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Consummate Consumer

Bargain Hunting Via the Keyboard

By Don Oldenburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2004; Page C10

With the voting behind us and the holidays ahead, some consumers begin shifting their attention today to finding bargains. Andrew Moss is counting on it.

"The focus the first couple of months will be on shoppers shopping for gifts," says Moss, founder and CEO of Cairo, an online site launched last week that searches out items on sale at the stores nearest you -- wherever you are nationwide.

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Cairo's concept trades on the growing trend of shoppers researching purchases online before buying from local retailers. A study by the Dieringer Research Group, a business strategy consultant, reported last month that spending on off-line purchases made by consumers who conducted online research totaled $180.7 billion a year and is growing faster than online purchases, which totaled $106.5 billion.

Calling "cross-channel shopping" the "new wave of commerce," Forrester Research, which tracks business and technology markets, reported in September that 65 percent of online consumers were researching products online before buying them off-line. Forty-eight percent said the main reason was that they wanted to see the product before buying it.

"It's really just about making you a much smarter shopper and saving you a lot of time and money," says Moss.

Moss designed Cairo to give consumers easy online access to the "richness of information out there" so they can save "usually 30 to 40 percent discount from the retail price."

Shoppers key in their Zip code or city name at Cairo.com, then search for local store sales by specific item, product category, brand, merchant or price range. Click "search" and it collects sales information from the online and local newspaper ads of up to 26 retailers, depending on your location, including Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, Target, Kohl's, Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, Staples and Toys R Us. Results can be sorted by relevance, price or distance to store.

Cairo product manager Tamara Pattison says the site is named to conjure up an image of "a marketplace with lots of products, vendors and price points [where] shoppers can find anything they need at the price they want."

Shoppers willing to register at Cairo (requiring name, address and e-mail) can use several additional consumer-friendly features. The site provides rebates and price guarantees offered by stores and manufacturers on items you buy. It e-mails you alerts if a product you want goes on sale or its price drops. It lets you compare sale prices with online retailer prices. And it tracks advertised sale prices on a guaranteed-price item you've bought and alerts you if it sells for less at another store and you're owed a refund.

Cairo isn't the first online bargain engine. There are dozens of price-comparison Web sites -- including Google's Froogle, BizRate and America Online's In-Store, which was launched in September. But they aren't localized to brick-and-mortar sales, and they aren't all sale-focused.

As for local-focused shoppers online, ShopLocal, which opened for business in August, searches sales primarily from the online circulars published by its parent company, Cross Media Services, and SalesCircular locates sale-priced items by state only.

Cairo differs because its services aren't tied to its business relationships. Instead, it is modeled after the Google design that separates advertising on the right-hand column from its own content.

"Our search results are not influenced in any way by advertising or pay placement," Moss says. "The search result you see will be absolutely the best for the consumer."

Still, the new site proves to be somewhat limited, at least for now. Missing from its store list are such local major players as Hecht's, Macy's and Wal-Mart. Some of its categories that venture afield from typical gifts, big-item electronics and appliances aren't fully functional: Search for "alcoholic beverages," for instance, and you get a message, "Sorry, but it appears that is not on sale in your neighborhood today."

Moss says that by January, he expects to add 20 to 30 more retailers, including major drugstores and grocery chains. "You'll be able to search everything from Diet Coke to wine," he says. "We're taking the drive time out of your shopping equation, and shoppers will be able to save a huge amount of money on a week-by-week basis."

SHOPPING SITES

Cairo is located at www.cairo.com.

Other shopping and price-comparison Web sites worth bookmarking include ShopLocal (www.shoplocal.com) and SalesCircular (www.salescircular.com) for local store sales, and BizRate (www.bizrate.com), Froogle (www.froogle.google.com) and AOL's InStore (www.in-store.com).

Got questions? A consumer complaint? A helpful tip? E-mail details to oldenburgd@washpost.comor write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company