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Pluck Plugs XML for Shopping

A company focused on RSS hopes to get a push from the holiday shopping season.

On Tuesday, Pluck released Perch, an enhancement of its RSS reader that lets users save and manage feed searches, suggesting that it's just the thing for monitoring price changes on eBay and Amazon.com .

The rich site summary (RSS) format is an XML-based syndication format that's created buzz among technophiles. The technology is used to subscribe to online content. RSS readers automatically query sites the user has subscribed to and retrieve anything fresh.

Now, a handful of companies are exploring the use of RSS feeds to connect shoppers with up-to-the-minute product and pricing information.

"We felt like we could provide an interesting lens for users to view those sites through and create a radar capability for people who want to buy something," said Pluck CEO David Panos.

Pluck Perch creates "persistent searches" across not just headlines but the content of the feeds. Queries can be saved in individual folders on the desktop containing continually executing searches that alert users when new information appears.

In addition to news items, blog entries and updated Web content, users can use Perch to set up folders that regularly search for products, updating availability and price changes for items they're looking to purchase on eBay and Amazon.com. Users can define attributes for the items, for example, an iPod music player that's green and selling for under $200.

When the Perch finds such an item, it pulls in the product information along with a link to the URL where the item can be purchased. When the Perch detects new product offers or price changes the information is updated and highlighted. The information can be sorted and the search refined from within the folder.

In February, Pluck went live with a beta of its browser tool that comes with aggregated RSS news feeds from Moreover. Moreover aggregates information from publications, press releases, Weblogs and discussion boards, categorizes it, and distributes it to third parties.

The Pluck tool lets users select news stories in topic-specific categories, and offers a feed builder that can be customized plus the ability to search Google's index of documents.

While there are plenty of third-party tools to manage eBay bidding, Panos said that Pluck Perch lets users compare and manage search results from multiple sources within a single interface.

"If you're looking for scarce items, you want to know when they become available without having to search over and over again. Or, if there's' choice, you get the item at the right price," Panos said.

The tool is free. Austin, Tex.-based Pluck makes its money as an affiliate of the e-commerce sites. It's an eBay Certified Developer and an Amazon.com Associate Partner. Panos said Pluck gets around twenty-five cents for every bid placed through Perch.

Perch hopes to add more commerce partners before the official launch of the application.

"The general approach Pluck is taking is to work through the biggest players in the biggest categories and unleash the content for our users," Panos said. "We're at work in each of the segments trying to nail the number one or number two player."

Not the Only Game in Town

Pluck is not the only company testing the waters. Real Simple Shopping introduced its own site where consumers can sign up for product-oriented feeds. Real Simple Shopping also uses retailers' affiliate marketing programs to earn revenue.

CEO Stuart Watson said consumers like the service because it doesn't clog their e-mail inboxes, and advertisers like it because they know their messages are expected and arrive alone.

"Your message doesn't get cluttered with all the ads, you don't have to worry about spam filters, you don't have to pay for email service delivery providers, "Watson said. "You've created a direct one-to-one connection with a consumer."

His company is working on adding tools and services, including loyalty programs and tracking mechanisms that will allow retailers to make money and measure their programs.

Two-year-old Dulance, a provider of search technology, is another company experimenting with providing product search results via RSS. Dulance Product Search, launched in early November, is a meta search engine specialized for shopping, crawling the entire Web for merchants selling products that match the query. Queries start at dulance.com, where the search engine filters results from Google, Teoma, Yahoo, Amazon and others. Results include whether the product is new or used an in or out of stock. Prices, product descriptions, availability and other information are obtained from Web pages, not merchants' structured data. Dulance includes sponsored listings in the results from providers including Kanoodle and FindWhat.

Once the results page appears, the shopper can use any RSS reader to subscribe to the results as an XML feed. The reader will automatically repeat the search until at least one seller drops the price below the level the shopper set. A "news event" is triggered when Dulance finds a new seller or price change. The reader picks up this event in the same way it picks up fresh news items.

Dulance CEO Sergei Burkov said users could use advanced search features to limit queries to a particular retailer. People also can set up queries for products that haven't been released yet, like a hot new video game.

Burkov added that another advantage of using RSS for comparison shopping is that updates happen in real time. "Sometimes the price drops, and it may be a special promotion that quickly gets sold out," he said. "You have to go to comparison shopping sites and repeat the query over and over again to catch the situation when the price has dropped and it's not yet sold out."

Alan Chapell, a marketing consultant who helps advertisers understand privacy issues, said that RSS could help marketers avoid seeming spam-like. Unlike e-mail marketing, he said, RSS "gives consumer complete control over who they're getting messages from. The consumer can reduce the amount of unwanted marketing messages, because no one can send you anything unless you specifically want them to."

Chapell said offering an XML/RSS option will become commonplace on retailers' Web sites -- eventually. "It remains to be seen whether consumers will adopt [RSS]," he said. "We're pretty early in the cycle, in the early stages of the early adopter phase."