The Ultimate in Comparison Shopping

The popular pastime of cruising the mall in search of a deal may become an endangered activity thanks to a new technology developed by Andersen Consulting. The firm is tinkering with a handheld device that automatically scours the Internet for the lowest price of just about anything whose price is listed online. With the Pocket Bargain Finder, a value-minded shopper simply scans the UPC bar code of an item displayed in a store. Within seconds, the miniature cell phone dials into a Web server that uses the Excite search engine to hunt the Internet for the same item at a cheaper price.

If a book sells at Chapters for $20, Pocket Bargain Finder will alert the shopper to the same book at The phone’s screen displays the cheaper prices and the name of the online retailers that offer them. All that’s left for the consumer to do is scroll to the desired item on the screen and press the phone’s buy button. Or a shopper who takes pleasure in the blood sport of haggling can use the information as a bargaining chip to get the store to lower its price.

Putting such information into the hands of shoppers promises to shake up the retailing industry, says Ed Gottsman, associate partner at Andersen’s Northbrook Technology Park, who dreamed up the idea for Pocket Bargain Finder. Predictably, not everyone at Andersen is as pleased as Gottsman is with the idea of shaking up the retailing industry. In fact, Gottsman says, some of the consultancy’s retail clients find the prospect more than a bit disturbing.

So far, no one at Andersen will talk about the company’s plans to sell Pocket Bargain Finder to consumers, but Gottsman declares that the day is not far off when shoppers no longer fork over money in brick-and-mortar stores. The only reminders left at a bookstore, he says, will be “a used coffee cup and the impression of buttocks in a chair.”