products,” said Rob Solomon, the general manager of Yahoo Shopping.

PRODUCT SEARCH is an increasingly competitive market on the Internet, with engines like MySimon and PriceGrabber vying to be the launch point for consumer purchases, generating revenue through commissions or other fees when users click one of their links to buy from a retailer.

On Monday, DealTime Inc. relaunched itself as the Shopping.com Web site, integrating its own DealTime platform with the Epinions user-review service. Yahoo competitor Google also has a product search platform called Froogle.

“It’s certainly not going to be as mature on day one as those guys are today,” said Jupiter Research analyst Matthew Berk of the new Yahoo site.

The new products search is directly integrated into Yahoo’s main search engine and features a full range of products from across the Internet, from computers to camping gear, with search results sorted by relevance.

“In opening that catalog up to other retailers, who are not under the Yahoo umbrella, they make a very strong bid for a compelling site,” Berk said. “I think Yahoo’s real competitive advantage, at the end of the day, is their ability to redirect traffic there.”

The technology to search the Web and pull together product information was largely built on the software Yahoo picked up when it acquired Inktomi, Solomon said.

As opposed to previous Yahoo product search offerings that offered graphics ads that sometimes had no relevance to the product being searched for, the new engine, Solomon said, presents only text ads along the right side of the page that are directly relevant to the searched product.

Those ads are being served by Overture Services Inc., the paid search services company that Yahoo is in the process of acquiring. Potential advertisers cannot pay for ranking in the search results in order to keep the results as relevant as possible for users, Solomon said.

Advertising accounts for roughly two-thirds of Yahoo’s revenue.

REVIEWS AND COMPARISONSLike many other Internet product search sites, the new Yahoo platform will offer both merchant reviews and user reviews, as well as side-by-side product comparison grids, and functions that calculate both the base price of products and their final prices after taxes and shipping.

Yahoo will also test software for personalized product recommendation that will let users set attributes of a potential product category — say, digital cameras — that are most important to them, with Yahoo’s technology then deciding which product is the best fit.

“We’re finding that this is a pretty advanced feature and it’ll appeal to the early adopters and tech-savvy crowd,” Solomon said.

In addition to the product search, Yahoo also rolled out an upgrade to its merchant services on Tuesday, offering small-business operators a storefront as well as Web hosting and e-mail services all in one bundle, with prices ranging from $40 to $300 a month.

Rich Riley, general manager of Yahoo’s small business operations, said people who use Yahoo’s platform will now be able to track and manage their entire business from one central site.

“With this launch our product line is pretty complete,” Riley said.

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