Just before the holiday shopping rush began this weekend, Purch’s ShopSavvy launched a new set of updates on its app and website that gave us all — both Purchers and deal-loving shoppers everywhere — a reason to celebrate. The new features make ShopSavvy even easier to use and help deliver more product and pricing information to folks who want to buy the best stuff at the best prices. But ShopSavvy’s dramatic makeover was missing one crucial thing: A before photo.
To paint a better picture of the brand’s transformation, we called Rylan Barnes, Purch’s VP of software engineering for mobile and emerging platforms. Rylan, who’s based out of Dallas, is one of the original founders of ShopSavvy, so he knows every detail about the site’s evolution — and some of those details might just surprise you.
Can you give us the slightly abbreviated version of ShopSavvy’s origin story?
It all started back in 2002. I was trying to find a better way to help college students buy and sell their textbooks, mostly because I was fed up with how expensive textbook were. So the first version of ShopSavvy was actually just a price comparison search engine for college textbooks, where users could also buy and sell directly with each other.
A few years later, in 2008, when smartphones were starting to be opened up to developers, I expanded the idea into all categories (not just textbooks), and I morphed it into a mobile app with a barcode-scanning feature. It was just a simple scanner with a few extra features that let you save things for later. Then we raised an investment — which included capital from Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin — and opened an office in San Francisco, so we could take this early momentum to the next level.
The original use case for the app was something summed up in our old motto, which was, “From pocket to prices in 10 seconds.” The idea was that you could get a complete, comprehensive answer about a product’s price really fast. And while the app was really good at that, that’s all it did. We even used to call it the non-shopper’s shopping tool, because it let you get in and out of a store quickly, with no fuss. But once we started building out a team, we decided to take things to the next level, so we aimed to bring in features around discoverability and frequency of use.
We built a custom web crawler that went through the websites of all major retailers and aggregated whatever they were promoting so that we could then surface it inside our app. And unlike RetailMeNot, where there are a lot of deals but you can’t actually do any shopping, we built something where a user could do both.
Is this the part of the story where ShopSavvy becomes part of Purch?
Purch acquired ShopSavvy at the end of 2015, and we were very excited about what Purch and ShopSavvy could do together. With Purch’s editorial content and ShopSavvy’s product database we could build the perfect intersection of content and commerce.
ShopSavvy has always been about saving users money, but the original context was limited to just helping users in the aisle of the store. Now we can help users before they go to the store. And we also now help our users find the best price and the best pick.
This latest update to the app/site seems to be a big step forward. What new features are you most excited about?
We’ve taken the app’s features around discoverability to the next level. First, we surfaced best picks from TopTenReviews and soon we’ll show best picks from all Purch sites. We make it very easy to jump to exactly what you’re looking for as quickly as possible. We’re also now creating original content for the first time ever. In the past, we were only an aggregator of others’ content. Throughout next year you’ll see more features around personalization and targeting, such as location-based triggers and price alerts.