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Tech Report: Itemize.com

A new web site to help shoppers filter all those online deals

By TheTechDad

Online shopping is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Of course, you can still pull up the web site of your favorite retailer or simply search for an item on Google, but if you do, then you are probably missing out on a deal.

And finding a deal is what online shopping is all about. Between the dozens of coupon sites, online discounters, and daily deal sites, everyone is looking for a bargain. Buy something at list price and the first thing you will hear is how your friend/colleague/neighbor got the exact same item for 20 percent less.

But how do you find the best deal without spending hours sorting through countless e-mails and surfing endless web sites? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone sent you only those deals that are likely to appeal to you, rather than the ones you’re not interested in?

Well, a new web site is attempting to do just that. It’s called Itemize.com and it wants to be your personal shopping agent, finding the deals and special offers that are just right for you. Launched last week at BlogHer 2011, Itemize is currently in beta form and ironing out a few kinks, but it takes a novel new approach to customizing your online shopping experience.

Itemize matches you with select special offers by tracking what it calls your “Shopping DNA.” It does this in two ways. First, it asks you to select your favorite shopping categories from a list that includes everything from Babies & Kids Clothing to Handbags & Accessories to Pet Supplies. (Itemize clearly skews towards women, seeing the female shopper as its core demographic.)

The second way Itemize wants to track your Shopping DNA is a little scarier. It wants to have access to your e-mail account, so it can search for shopping receipts. Yes, that’s right – you give Itemize full access to your private e-mail account and it will use word-search technology to ferret out stored receipts so it can see what you have previously purchased online.

Now there are obvious privacy concerns surrounding this approach, but it’s certainly an interesting way of discovering your shopping habits. If you feel uncomfortable about giving a brand new start-up this kind of access to your personal mail (and if you don’t, you should), then you can e-mail those receipts to Itemize instead.

There are other limitations to this approach of searching e-mail. Itemize can only access direct accounts with the main e-mail providers – Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, Verizon, etc. – and not custom domain names or desktop e-mail programs like Outlook or Mail. (Perhaps a good way to go is to set up a Gmail account which is only used for online shopping transactions; that way, Itemize has access to your shopping history but nothing else.)

Armed with a map of your Shopping DNA, Itemize now presents the deals – and only the deals – that it thinks you might be interested in. The deals appear in scroll format below your DNA chart and you click though directly to the merchant’s deal page.

You can go back and change your preferences at any time and even rank your interest in a particular category on a scale of 1 to 10. Looking for a present for that man in your life? You can conceivably up your interest in Mens Clothing to a 10 and zero out every other category until you find the deal you’re looking for.

You can share your Shopping DNA with friends and family through Facebook, and Itemize plans to add other social media functions, including Foursquare-style badges for its frequent shoppers.

And there is clearly no limit to the amount of customization that a site like Itemize could bring to the online shopping experience. For example, when I increased my interest in Pet Supplies, I started to see offers for everything from cat food to bird cages. If I was able to tell Itemize that I had a dog, my deal filter would be even more effective.

“Our goal is to make it easier for shoppers to select from offers that are personally relevant, not spend their time sorting through deal spam,” says Itemize CEO Jim Thomas. Although Itemize has a way to go before it can claim to have achieved that goal, it is a worthy step in the right direction.

You can follow TheTechDad on Twitter.

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