Arrow plays matchmaker for the online shopping world

By Richard Nieva , written on November 27, 2012

From The News Desk

Internet dating has come a long way. A search for online dating sites will turn up several services for niche groups, like networks for vegetarians or Apple fanboys and girls. So why can't another thing that the Web has revolutionized -- shopping -- take some cues from the Match.coms of the world? The company Daring Software has developed an iOS app called Arrow that attempts to play matchmaker for a user and his or her dream product.

The results won't go to dinner with you on a Saturday night (I don't think), but they will be suited to your preferences. When you search the app, the first thing you do is narrow down the query by the category of product, like cameras or headphones or running shoes. You can either pick from the items the app has deemed best overall, or you can narrow further by picking three of the most important things to you. For a camera, some examples are picture quality, ease of use, or action photos (not to be confused with good sense of humor, nice smile, or compassion).

Then come the more traditional stuff: price filtering, spec preferences, etc. The app then crawls through over 6,000 retailers like J&R, Best Buy, and Amazon and finds five of your top matches, with links to buy. The company has revenue share deals with Best Buy and Amazon, but founder and chief executive Manish Vij insists that items from those stores don't get any special preference in the search results.

The recommendations are made possible by software that evaluates millions of reviews on the Web that are tagged and analyzed against the most important preferences that Arrow users list in their searches. These reviews come from the individual retailers themselves, who frequently send out buyer surveys to customers after they purchase items anyway.

Eventually the company wants to join the targeted ad business. The rationale is that since they know precisely what users' preferences are for every single item they look up, they can partner with retailers that will offer users a tailor-made deal, without the solicitation seeming too spammy.

Vij says the service is unique because, unlike services that use editorial teams to curate reviews, the software distills all the important elements and keeps all the information up to date. "This is the dawn of an automated way to do something like this," says Vij. He also says users don't have to waste time sifting through reviews like they do on amazon.

There are some drawbacks to the app. It's not good for high end purchases, and it doesn't do quite the research you'd want to do, if you're a big gearhead. But the company thinks it's found its demographic. "We're not here for things that are really cheap or simple, and we're not here for the hardcore enthusiast. We're here for that mass middle area," said Sekhar Narayanaswami, the company's chief technologist.

The idea came to Vij when he went to visit his baby nieces and nephews and wanted to take photos with a camera that would take good pictures indoors, without using too harsh a flash. He scoured the Web looking for the perfect match. Now he wants to make sure he never has to do it again.