January 4, 2006, 12:00 AM

2005 ends with two more major acquisitions

2005 will be remembered as a big year for acquisitions with web retailers and industry vendors completing more than 33 major deals. The latest acquisitions occurred in December when Experian purchased comparison shopping site PriceGrabber.com and Liberty Media Corp., which owns QVC Corp. and holds a major stake in IAC/InteractiveCorp, acquired Provide Commerce Inc.

2005 will be remembered as a big year for acquisitions with web retailers and industry vendors completing more than 33 major deals. The latest acquisitions occurred in December when Experian purchased comparison shopping site PriceGrabber.com, the third major comparison shopping site to be acquired in 2005, and Liberty Media Corp., which owns QVC Corp. and holds a major stake in IAC/InterActiveCorp, acquired Provide Commerce Inc.

Experian will pay $485 million for PriceGrabber.com. Experian manages consumer credit information and marketing interactions for companies over the Internet.

The acquisition supports Experian’s strategy of acquiring complementary businesses that provide new products and better vertical market penetration that leverage Experian’s core assets in the consumer credit information business, the company says. PriceGrabber.com will become part of Experian Interactive, a growing portfolio of Internet marketing businesses that include LowerMyBills.com, CheetahMail, and online lead generation service MetaReward.

In addition, PriceGrabber extends the range of marketing solutions Experian can offer to multi-channel retailers and cataloger clients. PriceGrabber.com connects online shoppers to more than 9,000 merchants and provides comparison shopping on more than 300 web sites, including Ask Jeeves, MSN, Comcast, Bell South and About.com. In January 2006, PriceGrabber.com provided comparison shopping services to more than 17 million unique visitors.

The acquisition of PriceGrabber follows two other big-bucks deals involving comparison shopping engines. In June, Shopping.com, the largest comparison-shopping site, was acquired by eBay Inc. for $620 million; and Shopzilla was acquired by The E. W. Scripps Co. for $525 million.

Pending regulatory approval, Liberty will pay $477 million in cash for Provide Commerce in a deal that is expected to close in the second quarter. Provide Commerce specializes in the online sale of perishable goods and operates Proflowers.com, CherryMoonFarms.com, UptownPrime.com and SecretSpoon.com.

“Provide Commerce is a market leader in online perishable goods and through its advanced supply chain and superior execution, has built scale and a strong competitive position,” says Liberty CEO John C. Malone. “We believe in the power of video to drive television and web-based retailing businesses and Provide is a compelling addition to our strategy.”

Following the acquisition, Provide Commerce will remain a separate subsidiary within Liberty. As of Sept. 30, Provide Commerce had a cash balance of $60 million. For the 2005 fiscal year ended June 30, net sales rose 37% to $177.1 million from $128.8 million in the prior year.

“The philosophy of Liberty is consistent with Provide’s culture,” says Provide Commerce CEO Bill Strauss. “We look forward to working with the other Liberty Internet and video companies to accelerate profitable growth.”

Web retailers are making acquisitions to fill out their strategies in promising niches. But other companies are going more mainstream and acquiring comparison shopping sites both for their immediate market value and for the wealth of business-to-consumer e-commerce information stored in their databases.

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