December 1, 2004, 12:00 AM

Shopping for deals among online versions of retailers’ printed ad circulars

Consumers looking for deals in local stores now have at least two web sites that let them view electronic versions of retailers’ weekly printed advertising circulars.

Online comparison shopping has made its way to retailers’ printed weekly circulars. Two new web sites – ApplestoZiti.com and Cairo.com – are presenting circulars online to let shoppers scan weekly deals from several merchants before heading out to shop in stores.

At ApplestoZiti, which is based in Columbia, MD, and serves the area around Washington, D.C., consumers pay a $24.95 annual fee to view information on more than 1,500 products from five grocery chains: Food Lion, Giant, Safeway, Super Fresh and Weis.

“A circular can be 12 or 16 pages, but it’s often hard to say what’s on sale and what’s not on sale,” says Joe Marchese, president of ApplestoZiti. “Our staff figures out what’s on sale and posts it to our site.” He adds that ApplestoZiti charges consumers so it can remain free of influence by retailers and manufacturers that could come with advertising revenue.

ApplestoZiti.com, which launched in early 2003 and was developed completely in-house, lets shoppers organize lists of products by brand, price, package size and store, and it will e-mail them alerts about specific products that go on-sale. Marchese says he expects to license his software to partners in a plan to expand to 27 metropolitan areas over five years.

ApplestoZiti has made arrangements to receive advertising circulars before they’re made available to the public, then enters their data online for consumer access on the day sales promotions begin.

Cairo Inc.’s Cairo.com, launched Oct. 25, was designed to serve a national market for general merchandise. Like ApplestoZiti, it also gathers information from retailers’ weekly advertising circulars and presents it online, letting consumers compare offers across several stores. It presents products advertised by 23 retailers ranging from Best Buy to Home Depot to Linens ‘n Things, says Tamara Pattison, vice president of products for Cairo. She adds Cairo.com is designed to provide the average consumer information on about 10,000 products in 14 categories at nearby retailers.

But Cairo charges no fee to consumers; instead, its revenue model is based on advertising related to products that visitors search for and/or place in their shopping cart.

A search for digital cameras on Cairo, for example, produces listings and images of digital cameras in advertising circulars from retailers including Circuit City, Best Buy and Staples. To the right of these listings is a column of Google ads for digital cameras by retailers including Staples and Overstock.com. The site will also let retailers and manufacturers present online ads related to what shoppers have placed in their shopping carts, Pattison says.

Cairo plans to begin serving the grocery market later this month in Atlanta, Denver and Sacramento, CA, a spokeswoman says.

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