AOL buys into comparison shopping

Can new e-commerce site help portal take business from Yahoo, Google and Shopping.com?

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
2 min read
America Online officially launched on Monday its new comparison shopping site, as the company retools its portal and looks to steal customers and advertisers from rivals such as Yahoo.

As reported earlier, AOL's InStore is centered on a head-to-head comparison shopping tool called Pinpoint, which the Internet service provider said will offer pricing and features of millions of items. The shopping system was developed under a collaboration with retail search engine specialist BizRate.com, and AOL said it has already signed on about 48,000 consumer product vendors to populate the site.

The InStore launch represents a major element of AOL's latest effort to generate interest in its home page, which has primarily served as a promotional vehicle for the company's various Internet services and as a way for existing customers to access their e-mail via the Web. However, with online advertising on the rebound, the company is hoping to rekindle interest in the portal as it struggles to build new revenue streams.

The Time Warner subsidiary previously attempted to expand its portal business through various incarnations of the site and that of its Netscape subsidiary, but those efforts have met limited success. The ISP is estimated to have lost 3 million dial-up Internet customers over the last two years.

The new shopping page will offer consumers many of the same features promoted by popular e-commerce rivals like Google, Shopping.com and eBay, with the ability to rate individual vendors, highlight items with a "Remember It" tool, and create direct links to preferred vendors with a "My Favorite Stores" area. The site will operate through AOL's home page, via its Netscape and CompuServe pages, and as a standalone URL.

Executives at the Dulles, Va.-based company framed the launch of the shopping site as a "fundamentally different" approach to the e-tail market, specifically citing AOL's revamped approach to targeting merchants using the Pinpoint search tool.

"We've overhauled our e-commerce strategy to put AOL back in the game," David Lebow, general manager of AOL Media Networks, said in a statement. "We've leveraged our expertise to create a dynamic online environment using the best of emerging technology and our insights into millions of online users."