April 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

IMShopping.com launches as “human-assisted” shopping site

Shopping experts on IMShopping.com compete to provide the best answers to questions posted by consumers in search of specific products. Launched this week after a four-month test period, IMShopping has close to 10,000 users, CEO Prashant Nedungadi says.

Shopping experts on IMShopping.com compete to provide the best answers to questions posted by consumers in search of specific types of products. Launched this week after a four-month test period, IMShopping has close to 10,000 users and 20,000 stored questions and answers, CEO Prashant Nedungadi says.

IMShopping gives online shoppers what they get in physical stores-help from knowledgeable people to find what they want, says Nedungadi, who is the former chief technology officer of Andale, a company he founded to provide software applications for eBay sellers.

IMShopping.com is integrated with the online product catalogs of several e-marketplaces, including Commission Junction, Shopping.com, LinkShare and ShareASale.com. When a shopper enters a question on IMShopping.com, or sends a question to its page on the social networking site Twitter.com, she’ll receive one or more answers from IMShopping.com’s network of some 100 shopping experts, or guides, who will use IMShopping.com’s technology to scan the databases of its e-marketplace partners or search the web for a shopper’s desired product. Each set of questions and answers is displayed on IMShopping.com or Twitter for public view.

One question posted this week on IMShopping.com, for example, asked “What`s a good Mother’s Day gift for a 32-year-old under $100?” It received two answers: One provided a link to a $49 necklace with a link to a buy page on FashionJewelryForEveryone.ecrater.com; the other suggested building a personalized DVD with the shopper’s own photos at OneTrueMedia.com.

On IMShopping.com’s Twitter page, a shopper recently asked, “Where can I find Alice + Olivia pastel madras shorts online (not the dark colors, the light pastel) in size zero?” A single answer said she could find light pastel blue shorts in that size and brand on NeimanMarcus.com and provided a link to the Neiman Marcus home page, where a search for “Alice + Olivia shorts” produced a page with the pastel blue shorts among other Alice + Olivia products. The answer also recommended a pair of Alice + Olivia Bermuda shorts with a link to a buy page on Nordstrom.com.

“Our job is to connect shoppers, guides and retailers,” Nedungadi says. He adds that IMShopping.com uses software that automatically places the most relevant answer at the top of each answer list, then pays the guide who produced that answer a small fee.

Shoppers can also search on IMShopping.com for answers to questions that may have already been asked by other shoppers and stored on the site. Eventually, IMShopping.com may provide its technology and Q&A; content as an application designed for individual retailers that they will be able to feature directly on their retail sites, Nedungadi says.

IMShopping recently closed a $4.7 million Series A round of funding from SK Telecom Ventures, Nedungadi says. SK Telecom senior vice presidents Min Park and Soo-Hyuk Lee have joined IMShoppnig’s board of directors.

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