Become.com Strives For Top Comparison-Shopping Engine Status
While Hitwise is pegging the online comparison-shopping industry to grow by about 30% annually, traffic to Become.com increased by 260% year-over-year (as per comScore). It's this phenomenal growth that has helped the engine rake in a $17.5 million Series C investment from San Francisco-based private investment firm TPG Growth.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Become.com launched in 2005, the product of more than two years of work on a set of proprietary product comparison and information-gathering algorithms. The engine combines user ratings and reviews, content from buying guides and social networking to provide a comprehensive online shopping experience. A search for "iPod nano" for example, yields more than five pages of results, with each entry containing multiple reviews, product specs, and prices from various retailers.
According to Michael Yang, Become.com's founder and CEO, the majority of merchant partners are e-tailers, although there are a number of brick-and-mortar stores that advertise with the engine. For those merchants, Become.com lists their location alongside the search results and gives users the option to order online or reserve the product at the store.
Become.com's revenue stems from a cost-per-click (CPC) based paid inclusion model, as retailers like eBay, Circuit City and eStarland bid on particular products or categories to rank for, and then pay each time a user clicks on one of their links. The engine currently boasts more than 5,000 merchant partners--retailers Yang said are clamoring for more. "Almost all of merchants are telling us that they like the traffic that's coming from us--that it's high-quality," Yang said. "They just want to get more."
The engine uses a combination of paid and organic search tactics to drive traffic (hitting 10 million unique monthly visitors, as per comScore), but Yang said that the addition of social networking features in mid-December increased both engagement times and traffic volume on Become.com.
"Users can create lists for things like birthday wish lists, Christmas shopping or upcoming summer vacation products and if other people are looking for, or already have the products in the list then it creates a dialogue," Yang said. "Shopping inherently has some social aspects to it. People have a desire to share the products that they own with friends, and be helpful to other shoppers that have similar interests."
In addition to a small sales team, Become.com targets merchants at industry events like the Shop.org Annual Summit, the eTail Conference and SES. Yang said that the company plans to use the new funding to develop smarter search technology and "push into some of the new opportunities we've been looking at in the online shopping space."
As far as competition goes, Yang said that while there is room for multiple players in the space, Become.com's goal is to become the top comparison-shopping engine. "Fundamentally, we deliver a very different user experience than the general search engines," Yang said. "I think a lot of people who try comparison shopping end up preferring that experience over general search."