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The last thing this industry needs is another reason for shoppers to avoid a trip to the mall. But for those still willing to spend, iStorez.com, a new e-commerce site launched last month, is billing itself as an alternative to the shopping-center experience. And like all virtual retail, it comes without parking lots, pushy sales people and long checkout lines.
Deemed “shopping 2.0” by iStorez’s chief executive officer, Anand Jagannathan, the concept is simple: The site, backed by the Palo Alto-based Norwest Venture Partners, offers access to 500 retailers and brands, and 18 million products that range from apparel to cosmetics to furniture. Jagannathan has also announced partnerships with Yahoo Shopping, a top-ranked online comparison engine; TheFind, a shopping search engine with more than 250 million products, and mall developer Westfield Group. At its most basic level, iStorez, which has been in development for more than two years, is a retail directory in which stores and brands, including Bergdorf Goodman, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple and J. Crew, are organized alphabetically with links to their own sites, where all purchases are made. Chief among iStorez’s features is one that allows the user to customize a virtual mall, called “My Mall,” populate it with favorite retail destinations and tailor searches to those stores.
Of course, one could argue that the Internet itself is one big shopping mall full of individual e-commerce sites, and aggregators such as a little thing called Amazon.com. If shoppers already know their preferred shopping sites, why not bypass iStorez and log on directly to, say, gap.com?
“What makes us very different is we allow a shopper to find out the latest specials across all these retailers,” says Jagannathan, a veteran entrepreneur whose past ventures include Banyan Systems, which created and distributed a networked operating system called VINES in the early Eighties, and Responsys Inc., a marketing software firm. His prime example of a unique iStorez experience: “Imagine if you were in a mall and said, ‘I’m looking for handbags,’ and all the stores showed you windows featuring handbags. You look for the one that’s most appealing to you and walk into the store.” These days, price breaks prove the best bait, and thus, many of iStorez’s searches are fueled by retailers’ current promotions. For instance, a search of women’s apparel might turn up notices for a sale at Michael Kors or 40 percent off at J. Jill, while searches by store or brand yield those companies’ latest promotions, whether it’s A&F’s new fragrance or American Apparel’s 15 percent friends and family discount. Yahoo Shopping also tapped iStorez to power its Yahoo Deals section.
Lest it all be boiled down to a bargain, iStorez offers theme- and personality-based shopping, as well. Searches can be tailored to “Winter Recession Proof Style,” or the “Nifty Hipster,” a personality type apparently named with unintentional irony. Users can also let the stars be their shopping guide. IStorez offers an astrology-based Fashionscopes section, where spending is in everyone’s sign.