Shopping Search

A cell phone service guides users to nearby bargains–sometimes.

A new mobile-phone service claims to be the first to offer location-aware search for products, not just for stores. The service, called Slifter, uses GPS-enabled cell phones; alternatively, a user can enter his or her zip code. The phone then displays lists of products that can be sorted by proximity or price.

During a recent test of the service, a search for a Nikon D40 accurately showed many nearby stores selling the camera. The Slifter search noted how far each store was from the phone and showed that all stores were selling the Nikon D40 for $599.

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Slifter could make price comparisons easier, but its databases are far from complete and the search results not always useful. A search for “ice cream” returned information on a toy store selling a product that had “ice cream” in its name. And the first hit in a search for “iPod Nano,” performed in Cambridge, MA, was for an iPod accessory 26 miles away.

Jeremy Kreitler, director of product management for Yahoo Maps, says the big search players aren’t yet attempting Slifter-like services because they don’t have “great, comprehensive, clean data” on inventories. Outside the realm of consumer electronics, data is often unavailable or of “questionable” quality, Kreitler says.

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