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When the average consumer makes a purchase online they typically do two things: read product reviews and compare prices across merchants. Nifti, a stealthy retail intelligence startup, hopes that one day they’ll do a third: consider where in the price cycle their desired product is. This is because prices on the average mid- to high-ticket consumer product vary far more than most consumers realize, often day to day and week to week. Nifti allows consumers to track these price fluctuations and thus, hopefully, determine the ideal time to buy.

The startup is emerging out of stealth today with $800,000 in seed financing from Google Ventures, Otto Capital, Andy Palmer, Errik Anderson, and other angels.The Boston-based company was co-founded by Nathan Sharp, Greg Kimball and Abe Gurjal, who met while attending Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

“Patience pays in online shopping, but only if you’re willing to spend a ton of time checking back and forth on the things you want,” Sharp says. Nifti aims to circumvent this price checking song and dance by sending consumers helpful alerts on the products they elect to track.

Nifti works through a browser bookmarklet, a la Pinterest, which can be clicked while browsing the inventory of any of over 400 online retailers. As soon as a product is added to the user’s Nifti que, the company begins tracking the price of that item over time. This information is presented on a time-based graph and regularly emailed to the user. If another user is already tracking the same item, or if it is one of the common items that the company automatically added to its database, then graph will already have historical data. Consumers can also input target price points and only receive alerts when the tracked item falls below that level.

As the company writes in a press release announcing the launch, “With price alerts, you’ll never miss a sale that matters to you, and with price history, you’ll always know whether the current price is high or low compared to past prices.” It’s this historical price data that is far more valuable that receiving a simple sale alert. This is because a sale off of an all-time high price mays till not be a good time to buy, but a consumer without this broader perspective may have no idea they are still paying too much.

Nifti price fluctuation

The Nifti dashboard offers some other useful functionality, including ranking all tracked items according to historical discount, which might help a consumer choose which among a number of desired items to purchase at a given time. The site also offers a browse section where consumers can view which items tracked across the entire Nifti network have experienced the widest price fluctuations and which are the best buys at any moment in time.

Nifti, which has been available in private beta for several months, has been the most popular today among new families who most often track big ticket household items, baby goods, and active wear, according to its founders. Big ticket items like furniture, strollers, and car seats are particularly popular.

Nifti is a compelling product that solves a real need, but it has limitations as currently presented. The first is that prices for each item are tracked for a single retailer. If, for example, a consumer begins tracking a Samsung laptop from BestBuy.com, they will only get alerts about price fluctuations at Best Buy, not at Office Max, Frys, or any of the several dozen other consumer electronics on the Nifti platform. The consumer can solve this by tracking the same item on multiple sites, but the company still does not offer the ability to layer this graph data together and issue a global, historical low price alert.

Nifti earns an affiliate fee on most, but not all purchases made through its site. But this is not the primary business model objective of the site, according to its co-founders. Rather, the company hopes to gather the Web’s “most pervasive and actionable data sets, including data on what people want to buy and how much they want to pay before they actually buy it,” Sharp says.

With this data, then the company can layer on recommendations and personalized pricing in a way that doesn’t exist today. For example, with enough explicit purchase intent data, retailers might one day be willing to bid on a consumer’s business offering a unique and exclusive price on a desired product. Most importantly, NIfti can deliver this data to retailers without violating consumers’ trust and privacy, as only products which they want tracked are tracked.

It’s little surprise, given this data focus, that Google is interested. Google’s core objective, after all, is to organize the world’s information (and sell you ads based on this knowledge). The company has long tried to establish a beachhead in online shopping, with limited success.

There are a variety of direct and indirect competitors to Nifti, including other price tracking services like Google Alerts, PriceGrabber, and Decide.com, wish-list generators like WishPot and Amazon Wish List, and and a litany of coupling and discount portals. None, however, appear to offer the full functionality of Nifti as it currently exists. Nonetheless, expect there to be fierce competition to win this category over time.

Nifti stands to get more interesting and more valuable over time as the site grows both the size of its consumer audience and its historical price data sets. Eventually, as both grow large enough, the company could legitimately “shift the dynamic between shoppers and merchants,” according to Google Ventures General Partner Rich Miner.

“Ecommerce has to evolve,” Andy Palmer says. “Consumers need simple information on the products that they want, and Nifti radically simplifies price alerts and wish lists for online consumers. Nifti is changing the way that people buy online by giving shoppers easy access to price history and changes. Instead of being pushed an endless stream of irrelevant promotions, Nifti users get only the updates they want so they can always buy at the best price.”