Retrevo launches clever new way to shop for consumer electronics

logo.pngToday, Retrevo, the search engine for gadgets, is launching a well-executed attempt to solve the information overload problem ordinary people face when they shop for consumer electronics online.

We’ve written about Retrevo before and have been skeptical because the market is packed. Incumbents like CNET offer “expert” opinions and link to a range of stores, newer companies like Buzzillions aggregate consumer reviews. There are comparison shopping engines like Pronto and Shopping.com. And last time we checked, not too many people were complaining about the experiences on Ebay and Amazon.

Ordinarily, I’d dismiss the company as a yet-another hopeless drifter, but Retrevo has managed to filter through the heap of information about consumer electronics, boil it down to its most essential elements and make it accessible to anyone who’s looking for help deciding what to buy. This is a very hard problem to solve.

To accomplish this, there are a number of sophisticated back-end mechanisms Retrevo spent a long time getting right, but it’s the interface that truly shines. Take a look at the landing page below.

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It’s clear from here that this is not just another product search engine, and there are a few ways you can make your way into the site. If you want, you can type a specific product into the search box and go right to it, but the site is designed to let you search by product category alone. You have the option to type in “digital camera,” or you could just click the device in the circle on the left side.

When you do so, Retrevo reaches into the mess of chatter in forums and blogs, the ratings on review sites and the number of stars on Amazon.com and retrieves a set of results. Each device is ranked by a combination of “value” (the number of desirable features at the price point) and community sentiment (the combined wisdom of experts and consumers) See the results page below.

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Representing a summary of everything an average person might need to know to make a purchase decision, this page offers the product’s model number, a well-sized image of the product, its price range and two cartoon thumbs. One thumb represents value, the other represents community sentiment. They can point up, sideways, or down. The top ten results contain a reasonable mix of high value, low cost products with good buzz around them and medium and high-cost products that deliver what you would hope to get at those price points.

The site lets you choose between the expert and consumer opinions.

The company says its product index doesn’t contain out-of-date products or those that aren’t widely available in stores. This compares favorably with CNET, where I often find myself reading positive reviews for last year’s technology. It’s also more simple and elegant than Buzzillions, which requires more input to find devices you might like.

The company, based in Sunnyvale, has raised more than $4 million in two rounds.