Decide Debuts Price-Predicting iPhone App for Holiday Gadget Shoppers

11/17/11Follow @curtwoodward

You’ve really got to feel for people working in the retail trenches this time of year. Not only are they getting ready to deal with a blitz of savings-crazed shoppers, they now have to contend with smarty-pants consumers who can aim their smartphone at any piece of merchandise to see if that holiday deal really is as good as advertised.

One Seattle startup is upping the ante even further. Starting Thursday, Decide is offering its sophisticated price-prediction service for consumer electronics through an iPhone app. And it’s expanding its catalog to include dozens of new products, from tablets and e-readers to headphones and video games (Decide already was predicting prices for TVs, smartphones, cameras, and laptops).

There’s no shortage of ways for scanning barcodes or simply searching for products to see how an in-store price stacks up against the competition. Other startups, including locals like Shopobot and Loottap, are also working on ways to better track retail prices.

But Decide takes things a significant step further by actually using statistical analysis and deep data mining to predict whether prices are going to rise or fall, or whether a newer model of a gadget is coming out soon.

This may sound familiar to anyone who remembers Farecast, a Seattle company that predicted when airline ticket prices were going to change. Farecast was acquired by Microsoft for use in its Bing travel search, and some of the Farecast folks have now taken the technology to consumer electronics shopping with Decide.

(Side note: As someone recently pointed out to me, how in the hell did a startup—much less one that has some Microsoft DNA—manage to get the Decide.com domain name when Bing’s actual slogan is “Bing and Decide”?)

That kind of technical and entrepreneurial pedigree—one of the founders is University of Washington search guru Oren Etzioni—means Decide is not just another e-commerce startup. While their current quarry is gadget shopping, the technology behind Decide actually helps point the way toward the future of search in general, where users might be able to ask questions, get predictions, and find more intuitive answers.

Mike Fridgen

In the meantime, there’s the holiday shopping season. Decide CEO Mike Fridgen says that this year is the prime time for consumers to get even more empowered about finding the best deal. He cites this report by RSR Research, which found that 43 percent of retailers surveyed intended to match, beat, or compete with prices that consumers found by searching with smartphone apps (another 43 percent in that survey said they weren’t even familiar with the concept yet).

“We really feel like this year is going to be the tipping point for people using mobile devices to shop in stores,” Fridgen says.

Decide also has a bit of advice for the after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy: When it comes to consumer electronics, shoppers might want to avoid the crush of humanity at the door-buster sales and be cautious of early online promotions. Consumer Reports tapped Decide to analyze prices of its recommended laptops, cameras, and TVs during November and December of 2010, and found that the best deals on those models were often found after the Black Friday and “Cyber Monday” promotions that follow Thanksgiving.

“Really, your best strategy when it comes to buying electronics is to sleep in on Black Friday,” Fridgen says. Fridgen also notes that consumers should watch out for rapidly obsolete gadgets, since the new year might bring new models, making could even the cheapest buy you picked up over the holidays seem like a bum deal.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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