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Comparison shopping is an art to some and an obsession to others.
But getting the best price in one way can come at a cost in others--in the gas you burn while driving to reach that great sale, for example, or the time it may take you to travel from one grocery store to the next to cherry-pick each one's weekly sale items, or the hours spent scouring the Internet for bargains.
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NetPlenish, a startup based in Ventura, Calif., aims to help you minimize those hidden costs.
Its app sorts through the various merchants selling the items you want, and bundles them together to get you the best overall deal. It even compares combinations of items to determine whether you'll save more with shipping costs by buying primarily from one merchant, or whether you'll spend the least by using a wider variety of retailers.
And of course, it's all mobile.
Though services like Soap.com, Amazon's Fresh and Alice.com all serve a similar purpose--providing one-stop shops for household staples -- NetPlenish distinguishes itself through its mobile app, its price comparison capabilities and its simplified checkout. (A complicated, time-consuming checkout process is one of our biggest peeves about online shopping).
Smaller Purchases, Bigger Savings
People have always been willing to put in the effort to score deals on bigger purchases, like cars and travel, and the web gave them plenty of tools for that. Kayak.com, for example, tracks multiple sites to get customers the best airfares. But incremental savings can add up quickly on everyday purchases--trouble is, most folks don't have the patience to look.
"People usually use price comparison for a television but not for diapers," said Dave Compton, CEO and founder of NetPlenish. "If you wanted to do this for everyday items, you'd have to get a big ol' honkin' spreadsheet."
Shopping even without deal searching is a time suck. According to NetPlenish, the average consumer spends 45 minutes nearly twice a week on errands. Compton--still haunted by the memory of trying to go shopping with his toddler daughter in tow--wants to harness the power of the internet to get the whole shopping experience down from 45 minutes to 45 seconds.
A More Powerful Algorithm
At the heart of NetPlenish is its ShopGenius algorithm, which scours vendors' prices to find the best deals for multiple items on a user's shopping list. ShopGenius then lets merchants compete to provide the best overall price, including shipping, sales tax and the lowest possible product price.
"NetPlenish solves a big problem that consumers face every day, which is a single store may not have the best price repeatedly for items you need to buy over and over, like toothpaste, toilet paper, diapers and dog food," Compton said. "With NetPlenish, your items come from a different merchant each delivery, based on who has the lowest price at the time of your purchase."
The app, for both iPhones and Androids, is fairly simple to use: Users can add items to their shopping list manually or by scanning bar codes. After that, they can simply tap the items they need replenished, and they'll receive the products directly from among the more than 20 merchants NetPlenish works with, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Drugstore.com and Sephora.
Though you may still pay, say, $15 for shipping after saving $15 by optimizing your deals, NetPlenish views the time saved as a net-positive. And with its painless method for adding regularly purchased items to your shopping list, it turns shopping into practically a wave of the hand.
No Checkout Checkout
Still, the biggest selling point for NetPlenish may be its ease of checkout. The final step of shopping on an e-commerce site--especially when using a mobile device--can be painful: too many hoops to jump through, too many steps, too many numbers to enter and anti-spam codes to type. In fact, anywhere from 25-55% of online shopping carts get abandoned before the purchases are completed, in large part because consumers lose patience.
That fact meshes with another recently reported piece of data: 58% of online shoppers said they'd rather safely store their account information once, in a single place that can be easily accessed no matter where they're shopping online, according to a MasterCard survey conducted by Harris Interactive.
That's why NetPlenish created what it bills as a mobile commerce first: "No Checkout Checkout," which eliminates the hassle of having to fill out order forms on a tiny phone screen. Shoppers just click one button to order products from NetPlenish's roster of merchants.
Shoppers abandon their online carts, Compton said, because e-commerce has never truly mimicked real commerce.
"You and I go to Safeway--we get our change, lickity split," Compton said. "E-commerce, you're mired down with two to three pages of checkout. That's why people drop off. The 'No Checkout Checkout' is important: It's hard for me to type. You want me to go through five pages with a fat thumb?"
The Wave of the Future?
Last year, 7%--or $202 billion--of U.S. retail sales were conducted online, according to research firm Forrester, and mobile purchasing is on the rise: In the first quarter of 2011, 13% of U.S. online adults used a smartphone to make a purchase; mobile commerce is expected to grow at 39% a year over the next five years, reaching $31 billion by 2016.
Sellers are adapting: Some 57% of online retailers have developed a mobile commerce strategy, and 48% already have a mobile-optimized site. And 56 of the top 100 retailers in the U.S. have developed Android, iPad or iPhone m-commerce apps.
Talking about the choices available via NetPlenish, Dave McClure, founding partner at 500 Startups and a NetPlenish investor, noted: "This is a $50 billion bricks-and-mortar market, yet only 5% of these products are currently being sold online."
As e-commerce and m-commerce grow, retailers will either shift their strategies to adapt, or close stores and shrink, à la Best Buy's recent announcement that it would shutter 50 locations. Apps like NetPlenish, with its one-stop shopping and seamless checkout, could accelerate the shopping revolution.