IMShopping provides online personal shoppers, at your service

IMShopping launches today, offering online shoppers the chance to ask for advice or recommendations from real life, human shopping guides via its web site and Twitter. Now, as you browse, you can get answers to your questions on-demand, just like you would by asking a clerk for help at a store. Based in Santa Clara, Calif., the company has also raised $4.7 million in a first round of funding.

IMShopping says its concept is based on research showing that online consumers want more than simple price comparisons and peer-generated product reviews — they want analysis and technical know-how too. For this level of detail, IMShopping users can message @imshopping on Twitter to tap into a network of experts who will respond in a short (though unspecified) amount of time.

In addition to responding to questions as they pop up, IMShopping is also recording previous questions in an ever-growing, searchable database, allowing users to find answers even before contacting an IMShopping expert. Already, the company has 20,000 questions logged on its site and its Twitter page — questions like “Why should I buy an iPhone over a Blackberry Bold?” and “What’s a good Father’s Day gift for a husband who’s really into Rock Band?” These are good questions. See the answers here and here.

To craft useful responses, the company says its shopping guides read several product reviews, familiarize themselves with specifications, get a sense of the blog buzz and pinpoint price ranges. How they do all this in the short time span before users accustomed to instant gratification get frustrated, I’m not so sure. IMShopping doesn’t actually say how long it takes — only that it’s less time than it would take for a user to drive to their local Best Buy to ask an employee there.

That doesn’t sound terribly convincing, but it seems like IMShopping’s potential for data mining has piqued investor interest anyway — $4.7 million is a pretty handsome chunk of change for a Twitter-based internet startup in this economic climate. But after all, any service that gathers thousands of consumers’ attitudes, sentiments and complaints about retail products is an advertising gold mine.

The financing came from SK Telecom itself (not the investment arm of the conglomerate, SK Telecom Ventures). Based on the mobile nature of shopping, an iPhone app and text-message platform for the service (something resembling SMS answer engine ChaCha, perhaps) can’t be too far behind.

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