Home uGenie: Meta-Middleman for Online Shopping

uGenie: Meta-Middleman for Online Shopping

While I was in San
Francisco, I met up with uGenie co-founder and President Harish Abbott. uGenie is a comparison shopping service that not only
finds the best price on a single product, but on groups of products which it calls a
‘bundle’. uGenie computes the bottom-line price (including shipping, taxes, and
discounts) and claims to “find the cheapest way to buy the exact items you want from one
or more merchant sites.” It also offers filtering features – such as Merchant Rating
(e.g. 3 stars), Item Condition, Shipping Options, Promotions, etc.

I asked Harish what he thinks is the market potential for ugenie and ‘bundles’ in
general? He told me that bundles are obviously useful for “anything that we buy which
requires us to have multiple items to achieve one goal” – for example a desktop computer,
travel, home theatre system. Less obviously perhaps, Harish said that bundles can be
“things that on the surface seem unrelated but are linked through our interests or
situations” – e.g. an Amazon Wish List, or a shopping list.

uGenie seems to be a classic middleman, but for the Web age – i.e. it aggregates and
filters other middlemen (online retailers like Amazon and BestBuy). In order to get real
time prices and accurate transactional data such as shipping, taxes, coupons and
discounts; uGenie scrapes prices real time and their system has the ability to calculate
most coupons and apply them real time too. Harish also told me their algorithms “can
crunch through millions of options in milli seconds”.

Why uGenie can’t automate the ‘last mile’ of transactions

However as of now uGenie is not an entirely automated process. Once the best pricing
for a bundle is found, the consumer then has to manually complete the
transaction. In other words, the consumer needs to go through the check-out process at
each vendor’s website. The best uGenie can do now and in the forseeable future is to give
the consumer a step-by-step list of things they need to do to complete their bundle

So I asked Harish what some of the challenges of getting shopping sites to
auto-process bundles – will this be possible in the near future? He told me:

“For now we guide the user through the checkout process in terms of buying different
items. The user can click on the buy now clicks and a new window opens up for each
merchant. We are working to streamline this process so that user does not need to reenter
information on multiple sites. We also closely monitoring efforts on the universal
shopping cart taken by other merchants.”

What it comes down to is that the big online retailers – Amazon, Barnes&Noble,
BestBuy, etc – have little incentive to automate bundle transactions. If consumers could
do that, then why not just go to the wholesalers directly to source items for their
bundles? The retailers are already essentially middlemen, so uGenie – as a meta-middleman
– is a threat to the existing e-commerce retailers.

Future directions for uGenie

I asked Harish where they’re headed with the product over the next few years. He told
me their core focus on “true price discovery” will be strengthened by expanding their
merchant set and continuing to improve the accuracy of prices. They are also working
with merchants to “create more efficiency into the commerce supply chain so that we can
deliver extra savings to our customers” – translation: trying to get retailers to cut
them some slack!

uGenie will soon be launching more new categories for bundling. They will also push
the use of tags and voting to “help us build the community around shopping”. The idea
here is that users can discover new bundles by searching on what others have tagged their
bundles – e.g. if you purchase a birthday gift for your Mom, then others can search on
the tag “mom” and perhaps find an appropriate pre-packaged bundle. Harish says “this is a
massive shift from an editorial driven categorization of products, which in our opinion
is myopic.”


uGenie is currently a slick product, with a lovely user experience. The only sticking
point is that ‘last mile’ of the bundle purchase. Having to manually complete the process
and making transactions at 3-4 different retailers is a lot of effort for consumers. If
uGenie or any of its competitors can solve this issue, then I can see such a product
being a huge success. For now it remains a promising, well-designed solution that gets
consumers 75% of the way to online shopping nirvana.

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