April 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

Psst: Price Whispers is letting online shoppers set their own pricing terms

Lavish & Lime, a web-only retailer of eco-friendly merchandise including apparel and home products, is letting shoppers name their own price—and the length of time they’re willing to wait for it—through the new PriceWhispers.com price-setting service.

Vancouver, Canada-based Lavish & Lime, a web-only retailer of eco-friendly merchandise including apparel and home products, is letting shoppers name their own price-and the length of time they’re willing to wait for it-through the new PriceWhispers.com price-setting service, says Lavish & Lime founder Colin Campbell.

Lavish & Lime, which launched on the web two years ago at LavishandLime.com, has grown steadily in Canada and recently started selling to consumers in the U.S., Campbell says. But to avoid the image of a discounter, Lavish & Lime runs only two sales each year and steers clear of excess merchandise sites like eBay.com, Campbell says.

“I don’t want to be known as a business with products continually on sale, because that wouldn’t make us look healthy,” he says. “Our business model is based on selling at a standard retail price.”

But like any retailer, Lavish & Lime also wants to move excess merchandise and win over its share of price-sensitive consumers, he adds.

That’s why it has deployed PriceWhispers.com’s pricing-setting service, which is identified on the retailer’s checkout page by a “Name your price” button. When a shopper clicks it, PriceWhispers.com serves up a window showing the name and list price of the desired product and two mouse-activated sliders: one that lets the shopper set the discounted price she’s willing to pay, the other to set the maximum length of time she’s willing to wait for a product to be available at her chosen price.

Shoppers using the service must first establish a payment account with PriceWhispers.com with a payment card or other type of account. Shoppers must also agree to pay a $1 penalty fee whenever they decline to complete a purchase after their bid is accepted by the retailer, a policy intended to prevent shoppers from placing large numbers of bids while planning to accept only the lowest bid, says Neil FitzGerald, CEO of Toronto-based Price Whispers.

Unlike Priceline.com, which acts as an e-marketplace where shoppers name their price for general categories from a large number of product and service providers, Price Whispers caters to purchases of specific products on individual retail sites, he adds.

Price Whispers charges retailers 5% to 10% of the value of each accepted bid, FitzGerald says. There are no other set-up or maintenance fees. Although the Price Whispers payment-setting window that pops up on a retailer’s checkout page appears to be on the retailer’s site, it is actually served up from PriceWhispers.com through a Javascript code Price Whispers places on the retailer’s site.

Price Whispers cites research done at Cornell University that indicates retailers can increase their revenue and profits by 6% to 12% by using its payment-setting service. Those figures are based on a survey Cornell did in the fourth quarter of 2008 and first quarter of this year, FitzGerald says.

Campbell said his use of Price Whispers is too new to show financial results, but that he expects it to help build sales with price-sensitive shoppers he wouldn’t otherwise attract. In addition, by monitoring bid prices and volumes on particular products and categories, he can use the Price Whispers application, which includes analytics reporting software from Business Objects, to learn what shoppers are most interested in, he says.

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